The Orange Democratic Movement has hit back at Deputy President William Ruto on his claims that party leader Raila Odinga sought a political deal with him before the handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta last year.
The party accused Mr Ruto of spreading falsehoods, and called him “the face of blackmail in high places” after he said in a live television interview on Tuesday that Mr Odinga had approached him four times seeking a political partnership long before the March 9 handshake.
Mr Ruto and his former party boss and political-ally-turned-enemy are each fronting a different account of the behind-the-scenes political manoeuvres that prompted President Kenyatta to strike a peace deal with Mr Odinga.
While giving his version of the intricate behind-the-scenes happenings preceding the handshake, Mr Ruto, in an interview on Citizen TV, said Mr Odinga had made several overtures to him on phone and through emissaries seeking an engagement.
Mr Ruto said he turned him down because he did not believe in his sincerity.
Apparently, according to Mr Ruto, Mr Raila approached him four times after the 2017 elections, before the opposition chief went ahead to engage President Kenyatta in what would culminate in a much-publicised peace deal at Harambee House.
Mr Ruto claimed that Mr Odinga had tried to convince him that he stood to be short-changed in the appointment of Cabinet secretaries.
“He approached me on four occasions to have a discussion, and I declined to engage him for two reasons. In Jubilee, we have one central command. Uhuru Kenyatta is the party leader and president, and we all defer to him. If there is any engagement with anybody on matters politics, it has to start with President Kenyatta. For every approach that was made by him to me, I informed the President. I personally told him I will not engage Raila Odinga,” Mr Ruto said.
His account of the pro-handshake events is in stark contrast to Mr Odinga’s, who in July last year, said that, together with President Kenyatta, they were forced to fight off hard-line positions from their loyalists to save the country.
He said in Kitui that top leaders were left out of the discussions because of their 2022 presidential ambitions, and as a result Mr Ruto and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who was Odinga’s running mate in the 2017 General Election, were not part of the meeting.
“After my swearing-in, I learnt that Uhuru was under pressure from his core Jubilee supporters to arrest and drag me to court on treason charges, but he declined because that would have plunged the country into endless protests and chaos,” said Mr Odinga.
“President Kenyatta asked me to leave out my brother Mr Musyoka from the talks after I also demanded that his deputy Ruto be excluded as well, which he agreed. I insisted that I don’t want to talk to those people who wanted us to discuss 2022. He (Uhuru) said he will not come with Ruto but also asked that I don’t come with Kalonzo,” recounts Mr Odinga.
In the TV interview, Mr Ruto fell short of saying President Kenyatta made their work harder by making peace with Mr Odinga. .
And on whether he thought the handshake is working for the good of the country, Mr Ruto said: “To an extent yes. The fact that we do not have demonstrations anymore, people quarrelling in the streets, businesses are running without problems. It is working.”
But he accused Mr Odinga of engineering political manoeuvres aimed at undermining him and destroying the ruling Jubilee Party.
ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna on Wednesday responded to Mr Ruto's claims and accused him of undermining the handshake.
“The President has round-the-clock access to intelligence briefings and would have known if any of the purported approaches had happened. It is a poorly kept secret in the Ruto entourage that Ruto and his supporters see the President as a man who is not in charge, and that they can do a better job than him. Ruto’s message via Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi was that he was the one in charge of the country and he wanted Mr Odinga to work with him,” Mr Sifuna said.
But Mr Ruto’s spokesperson David Mugonyi hit back, saying: “The incoherent, rabid, juvenile rant by Sifuna is so ridiculously uneducated, spectacularly unhinged, desperately delusional that out of compassion, it must be forgiven and ignored.”
Mr Odinga’s son, Raila Odinga Jnr, took to Twitter and claimed the DP had last year in January tried to entice him and his sister Winnie Odinga “with high-level government positions”.
The DP on Wednesday made reference to the political humiliation he suffered at the hands of Mr Odinga in 2002, revealing that his scepticism in engaging the former premier stemmed from the fact that he did not believe his advances were in “good faith”.
Kanu, whose candidate was Mr Kenyatta, lost to Narc in the subsequent polls in 2002.
But again in 2005, the chemistry between the two was reignited when the Raila-led rebel wing of Liberal Democratic Party in Kibaki’s government teamed up with the Uhuru-led opposition side to defeat the constitutional referendum.
And in the subsequent election, Mr Kenyatta teamed up with Kibaki in the Party of National Unity Coalition while Mr Ruto opted to stay on with Mr Odinga, who ran on an ODM ticket in 2007.
In the grand coalition government that followed, Mr Odinga suspended Mr Ruto as Agriculture minister after he was adversely mentioned in corruption scandals.
President Kibaki reversed the suspensions in a move seen as a humiliating setback for the PM, and Mr Ruto was sent to the less prestigious Ministry of Higher Education.
That reshuffle saw the sacking of Mr Ruto’s ally, Energy assistant minister Charles Keter, now Energy Cabinet Secretary.
ODM chairman John Mbadi, however, describes the political marriage between Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto in the run-up to the 2007 general election as that which was based on “false premises”.
“It was a marriage between people with diverse ideological differences. Ruto is a presumptuous person. When Kenya had just ushered in multipartyism, he saw it as an opportunity to make money. Kenyans had just ushered in change in our political set-up, then he saw an opportunity to align himself with Kanu so that it would continue being in power,” Mr Mbadi said.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria has termed the exchange of words between the two camps as improper.
It’s taking place at the expense of dealing with critical issues such as poor healthcare and rising cost of living that have bedevilled the citizenry, he said.