US hand in Ruto, Raila talks as Coons returns to the country

Azimio leader Raila Odinga and President William Ruto with Delaware Senator Chris Coons in the background. [File, Standard]

A US Senator on Sunday flew in to cement talks between President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga, underscoring Kenya’s geopolitical significance in the region.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons met Raila a few days after a 10-member technical committee led by Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah began talks in the city. It is not clear what Coons and the Azimio leader discussed.

The talks followed a spate of street demonstrations that saw several people killed and property damaged in Nairobi, Machakos, Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori counties.

“It was a great pleasure as usual to meet and exchange notes with my friend Senator @ChrisCoons. An afternoon well spent,” tweeted Raila in the evening.

Coons’ visit indicates US’s consideration of Kenya as one of its crucial allies in Africa. America has always taken keen interest in the political development of the country in efforts to ensure that it remains stable due to its strategic location.

Senator Chris Coons is in Kenya as part of a large Congressional delegation meeting with Kenyan partners on a range of topics, including the environment, public health, and trade and investment,” according to a US Embassy Spokesperson.

The Senator, the spokesperson added, has had a long-standing relationship with Kenyan leaders over the years, dating back to his university days spent in Kenya. He will meet with President Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga while in the country to discuss shared democratic values.

The Delaware senator is credited with spearheading talks between former President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila that culminated in the 2018 handshake.

“Senator Coons met with Raila over the political crisis in the country at the moment. The senator is keen to ensure that the government and opposition are able to resolve the contentious issues which are threatening peaceful coexistence,” said a Raila ally.

Coons is expected to meet President Ruto today morning, weeks after former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo met Ruto and Raila in Mombasa.

The meeting will set the ground for their teams to hold discussions that will ensure that the grievances from both sides of the political divide are addressed.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons met Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua in April this year. [Courtesy]

The senator was in the country after last year’s elections. He is said to have met Uhuru and urged him to hand over power peacefully at a time the candidate he was campaigning against had been declared winner in the presidential race. 

“I have met President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga where they have all shown commitment to respect the will of the Kenyan people in the August 2022 general election and ensure peaceful handover of power,” said Coons in August 2022.

Coons was also in the country in April this year where he met Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Uhuru and Raila to discuss the political tension and violence which were threatening let the country slide to anarchy. The government and opposition stuck to their guns and none was willing to cede some ground.

On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua said that  Coon and Raila have been friends for many years.

“Every time the senator comes to Kenya, they always meet - even before the days of Uhuru’s handshake. The US is not involved at all in the ongoing talks. It is a domestic issue,” said Dr Mutua.

During the August 2022 visit, Coons led a congressional delegation to Kenya and met with national leaders, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, as well as then-presidential candidates Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Coons also met with top officials from the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and the Orange Democratic Movement Party and led a discussion with two dozen conservation leaders from across Kenya.

“Kenya is at a pivotal moment, and what happens next will impact not only the region but also the United States. I am encouraged by the peace the nation has enjoyed following the recent announcement of the election results and the commitment of both candidates to see the electoral process through and respect the results,” Coons said before he left.

He had said then that in meetings with Uhuru, Ruto and Raila they discussed the importance of upholding the rule of law, respecting electoral and judicial processes, and ensuring a peaceful transfer of power that reflects the will of the people.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons and Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga held talks on August 13, 2023, days after Azimio and Kenya Kwanza began talks. [Courtesy]

Coons is not the only US official to visit the country, in February, the country’s First Lady Jill Biden jetted in. Jill met her counterpart Rachel Ruto and other senior officials at State House, Nairobi.

The visit was a follow-up to the US-Africa Summit held in December last year and focused more on strengthening partnerships between the two nations while championing women’s economic empowerment projects.

In a joint statement between Secretary Antony Blinken and Mutua at a meeting in Washington, DC on April 24 this year, the US minister said that Kenya, under President Ruto, has been a strong partner in this effort. And indeed, Kenya is a security leader in the region. 

“That’s evident not only in its commitment to resolving the current crisis in Sudan, but also in its support for United Nations and African Union peacekeeping efforts and the counterterrorism mission in Somalia, in its partnership to reach the November 2nd Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in Ethiopia, and in its stewardship of the Nairobi process to advance peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Blinken

Blinken noted that over the last two years, its tenure on the UN Security Council, Kenya has consistently stood up for the UN Charter and focused members on addressing the humanitarian and human rights crises across the continent and beyond.

Meanwhile, President Ruto said the government is keen on increasing the country’s savings.

He said this would wean the country off foreign borrowing, which had crippled the economy.

He noted that the country had only saved Sh350 billion in the last 60 years in the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

He, however, pointed out that the government has reversed the trend and is on course to doubling NSSF savings within four years.

“In a short while, we will not need to borrow from elsewhere to grow our economy,” said the president.

He made the remarks on Sunday during a church service at the Faith Evangelistic Ministry in Karen, Nairobi County.