Raila retreats from Ruto deal amid backlash

Kalonzo claims dialogue will amount to sanitising Kenya Kwanza

In Summary
  • The six-day national conversation runs from Monday to Saturday.
  • ODM has defended the talks saying it is the only way out of crisis.
President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga and other leaders from both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio coalition at KICC after signing of IEBC Bill into Law on Tuesday, July 9, 2024.
President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga and other leaders from both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio coalition at KICC after signing of IEBC Bill into Law on Tuesday, July 9, 2024.
Image: PCS

In a dramatic turn of events, ODM leader Raila Odinga appears to be backing away from a proposed political deal with President William Ruto, as his coalition partners reject the plan for a government of national unity.

Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka has joined other Azimio la Umoja principals in firmly rejecting the planned national dialogue, throwing a wrench into Ruto's plans to form a broad-based administration.

Sources indicate that Ruto had agreed to offer Raila seven Cabinet slots and 12 principal secretary positions, as well as several parastatal appointments and ambassador posts, in a bid to bring the former Prime Minister into the fold.

However, the backlash from Raila's own coalition has seemingly forced him to reconsider this arrangement.

On Wednesday, Raila tweeted a cryptic message, saying "I have been told by these leaders that you don't want a handshake. The message is home."

This apparent retreat comes amid growing public outcry over the prospect of Raila and Ruto joining forces, just months after a bitterly contested election that saw Azimio reject the results.

The situation echoes the post-2005 referendum period, when former President Mwai Kibaki cobbled together a government of national unity, appointing stalwarts from rival political parties to cabinet positions.

Raila's willingness to consider such an arrangement has perplexed and angered many of his staunchest supporters, who have taken to social media to express their opposition to any deal with Ruto.

As pressure mounts, it remains to be seen whether Raila will ultimately give in to the demands of his coalition partners or if he will press ahead with the national unity government proposal, risking further isolation from his political base.

This fluid political landscape underscores the challenges facing the Ruto administration as it seeks to forge a broad-based government and heal the divisions that have plagued the country in the wake of a highly contentious election.

On Wednesday,  Kalonzo announced that his party will not participate in the six-day national dialogue convened by President Ruto.

Kalonzo said he would not engage in any process that appears to legitimise the Kenya Kwanza regime, stating, "They [Gen Zs] don't need dialogue, we don't need to be seen to be sanitising a regime that has fallen flat on its tummy."

Kalonzo has joined other Azimio la Umoja principals Martha Karua and Eugene Wamalwa in declining to be part of any engagements with Ruto's administration.

Earlier on Wednesday, the ODM party strongly defended the call for national dialogue, insisting that only such talks can help the country navigate the current political crisis.

ODM chairman John Mbadi said in a statement: "In making the call, the party leader (Raila) did what he does always. Raila always helps the country pull back from the precipice whenever we find ourselves there. There can be no doubt that as a country, we are at a crossroads and approaching a precipice. One of us has to be magnanimous and patriotic enough to help call the country to order."

Mbadi noted that national conversations have historically helped resolve political crises in Kenya, citing examples like the Inter-Party Parliamentary Group in 1997 that ended single-party rule, the 2008 post-election dialogue, and the 2017 handshake between Raila and former President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Sources indicate the upcoming dialogue, scheduled for Monday to Saturday next week, may result in changes to the government structure.

President Ruto disclosed that 50 slots will be reserved for youth, while the remaining 100 will be shared across various sectors.

There are suggestions this could lead to the formation of a Government of National Unity, where ODM members may be incorporated into Ruto's Cabinet.

However, the details of any power-sharing deal remain closely guarded. Some reports indicate Raila may be allocated seven Cabinet positions, while Ruto names 12. The total number of cabinet secretaries is expected to be capped at 19.

Senate Minority Whip Ledama Ole Kina confirmed plans for a unity government, while ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna defended the party's involvement, stating Raila will not be speaking on behalf of the "leaderless" Gen Z, but rather for Azimio's constituents.

“A Government of national unity it is,” Ole Kina said.

"Baba (Raila) did not say he was going to speak on behalf of Gen Z. Gen Z said they are leaderless, and he is not their leader. But Baba has people he is leading, not everyone is leaderless or partyless," Sifuna said.

"I have a party and I'm the secretary general and we also have a stake in this country. We cannot just sit and be quiet when things are happening in the country." 

Governance expert Fred Ogolla dismissed the planned dialogue, arguing that such exercises have historically yielded little tangible progress. He suggested the country needs new leadership to move forward.

“These guys had dialogue even before independence between Jaramogi and Kenyatta, there was no dialogue for Asian Tigers like Singapore, South Korea to achieve what they did,” Ogola said.

“In short our leaders are acknowledging failed leadership and therefore the rest of us should emerge and offer leadership.”

National conversations have previously pulled the country out of political crisis dating from the days of Inter-Party Parliamentary Group in 1997 that birthed the ended the single party rule.

The dialogue as it is widely known, was also instrumental in getting the country from the bloodshed that followed the 2007 general election.

The political class would again rush to the negotiation table when the country was on the brink of collapse in 2017 resulting into the birth of handshake that saw Raila and retired President Uhuru Kenyatta working together.


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