Speculation over losers, winners as bipartisan talks draw to a close

National Dialogue Committee co-chairs National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wah and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Opinion is divided over the impact of the ongoing National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) talks on some key political players, with fears that there could be casualties in the aftermath.

Some Mt Kenya MPs led by Finance Committee Chairman Kimani Kuria and Mbeere North MP Geofrey Ruku have continued to oppose the talks, saying they are a waste of time and resources.

“They should bring to Parliament whatever they are speaking at Bomas and prioritise it at the House Business Committee and then take it to the floor of the House after whipping members across the political divide to support the agenda,” says Kuria.

The co-chair of the talks Kalonzo Musyoka says they will finish their work in two weeks and thereafter hand over the report to President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga.

“We have given ourselves up to November 21 to finalise the dialogue,” said Kalonzo as the committee prepares to hold a meeting with officials from the State Department of Housing, Treasury, and the Ministry of Energy on Monday, November 6, to discuss the rising cost of living.

Kuria argues that the talks are a waste of time and resources because MPs leading the conversation like Leader of Majority Kimani Ichung’wah are senior leaders in Parliament while others like Kalonzo are party leaders.

He advises the co-chairs of the dialogue committee to call Parliamentary Group (PG) meetings of their respective political parties and whip MPs into taking a non-partisan approach to quickly resolve all the issues being discussed at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi.

Ruku says issues like the cost of living that the bipartisan team is discussing are already before Parliament.

“These are just meant to appease some political egos because in the National Assembly, we have the majority and minority who can discuss the issues,” he says.

Some political analysts however believe that the MPs are speaking on behalf of their masters like Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua who fear that their place in the government could be threatened by a political agreement between the Kenya Kwanza and Azimio.

That could explain why Gachagua, the senior most Kenya Kwanza leader from the Mt Kenya region, has also repeatedly dismissed the talks in the past saying they will not achieve anything meaningful.

Political analyst Martin Andati warns that Gachagua and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi should be wary of any arrangement that could give the Azimio side more political leverage that impacts on their influence.

“The first one is Gachagua, because once Raila and Ruto develop a working relationship, he becomes irrelevant and the second is Prime Cabinet Secretary (PCS) Musalia Mudavadi,” says Andati.

He argues that although the Office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary will be entrenched in the Constitution, Mudavadi will be bogged down by duties in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Andati further explains that although the Foreign Affairs docket appears to be attractive, the Prime Cabinet Secretary lost the important role of national coordination and supervision of government which was given to Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria in the recent Cabinet reshuffle.

Other expected casualties include rebel ODM MPs and their Jubilee counterparts who moved to Kenya Kwanza and other players outside Parliament like former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero.

“It is believed that Ruto will not need them anymore because the whole idea of the talks is to stop them from being poached when Raila is working closely with the president, which makes it very difficult for them,” says Andati.

“Mt Kenya leaders opposed to the talks are speaking on behalf of Gachagua but people like Sabina Chege and Kanini Kega will also suffer because they jumped ship using Raila’s name,” he adds.

Political Scientist Amukoa Anangwe contends that because the Bomas talks involve two sets of demands, it is likely there will be give and take in the final outcome.

He suggests that each side will be counting the gains and losses they will have made in the event there is an agreement because that is typical in any dialogue of this nature.

“We may not say whether or not there will be casualties, because I remember there were none in the negotiations between Kibaki and Raila after 2007 where it was a win-win situation,” says Prof Anangwe.

It however also depends on the magnitude and complexity of the problem because in the nusu- mkate talks there was a risk of the country disintegrating unlike the current scenario that is less complicated.

Bipartisan talks have taken place since 1997 during the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) talks, the National Dialogue and Reconciliation between President Kibaki and Raila Odinga in 2008 and the Building Bridges Initiative handshake in March 2018.

Analysts like Thuku Mburu of The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) traces such agreements that have become a prominent feature of Kenya’s political landscape, showcasing a complex interplay of interests, ideologies, and power dynamics.

Thuku says the phenomenon of political bipartisan talks and their significance is all in interest the Kenyan political elites quest for power and influence.

“Political actors from different parties engage in behind-the-scenes negotiations, often with the aim of consolidating power and advancing personal interests but the democratic process and the aspirations of the general populace remains at the crossroads,” he says.

He says throughout Kenyan history, the last four Presidents have engaged in dialogue to ensure the seamless and effective functioning of the government.

Moi’s era saw the establishment of the “Cooperation Government,” a term coined to denote the collaborative approach to governance, while Kibaki’s tenure introduced the “coalition” government popularly known as the “nusu mkate” government, reflecting a shared power arrangement.

That was subsequently followed by the “handshake” Government under Uhuru’s leadership, emphasizing the importance of unity and collaboration.

“President Ruto is also advocating for bipartisan talks, aimed at upholding the spirit of cooperation for the betterment of the nation’s governance,” says Thuku.

Although this historical pattern highlights the significance of cross-party discussions in steering Kenya’s political landscape towards stability and progress, at the heart of political bipartisan talks in Kenya lies an intense power struggle among the political elite.

Thuku asserts that these talks serve as a battleground where parties and their leaders negotiate, strategize, and forge alliances to secure their own interests.

He observes that the underlying motivations often revolve around the distribution of resources, control of government institutions, and the advancement of personal and party agendas.

That is why casualties are always inevitable with most of the victims being dumped like a hot potato, with little regard of the consequences.

Political analyst Herman Manyora recently told Spice FM that Gachagua could easily become the main victim of the rapprochement between President Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

“If you see the reception that Ruto received in Nyanza, then both Gachagua and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka should be very worried, but it is possible Kalonzo can be also in the game,” says Manyora.

Raila insists the Bomas team must among other things recommend the country’s governance structure, which could also influence how government will be formed in 2027.

“We must decide whether we are parliamentary, presidential or hybrid system, creating an office of chief cabinet secretary would be establishing a mongrel,” he said during an interview on KTN News.

The Azimio leader’s verbal attacks on Gachagua could also be another reasons Mt Kenya leaders fear he could be threatened by a possible truce between Ruto and Raila.

Two weeks ago, Raila told KTN News that Gachagua does not deserve to be deputy president because of his public conduct and discrimination against other regions apart from his Mt Kenya backyard.

Gachagua hastahili kuwa naibu wa rais wa Kenya kwa sababu anatoa maneno machafu ambayo inaweza kuleta mapigano kwa taifa. Yeye inasemakana ni naibu wa rais wa taifa ya Kenya lakini yeye anajifanya naibu wa rais wa taifa ya mlima Kenya (Gachagua should not be the DP because of his inciteful remarks. He acts like the DP for Mt Kenya),” he said.

Kanu Political Affair Secretary Fred Okang’o says Gachagua fears that the dialogue committee will give birth to constitutional offices which he is not comfortable with.

Okang’o claims that plans to entrench the office of Prime Cabinet Secretary, which was established under Executive Order No. 1 of 2023 could have rattled Gachagua.

“Gachagua says he fears Raila Odinga. He doesn’t fear Raila, he fears the talks because in the talks there is an issue with the establishment of state offices,” he says.

The DP has however said in the past that he was against discussing the 2022 presidential election, and the issues should be dropped from the talks.

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