People Daily

Uhuru-Raila meet could herald end of confrontations

Eric Nyakagwa @PeopleDailyKe

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga on Friday surprised the nation when they held talks at Harambee House and emerged to shake hands and announce the planned launch of a joint initiative dubbed the ‘Bridges to a New Kenyan Nation’.

The initiative will not only seek to drive a common agenda that would better the lives of Kenyans, but also address negative ethnicity, hate and divisions that have bedevilled the country in recent years, but which were worsened by the deep polarisation that followed last year’s hotly contested presidential election.

Though President Uhuru was declared the winner of the August 8 presidential election, Raila successfully petitioned his victory and the Supreme Court nullified the election on grounds of irregularities and illegalities in the tallying and transmission of results. The court ordered a fresh poll within 60 days.

However, Nasa issued a raft of what it termed “irreducible minimums”, which it demanded must be implemented to level the playing ground. In the end, Raila boycotted the October 26 repeat election, accusing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of stone-walling discussions on its demands.

Uhuru won the repeat poll and subsequently sworn in for a second term. Since then, calls by both local and international actors for the two sides to embrace dialogue and address issues surrounding the election, including reforming the country’s electoral architecture, had appeared futile, with President Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto insisting they can only engage in talks on development agenda.

On his part, Raila, while amenable to structured dialogue on, among other issues, what he calls electoral justice, had hitherto refused to recognise President Uhuru’s win. He continued to insist he was the winner of the August 8 poll and on January 30, took a mock oath and declaring himself the ‘people’s president’, which sparked a vicious government clampdown.

His latest position was that the country should hold another election in August after levelling the playing ground though, he has ben meeting resistance from his Nasa co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetang’ula and Musalia Mudavadi.

Already, the President and his deputy have constituted the Cabinet and other plum positions largely rewarding their allies with key appointments. Even then, some felt something needs to be done to cool political temperatures in the country, which has negatively been impacting on the economy.

In a joint opinion piece, two former US ambassadors to Kenya Johnnie Carson and Michael Bellamy, while warning against an open confrontation with Nairobi, urged the Trump administration to work behind the scenes to ensure President Uhuru addresses the situation in the country.

However, the proposal was dismissed off-hand by Foreign Affairs Principal secretary Macharia Kamau. But the fact that the Uhuru-Raila meeting took place hours before US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was to land in the country could mean Washington’s weight may have come to bear on the two leaders.

During their historic talks, the two leaders agreed on an arrangement that would allow the Opposition to play a key role in government by driving both the development agenda, through the devolved governments, as well as tackling other issues central to national cohesion and reconciliation.

They agreed to form an office, which will be co-headed by Ambassador Martin Kamau and Raila’s legal advisor Paul Mwangi, and be staffed by advisors who would drive the new-found common agenda.

The team will be unveiled soon. The team will seek to end ethnic antagonism and competition, promote national ethos, enhance inclusivity, strengthen devolution by bringing together all governors regardless of political affiliation and end divisive elections.

Under the common agenda, the two leaders also agreed to address rising insecurity, tackle corruption, promote shared prosperity, protect the rights as well as nudge Kenyans to embrace responsibilities.

A glance look at the areas covered proves the determination by the two leaders to address the sad history of Kenyan politics where those in power enjoy the national cake to the exclusion of opponents. The presence of Raila’s daughter, Winnie, was also telling given the fact that she is emerging as a key cog in his political operations.

Observers will, however, be keenly watching how the other principals in Nasa, Mudadadi, Kalonzo and Wetang’ula and their backers would react to the new development. Raila’s ODM has in recent days been sending signals it was readying for a Nasa divorce.

This would best be seen in Parliament as the two leaders will need bi-partisan support to drive the common agenda that will include legal reforms and budgetary support.

However, key Jubilee leaders, among them DP Ruto, several Cabinet secretaries and National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale have hailed the initiative, signalling looming consensus by their side. More is expected to emerge from this surprise camaraderie than just the firm handshakes on the steps of Harambee House.

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