High level push that forced Ruto, Raila to negotiate

Written by on 4 April 2023

President William Ruto and Azimio One Kenya leader Raila Odinga kept secret their talks to end the twice-weekly protests that had started hitting the economy and jeopardized lives and property.

The two played their cards close to their chests, keeping details of their discussions secret even from their closest allies after they were warned to be wary of vested interests from their respective political groupings.

It has also emerged that the President opted to climb down to avoid yet another violent confrontation with Azimio leaders and supporters yesterday.

At the same time, reports indicate that Delaware Senator Chris Coons — credited for playing a part in the President Uhuru Kenyatta-Raila 2018 “handshake” that ended a similar stand-off, played a major role in efforts to break the ice between President Ruto and the Azimio leader.

Although they were kept in touch with each other over the weekend, President Ruto and Raila never met in person, only engaging through a senior official in the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) who acted as an intermediary and who relayed messages from one party to the other.

Some sources indicated that the President turned down a proposal for a physical meeting that religious leaders were pushing for. In the absence of direct talks, the senior official was engaged to act as a go-between relaying the two leaders’ respective positions.

So secretive were the negotiations that only three people on President Ruto’s side were aware of the developments; Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, his Transport counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen and Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot. On Raila’s side, only his 2022 presidential campaign running mate, Martha Karua, and Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka were looped in.

Former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, Roots Party leader George Wajackoya and the rest of the Azimio leadership was in the dark over the goings on until the last minute. “The stakes were high and we told the two leaders that they would be held responsible should the country burn, and therefore they had to take up the initiative,” Mombasa Catholic Archbishop Martin Kivuva, who also chairs the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) and was part of the initiative, told People Daily yesterday.

The clerics approached the two leaders directly after they realised that the talks were being frustrated by hardliners in the respective corners. As a result, the negotiators asked the two leaders to leave out their allies considered to have taken hard-line positions.

International community

Sources privy to the talks indicated to the People Daily that though there had been several initiatives geared towards brokering a truce between the two leaders, they were later whittled down to two…. one led by the international community and the other by KCCB (see separate story).

The initiative by the international community was spearheaded by Coons, who led a US delegation into the country and first held a meeting with Gachagua on Wednesday before meeting Raila later in the evening.

An initiative by the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) was shelved after Raila’s camp reportedly raised reservations over the presence of a leading clergyman in the team, whom they accused of being partisan.

Senator Coons, a close ally of US President Joe Biden, also met retired President Uhuru Knyatta and later President Ruto on Friday before departing for the US later in the evening. According to one source, President Biden had dispatched Croons to broker the talks.

Yesterday Daadab Member of Parliament Farah Maalim, a Kalonzo ally, attributed the success of the talks to Coon’s intervention.  “The biggest game changer here is not the church, the religious sector, or the political class. It is the American Senator Chris Coons who talked to everybody and told them to stand down,” said the MP.

Before the Sunday announcement, there had been fears over the future of the talks after allies of President Ruto and Raila appeared to harden their positions.

For instance, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua had been highly critical of Raila, with some of his allies saying that any talks could only centre around Raila’s permanent retirement from politics and calling off the protests.

Gachagua had on Saturday heightened tension when he claimed that Monday would have been the last day for Azimio to hold any demonstrations before the government “asserts its authority”.

Speaking in Malava, Kakamega County during a thanksgiving ceremony of the area MP Injendi Malulu, Gachagua said: “I want to assure the people of Kenya today from Kakamega County that tomorrow, nobody, and I repeat nobody, will be allowed to destroy property anywhere in the Republic of Kenya.”

A day earlier, Raila had claimed that Monday, April 3 would have been the “mother of all protests”.

Sources within his camp had told the People Daily that Azimio had threatened to storm the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD), a threat that Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome had vowed would have been met with “the full force of the law”, meaning that this would have ended up as violent confrontation between protesters and police.

The government was determined to keep Azimio out of the city centre as it is considered the heart and soul of government and commercial operations.

Azimio protests centred on the need to reduce the high cost of living, including the price of unga, the opening of last year’s presidential election servers for a forensic audit, stopping the reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and respecting multi-party democracy to allow all parties to flourish without the government enticing opposition legislators to its side.

On the other hand, President Ruto’s side had ruled out discussing anything related to the outcome of the 2022 General Election, which the President said was settled by the Supreme Court judgement.

The team also ruled out discussions on the constitution of a new IEBC team, a position that the President vacated on Sunday during his address to the nation from State House, Nairobi. Talks have already started to make this a parliamentary process since MPs must pass a new law once they agree on how the new commissioners are to be selected.

On the high cost of living, President Ruto had insisted on being given more time to enable the measures they have put in place to start working. And on Sunday, he said consignments of foodstuff would be arriving in the country’s ports this week and, once in the market, they were expected to ease the cost of basic goods, hence manage inflation.

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