Opposition leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday revealed how he and President Uhuru Kenyatta fought off hardline positions from their loyalists to save the country from plunging into civil strife last year.
Mr Odinga said his supporters were determined to boycott paying taxes to the government and remove President Kenyatta’s portraits from offices and business premises in his strongholds to protest the bungled General Election.
On the other hand, Mr Kenyatta was under pressure from Jubilee loyalists to arrest and charge Mr Odinga with treason after his mock swearing-in as the people’s president on January 30 at Uhuru Park, said Mr Odinga.
The fear of the country plunging into anarchy forced him and President Kenyatta to make painful concessions, to the disappointment of large sections of their respective support bases, said the opposition chief.
It is these concessions and subsequent talks that culminated in the famous handshake, he explained in Kitui.
“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 could have plunged the country into endless protests and chaos,” said Mr Odinga in a candid speech that gave a detailed account of the behind-the-scenes political manoeuvres that forced him and President Kenyatta to the negotiating table without any preconditions.
Mr Odinga said President Kenyatta had agreed to arrest him but backed off on further and careful consideration of the full implications of such an action.
“Our people had already agreed to gather all presidential portraits and burn them. We were also going to start collecting taxes from people in our strongholds. I thought about it keenly and figured that we could easily head the Syria or Yemen way,” he said, adding that his diehard supporters wanted to burn President Kenyatta’s portraits at a public event in open defiance of his authority as President and in protest to the alleged election rigging.
As a leader, he was torn between doing what is right for Kenya and appeasing his supporters, who had legitimate grievances about electoral injustice, he said, adding:
“Had I allowed such a countrywide protest, the Jubilee government would have reacted with brutal force clamping down on Nasa supporters and this would have taken the country down a hugely dangerous path.”
Speaking when he presided over the launch of Kitui Villa, a boutique hotel owned by one of his foremost advisers, US based law scholar Prof Makau Mutua, the ODM party leader said that during those tense political moments, Kenya could have easily descended into unprecedented political chaos and civil strife.
Mr Odinga said that when President Kenyatta approached him for dialogue, he demanded that no politician interested in running for 2022 presidential elections from Jubilee party should be party to the talks.
“We first had preliminary talks on how to conduct the final talks. I gave my demands and he accepted that I will meet him alone. He also insisted that the Nasa co-principals are excluded and kept in the dark,” said Mr Odinga, adding that that was why he locked out Wiper leader and his running mate in the presidential elections Kalonzo Musyoka from the talks.
“President Kenyatta asked me to leave out my brother Mr Musyoka from the talks, after I also demanded that his deputy William 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,” said Mr Odinga.
It was the first time Mr Odinga was explaining the events leading to the March 9 handshake and why he never involved his co-principals Mr Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula.
The exclusion of the three co-principals led to the near collapse of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) with the trio accusing Mr Odinga of betrayal.
In an interview with NTV on Sunday, Mr Ruto had claimed that he was fully aware of the planned historic handshake and wondered why Mr Odinga had suggested that he was not.
"A lot of stories have been peddled around as to whether William Ruto was aware or not. This is one decision Uhuru consulted me and asked for my views, much as I heard Raila say I was not in the know, and I do not know how he arrived at it, “said Mr Ruto.
Mr Musyoka attended Tuesday’s function also graced by Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, her Makueni counterpart Kivutha Kibwana and Mr Odinga’s wife Ida.
Mr Odinga explained that Kenya would never have been the same again had he not agreed to the talks.
He reminded the guests that he risked high treason and “death by strangulation” by getting himself sworn-in as the people’s president.
He sought to assure Kenyans that they will soon reap the benefits of the handshake once the task force mandated to work on modalities of actualising the deal starts collecting views from the public.
“Very soon, the task force will go around every county collecting views from Kenyans on how they want the country governed. This will climax in a constitutional referendum,” he said, adding that after eight years of governance under the 2010 constitution, it was time to review the document and correct the gaps that had been identified.
Mr Musyoka said he endorsed the handshake for the sake of Kenya’s political stability and that he was in support of efforts to fight runaway corruption.
The leaders heaped praise on Prof Makau Mutua whom they described as a man of impeccable quality and strength.
Mr Musyoka and Mr Odinga said Prof Mutua’s independent mind, fearless writing and speech had won him both friend and foe.