Opposition chief Raila Odinga yesterday failed to convince his co-principals on his surprise deal with President Uhuru Kenyatta as their day-long talks ended in deadlock.
During the meeting at the Stoni Athi Resort, Machakos, his co-principals remained adamant on a structured dialogue based on their five-point agenda that includes electoral justice, threats to the Judiciary and devolution.
In an indication of the palpable tension, the NASA top brass did not field questions from journalists, saying the matters were ‘weighty.’
"For avoidance of doubt, the matters we have been handling today are very weighty...we will not take any questions," ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi said before proceeding to read a general statement on behalf of his colleagues.
Raila stood by, pensive, as if longing for a chance to say something, but gagged. Although the joint statement referred to yesterday’s talks as ‘frank and candid’, the principals said they had agreed to refer the matter to their individual political party organs and report back.
The statement did not state what specifically was to be considered by their separate national executive councils.
"Remember NASA is a coalition of political parties and their structures must be taken into account and they shall be briefed about our discussions and their input will also come through," stressed Mudavadi in the short statement.
Indicative of the simmering tensions within the NASA ranks, the Opposition principals’ body language was quite telling, even as they struggled to cut an image of a united front.
"We want talks that are inclusive, genuine and that will involve all Kenyans," said Mudavadi.
There was no camaraderie and or patting on the shoulders that often mark such meetings. Aides said the closed-door deliberations were ‘stormy and heated.’
"The Summit registers its appreciation on opening of the doors for constructive dialogue as initiated by the two leaders and the framework for and consequent steps to be taken to address the issues of national concern," read the statement, without being specific.
Yesterday’s meeting had earlier been scheduled as a routine follow-up session on coalition matters, but the principals left out of the Raila-Uhuru talks insisted on making the Friday Harambee House meeting the priority agenda.
ANC leader Musalia, Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya) and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka who have said Raila betrayed them, were said to be furious and visibly angry as they confronted the ODM leader.
The three are reported to have demanded that Raila explain why he decided to enter into an agreement with Uhuru behind their backs before any deliberations could start.
No satisfactory answers were forthcoming, said an ally of one of the principals on condition of anonymity, careful not to go against the script.
He added that they were unsure of Raila’s objectives in entering a deal with Uhuru. “Either he is realizing that he will never become President, so he wants to credit himself with unifying the nation, or he is aiming for a ceremonial president role.”
But a close ally of Raila was dismissive of the co-principals’ pressure.
"Some of them have made very adverse statements in the media. They’ve been briefed but there is no agreement. They expected Raila to climb down but that did not happen," said the aide.
"They have been walking him to the guillotine as they plan to use him to run in 2022," he added.
According to reliable sources, Raila countered their criticism of meeting with Uhuru without consulting them, claiming that the three were undercutting him and were at an advanced stage to strike a deal with DP William Ruto.
"It was hot and heated," a senior NASA official who attended the meeting said. The meeting nearly collapsed after word spread that Raila had planned to skip the retreat.
The leaders first got into the meeting room with each one accompanied by a trusted ally, but they later kicked them out as they took on each other with counter-accusations.
NASA management committee co-chairs Siaya Senator James Orengo, former Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama, MPs Eseli Simiyu (Tongaren) and Saku Bunyasi (Nambale) then joined them later.
Ford Kenya deputy party leader Boni Khalwale, Wiper chairman Kivutha Kibwana and ANC Secretary General Barrack Muluka and Chris Wamalwa waited outside as the principals and the co-chairmen of the NASA management organ deliberated on the business of the day.
To seal the lid on their explosive talks, the principals and their allies mutually agreed not to carry with them their mobile phones to avoid information being leaked out.
When they emerged after the lengthy talks, the principals said they had agreed on national dialogue but appeared to differ with its form and mode, the elephant in the room that threatens NASA’s survival. There was no indication on whether the other principals would hitch a ride on what Raila had already started with Uhuru.
"For the avoidance of doubt, let it be known that we support and encourage constructive and structured dialogue to address the causes of our national problems, including electoral injustice, insecurity, challenges to devolution, inclusivity, poverty, and attacks on the independence of the Judiciary," they said.
A close associate of the ODM leader told the Star that Raila had been categorical that he was not interested in getting into government, but was looking for a bipartisan resolution of the issues. He said despite the meeting yesterday, the Raila-Uhuru initiative would go on with the appointment of the 15-member secretariat this week.
"It is not tied to parties. The plan is on course and the committee will embark on its work," he said.
As part of the cessation of hostilities agreed between Raila and Uhuru, the security of the leaders and the suspended passports of the NASA leaders had been restored.
Yesterday, the Organising Committee of the People’s Assembly also suspended its activities.
The joint secretaries of the unity project — Paul Mwangi and Martin Kimani — are said to be drafting the terms of reference to be approved by Raila and Uhuru this week.
The Summit meeting, which started at around noon, was tense right from their arrival and even as they flanked each other during the briefing, amid evident anxiety.
While the leaders drove in a convoy to the hotel with Raila’s car in the lead, the Opposition chief just walked straight into the meeting room without waiting for his colleagues.
Raila was received by National Assembly deputy Minority leader Robert Mbui and Siaya Senator James Orengo.
Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula, Kalonzo and Mudavadi followed in that order, respectively
In what signals Raila’s dominance in NASA, the coalition suspended the People’s Assembly initiative that was launched as part of pressure to force Jubilee to dialogue.
The People’s Assembly organising committee announced that it had suspended its activities at the request of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila.
The committee, led by Dr David Ndii, said it had impressed on the leaders they make sure the unity talks were honest and truthful.
". . . the process will acknowledge that tribalism is not a name but a means used to acquire power," said Ndii during a media briefing at the Okoa Kenya secretariat in Nairobi.