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The problem with national talks, from the horses’ mouths

Friday January 5 2018

Uhuru and Raila

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and Nasa leader Raila Odinga. Jubilee and Nasa leaders have hit a deadlock on the much anticipated national dialogue to end the political stand-off brought about by last year’s elections. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Jubilee and National Super Alliance leaders have hit a deadlock on the much anticipated national dialogue to end the political stand-off brought about by last year’s bitterly contested elections.

And even before the two sides open channels of communication in an effort to heal the wounds created by the polls, politicians from both sides are already dismissing each other’s agenda for the proposed talks that are being pushed by diplomats, the Church and the business community.

On Thursday, American ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec said the Opposition coalition and the ruling Jubilee should give national dialogue a chance, noting that discussions between the two sides on the structure of the talks are ongoing.

But his assertion that talks were ongoing was immediately disputed by politicians from both Nasa and Jubilee, in a classic example of what happens when parties cannot trust each other, and how far political henchmen would go to protect their turfs. Kenyans, unfortunately, are caught in the middle.


Interviews with politicians from across the political divide reveal a fractured, fidgety approach to the conversation about electoral and judicial dialogue, with either side arguing that the other wants to scam the process.


Jubilee majority leader in the National Assembly, Mr Aden Duale, said he cannot understand the motivation for dialogue yet the electioneering period is already behind Kenyans.

“Kenyans long picked their leaders,” he said. “What else does somebody want us to dialogue over? If we must talk with the opposition, it must be about achieving universal healthcare, affordable housing, food security and manufacturing. Nothing else.”

Mr Duale held that when the opposition took up positions in parliamentary committees and minority and whip positions, it inadvertently recognised Mr Kenyatta’s win.

But Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua, who is a close ally of Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, the Nasa running mate in the August 8 presidential elections, said such talks must be on electoral justice, and that its agenda must be sanctioned by Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka.


“In the event of such talks, we will insist on achieving electoral justice, not a boardroom deal. We are not interested in anusu mkate (coalition government) arrangement. We want talks that will return victory to its rightful owners — Raila and Kalonzo,” he said.

These positions point to a stillbirth at the negotiating table as neither side trusts the other, and so the environment does not give room for agreement on the talks agenda.

Jubilee party vice-chairman David Murathe said President Kenyatta has been very clear that he wants healing, inclusion and focus on his four pillars to deliver to Kenyans, and “if there is need for any dialogue, it will be directly with the people”.

“Nasa is having dialogue directly with their people’s assemblies, na hata sisi tutaongea na wananchi (we will also engage the public directly),” he said, posing: “Who said we must sit around a table with a few select people?”

Mr Murathe said Nasa has tried hard to “externalise” the political tussle. “They were even calling for the United Nations to supervise elections and we refused. We said as long as these are Kenyan issues, only Kenyans will solve them.”


He dismissed those pushing for dialogue between Nasa and Jubilee as “busybodies”, adding: “The envoys have talked to the clergy, the private sector, and even Raila and his team. I do not know whether the President is in the loop, but I know there are people imagining that there will be a caucus in terms of dialogue. That is wishful thinking.”

He said the diplomatic community has no business minding Kenya’s internal affairs.

“If Kenyans need international participation, it will have to follow the correct channels, and the right channel is for Raila to talk directly to Uhuru and suggest the areas they need to tackle. But to get stuck like a broken record singing the same electoral justice tune… what is election justice? When they win?”

Mr Godec had earlier in the day said that “dialogue is important”, and that “the country must be as strong and united as possible”.


“The elections are over,” he continued during a meeting with Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka and majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen at Parliament Buildings in Nairobi, where they also discussed the promotion of devolution. “They are now behind Kenyans. It is now time to move forward.”

As a result of the impasse, the opposition coalition National Super Alliance said it will swear in Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka as president and deputy president, respectively, this month.

Their plans to swear in Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka are informed, in part, by what the coalition terms as President Kenyatta’s “intransigence” for a structured dialogue. Other plans to push for reforms include a series of protests, civil disobedience, and unveiling of a people’s assembly.

ODM executive director Oduor Ong’wen said in Nairobi on Thursday that Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka have formed, and are set to unveil, an assumption to office committee that will work on the modalities of their swearing-in ceremony, tentatively set for the end of January.

Reporting by Ibrahim Oruko, David Mwere, Justus Wanga and Wanjohi Githae