Intrigues in surprise Uhuru-Raila Harambee House meeting

Sunday March 11 2018

Deal

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga at Harambee House on Friday morning. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By JUSTUS WANGA
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Delicate secret talks involving at least three night meetings and numerous direct phone calls between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga began late last year before a final push led to the surprise deal on Friday that could re-engineer the political scene.

The Sunday Nation can also reveal that before agreeing to jointly address the country, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga met at the home of a Judiciary official in a bid to close ranks.

Members of the Odinga and Kenyatta families, who have had a love-hate relationship since independence, were also deeply involved in preparing the ground for the pact described in an official statement as “building bridges to a new Kenyan nation.”

AMBASSADORS

Recent talks between Kikuyu and Luo elders also helped to soften the ground, although those involved were not aware of subsequent talks that led to the Friday deal.

And the name of US ambassador Robert Godec has featured prominently.

His behind-the-scenes efforts partly played a role ahead of the visit by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Nairobi.

With the agreement, Mr Odinga now hopes to amend the tattered relationship with the West.

He has been on a warpath with Western ambassadors, especially US and UK, after he accused them of siding with Jubilee despite "glaring human rights violations and electoral fraud".

DANGEROUS PATH

Those in the full picture of the behind the scenes talks said it was at the last secret meeting between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga before the Friday one that the working relationship between the two was clinched.

The closely-knit group involved in the mediation is said to have felt that with the acrimony between the two sides coupled with the State’s brutal crackdown on the opposition and a struggling economy, the country was sliding into a dangerous path.

But Mr Odinga’s “swearing-in” on January 30 temporarily jolted the talks as Mr Kenyatta questioned the opposition leader’s sincerity.

SECRET

Interviews with some of the individuals at the heart of what has been billed as a “fragile diplomatic push” show that the two politicians have been in direct talks, mostly via phone, a closely guarded secret with the spymaster Philip Kameru playing a pivotal role.

Mr Kameru, a retired Major General is said to have in January played a big part in dissuading Mr Kenyatta from arresting Mr Odinga after he defied him and took the oath of office.

It also turned out that the Minority Whip in the National Assembly Junet Mohamed, a confidante of Mr Odinga, played the “postman” role and is the reason Mr Odinga insisted on going with him to Harambee House.

AMENDMENTS

And once Friday was confirmed as the long awaited day, a small group of handlers of the two spent the entire Thursday fine-tuning details of the talks, an exercise that went well into the night.

“Raila chose Mwangi (Lawyer Paul Mwangi), Uhuru picked the ambassador (Martin Kimani, the director National Counter-Terrorism centre).

The two were tasked to come up with a position paper incorporating the thinking of their bosses. That was the document released on Friday.

It was shared with Uhuru and Raila early in the week. Each made amendments to the paper,” a source privy to the talks told us on Saturday.

He added: “If you were keen, you must have realised that the two leaders have not traded harsh words in public for the last couple of weeks, it was a sign of good faith from both ends.”

POLITICAL DEAL

Suspicion that Mr Odinga’s co-principals in the National Super Alliance were also putting final touches to a deal with Deputy President William Ruto may have also influenced the fast-tracking of the Friday deal between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.

The former Prime Minister was engaging the Head of State behind the backs of his peers in Nasa whom we are also reliably informed had opened a channel to broker a political deal to “cooperate” with Jubilee.

“Raila acted before they did,” said an ally of Mr Odinga.

Suspicion within Nasa has been rife since Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Musalia Mudavadi and Senator Moses Wetang’ula skipped the “swearing-in” ceremony.

REALIGNMENT

Allies of Mr Musyoka, Mr Odinga’s running mate in the August 8 presidential election like Mr Farah Maalim admit that Mr Odinga stole the thunder from them.

“There is going to be a very serious realignment. Raila beat them to this but they will try and make up for it,” said Mr Maalim. 

But despite the show that Nasa was in fact dead and buried, one of the principals who asked not to be named expressed hope that a planned meeting would nonetheless proceed on Monday.

“Agenda is to discuss future of Nasa. It was planned during Wednesday’s Summit meeting before he (Raila) ambushed us with the events of Friday. He did not give any indication that he was in talks with Mr Kenyatta during our Wednesday meeting. Friday’s events will now make a substantial part of Monday’s agenda given that they are highly contentious,” he said.

STRUCTURES

Mr Odinga’s allies could not immediately confirm his availability at the meeting.

His ODM party has scheduled a parliamentary group meeting on Monday to ratify his decision.

On Saturday, Mr Mudavadi who was Mr Odinga’s chief campaigner feeling betrayed said the newfound friendship between the pair stood on quicksand.

“For the record, and on the basis of the statement released, I can categorically state that the meeting was between two people. It does not bear the imprint of Nasa Summit as it ought to be. It was not processed through the Nasa structures. Indeed nowhere does the MoU allude to or mention Nasa, including the signing off. Instead, the two repeatedly invoke their names and personally commit to each other and not to Kenyans,” he said.

LEGITIMACY

Mr Mudavadi added that in the larger scheme of things, it is Mr Kenyatta who scored big by getting his adversary to recognise him as president.

Mr Odinga alongside his Nasa colleagues have in the past refused to recognise Mr Kenyatta’s legitimacy.

Perhaps the clearest demonstration that a deal was in the offing was when Mr Denis Onyango, Mr Odinga’s spokesman who was not inside the meeting room handed him a copy of a prepared speech as he emerged from inside to glaring cameras.

CONFUSION

The document had been prepared beforehand and with the knowledge of the agenda of the discussion.

Before the meeting, there was brief confusion at the gate of Harambee House when one person in Mr Odinga’s entourage, Mr Andrew Mondoh, a former Permanent Secretary for Special Programmess in the coalition government was denied entry.

It turned out his name had not been submitted for security clearance as is always the norm at one of the country's most heavily guarded installations.

LEGACY

The thinking among those close to Mr Kenyatta who were in the loop say that doing his second and final term in office, he has the last chance to stamp his name in the annals of history by leaving a legacy which future generations will celebrate and uniting the country.

While much of his focus has been on the Big Four agenda touching on manufacturing, universal healthcare, affordable housing, and food security, Mr Kenyatta has now added national unity.

ADVISERS

On the other hand, Mr Odinga is coming to the climax of his career as a crusader for justice and democracy and needs to consolidate his gains into a legacy, his handlers say.

They say the motivation for the former premier is the realisation that after four unsuccessful attempts, he may not become president. At 73, time may also not be on his side.

As part of the agreement, Mr Odinga will have a full-fledged office with at least seven advisers.

“The office is likely to be at Harambee house or Jogoo House, but it’s a matter still in discussion since his advisers want a full building for their activities,” said a source.

PENSION

In addition to the office, Mr Odinga will receive full benefits envisaged under the Retirement Benefits (Deputy President And Designated State Officers).

The act has a caveat that those who should benefit should not engage in political activities.

Some of the benefits of a former PM established in the Act include a monthly pension equal to 80 per cent of the monthly salary of his last monthly salary while in office.

He will also access a lumpsum payment on retirement, calculated as a sum equal to one year’s salary paid for each termed served in office.

INSURANCE

Equally, he will also have access to a number of vehicles and a generous medical insurance. 

One core activities of his office will be on cohesion and conflict resolution in various parts of the country.

“Former president Daniel Moi is involved in education issues while former president Mwai Kibaki is in water issues. For him it is about peace activities,” said a highly placed source.

FUTURE

Mr Odinga now believes that all his years of struggle cannot be summed up in a legacy of intransigence, added the source.

“He needs to ensure that his gains are firmly imbedded in the future life of the nation.  Their challenge is of course their respective constituencies and their ability to whip them towards this new direction.

Both have followers who are polarised by egos and ambitions, sometimes without regard to the vision of their respective leaders,” one of Mr Odinga’s allies said.

RISK

According to a State House figure involved in midwifing the talks, reconciling rival communities would be a good legacy for the pair who have been locked in the old stand-off of their fathers.

For them, there has always been the risk of leaving the gap between the two deeper than their fathers did.