Nadco blow adds to scheme to derail deal that ended demos

President William Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua receive the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) report from the Co-Chairs Kalonzo Musyoka and Kimani Ichung'wah at State House Nairobi. [PCS]

There was mistrust before the smiles, as fierce rivals presented the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) report to their principals.

President William Ruto’s dialogue with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga seems to be coming full circle. A court ruling temporarily halting the implementation of the said report, already adopted by the bicameral Parliament, has the opposition reading mischief.

“The mischief is more than apparent. We shall handle it appropriately. For now, the less said, the better,” said National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi, a Nadco member who, in former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s absence, co-chaired the committee’s sessions.

Three weeks ago, the Ugunja Member of Parliament joined other Nadco members in presenting its report to Ruto and Raila amid calls for Parliament to fast-track the implementation of the report.

At State House, the president expressed gratitude to the committee for its work, which he said underscored Kenya’s reputation for upholding democracy.

“We can always use democratic means to resolve whatever issues that may arise,” Ruto said about opposition demonstrations that rocked the country last year, leading to deaths of tens, allegedly in the hands of the police.

On his part, Raila insisted that the report should be implemented without alterations, warning against attempts to water it down.

“As was the case with the process, this document has enemies from reactionary forces across the political divide, inside and outside Parliament,” the former premier said.

The opposition leader’s words hinted that the smiles during the report’s presentation masked the backroom wars that threatened to tear the process apart.

Days earlier, Raila’s Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition party had sounded a similar alarm, warning that “forces” within Kenya Kwanza threatened to “delay, derail or even kill the Nadco report”.

That mistrust has been apparent in recent weeks, amid accusations by Azimio lawmakers that their Kenya Kwanza colleagues were delaying the formulation of key laws that would anchor the Nadco report.

Among the report’s proposals include restructuring the electoral commission and its selection panel, an audit of the 2022 presidential election (the subject of the court case), a framework to implement the two-thirds gender parity principle and creating the position of Leader of the Official Opposition as well as that of Prime Cabinet Secretary.

The report also seeks to anchor into law affirmative action funds, such as the National Government Constituency Development Fund, among other proposals.

There was always suspicion between Azimio and Kenya Kwanza. Initially forced to the table by escalating tensions, the two sides reluctantly agreed to form a bipartisan committee that never really took off.

That was in April last year, when the president extended an olive branch to his rival, imploring him to call off anti-government protests. Weeks of wrangling resulted in the inevitable dissolution of the committee, then co-led by MPs Otiende Amollo (Rarieda) and Gitonga Murugara (Tharaka).

A fresh round of demos would ensue, amid attempts by foreign leaders and States to bring Ruto and Raila to the table. Ruto would snub a meeting with Raila, mediated by Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu, before agreeing to one convened by former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo, birthing Nadco.

Among opposition lawmakers, some felt that the President was stringing Raila along while never really interested in the talks, with the latest ruling only cementing such thoughts.

“It was just a gimmick by Kenya Kwanza to get Azimio off the streets and they succeeded. And now they are seeking an escape by giving Raila the African Union Commission(AUC) chairperson position, which, to me, is the end of Nadco,” Saboti MP Caleb Amisi told the Saturday Standard.

Nadco’s initial meetings occasionally degenerated into shouting matches, as rivals disagreed on the committee’s agenda. While Kenya Kwanza opposed discussions on the cost of living and auditing the 2022 presidential election, Azimio was not enthusiastic about creating new positions.

They would strike a compromise, leading to cordial discussions that grew partisan during the public hearings, with the two sides tearing into the other’s proposals.

Wrangles often occurred, as did they whenever Uhuru’s Jubilee party suffered an attempted coup, with the party’s Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni, a member of Nadco’s technical team, demanding Azimio’s withdrawal.

Despite the differences, the committee would find a working formula that resulted in their report.

But within Kenya Kwanza, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua openly opposed Nadco, with observers suggesting that he feared the process would see Ruto and Raila join hands.

The fear is that the DP could find himself sidelined as then-DP Ruto was in the wake of Raila’s handshake with former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018.

Many within the Mt Kenya region, such as Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, have been uneasy over such prospects, recently made worse by Ruto’s decision to back Raila for the AUC job, amid talk of a “silent handshake”.

In Azimio, lawmakers like Embakasi East’s Babu Owino have urged Azimio to pull out of the talks, arguing that there was little interest from the government to address the cost of living.

Azimio has insisted on backing the report despite resistance from Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua and former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, who sat in Nadco.