Why leaders fear Ruto-Raila truce

President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga at the KICC during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in 2015. [PCS]

The national dialogue team has reached the tail-end of its negotiations and Kenyans are waiting anxiously for their recommendations and what happens next.

The anxiety is even higher among the political class with some crossing their fingers the outcomes do not change the status quo or their fortunes.

Analysts proffer the most logical outcome will be a closing of ranks between the two political formations: That of President William Ruto and the one led by Opposition leader Raila Odinga. Therein lies the quandary.

Should the foes turn friends then space in the inner sanctums of power has to be created for the visitors. And like in many African contexts, hosts will create space by displacing dependants. Whereas the tension is being felt in the president’s camp in the opposition it is building.

Among the president’s men and women, the prospects of a handshake with Raila is nightmarish. And having learnt from the previous handshake, Raila’s men and women are wary of his moves. 

Raila previously faced accusations of going into his handshake with Uhuru alone, deserting allies such as Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi.

Some of the Azimio leader’s allies from Mt Kenya are also wary of possible exclusion, evidenced by the formation of the Kamwene Leadership Forum.

The leaders are jittery that a replica of the 2018 handshake could send them into a political abyss.

“This is not a government that we would want to get saddled with. They are already on the campaign trail. Why shake hands with someone already on the campaign trail?” posed Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni, who argued that Ruto only intended to undermine the Constitution through the talks.

“They are only looking to partner with people with whom they could shortchange the process of constitutional amendment and introduce offices such as the leader of the official opposition, who depends on the Executive and Parliament for funding,” he said.

Clear distinction

“There is a clear distinction between Uhuru’s handshake and the ongoing talks. There were things we were achieving, such as changing the form of governance and entrenching devolution. The current talks can’t get to that level of seeking fundamental changes,” Kioni added.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua does not hide his fear of a “handshake” between President Ruto and the former Prime Minister.

His remarks over the weekend, that new allies from other regions were welcome but they should not take up goodies reserved for regions that backed the president in last year’s election, spoke of a person afraid of being sidelined.

Gachagua has often pointed out Ruto’s sidelining in the former government, where the latter served as DP, as the greatest danger of a handshake arrangement.

Despite the DP’s insistence that all is well within the government, signs of a fall-out between the President and his deputy are evident and government functionaries are already taking sides.

For months now, Gachagua has claimed the Raila-led Azimio was only interested in securing a share of the government in a nusu mkate arrangement. But the opposition outfit has consistently dismissed such claims.

“We are not even interested in a slice of their rotten loaf,” Raila said last week during an exclusive interview with the Standard.

Such assurances have done little to stem concern within Kenya Kwanza, with Azimio’s listing of “inclusivity” as an agenda for the ongoing talks raising suspicion. 

“We are against a handshake because Raila has a history of bringing divisions in government,” said Nyandarua Senator John Methu. “He should remain in the opposition to keep the government in check.”

Many politicians from the Mt Kenya region have previously argued that a truce between Ruto and Raila would wreck Kenya Kwanza, highlighting the Jubilee Party’s disintegration in the wake of the handshake between Uhuru and Raila in March 2018.

Equally important are fears that a Ruto-Raila handshake would be detrimental to Mt Kenya leaders' interests as it risks lowering their stakes in the government. Such concerns are shared by politicians from regions perceived to be the Azimio leader’s strongholds who seek to be the go-between, between the president and the masses.

Interviews with the president’s allies revealed that they are concerned about the potential damage a handshake will do to their standing in Ruto’s inner kitchen.

Political analyst Martin Andati says the body language and political tone of Raila and Ruto have changed in the past few months, an indicator they could be coming together.

“They may not call it a Handshake pact but it will be a unity that will make them work together to the benefit of some in the political cycles as it will also be detrimental to others,” he said.

Andati noted that those who would be affected most are the DP and Prime Cabinet Secretary as the support their pact would attract could render them irrelevant.

“Ruto will not need Musalia as he would have Raila to bank on the larger western Kenya vote which Musalia has little control over. Gachagua on the other hand will not be needed as the numbers from Raila’s backyard will neutralise the votes Gachagua boasts of from Central,” he said.

“Central is also not very comfortable with Gachagua and he has many rivals who look to dethrone him as a budding leader from the region,” said Andati.

He said that the Ruto-Raila alliance would amount to having more numbers in the National Assembly and Senate.

Machakos Deputy Governor Francis Mwangagi said Kalonzo needs to be careful so that he is not played in his quest to be the president in 2027.

He claimed that Raila seems like he has a deal with Ruto and therefore the Wiper leader needs to plan ahead.

“Ruto is a smart politician, Kalonzo needs to start making his journey to the presidency this early and with a lot of political wits for him to be able to counter the President,” he said.

The Deputy Governor argued that the way Ruto was received in Nyanza, could easily indicate that the trip had the blessings of Raila.

In Nyanza, there are fears a Handshake may push out some of the president’s allies and replace them with Raila’s soldiers who command more grassroots support.

Yesterday, however, some of the president’s allies considered ODM rebels claimed a Handshake may not achieve much to transform the country.

Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda said although he does not mind a Handshake, it will not have any value.

“The value of the Handshake may be very low. I doubt if any handshake can change anything,” Ochanda said.

Kisumu Senator Tom Ojienda argued that a handshake would mean they were right and that Raila will be following the leaders he considered rebels.

“It means that Raila Odinga will be following in the footsteps of the ODM seven. It means that we would have been vindicated as having made the right decision and having put the interest of the people ahead of our interest,” Prof Ojienda said.

Uriri MP Mark Nyamita downplayed claims that the team is jittery over the possibility of being displaced in a Handshake.

“Sometimes we have to be tactical and find ways of collaboration and in so doing achieve our goals and we have seen the results,” he said, adding that he does not believe they will be irrelevant.

Political analyst Mark Bichachi thinks the handshake has already happened.

“The talks that are happening are just a public version of the handshake that Uhuru had with Raila. Many of the inputs is just BBI part two,” Bichachi said.

[Brian Otieno, Anne Atieno and John Shilitsha]