Opposition leader Raila Odinga on Thursday had a seven-hour meeting with South Sudan President Salva Kiir in what seems to usher in his full-blown role as an African Union special envoy, and an official representative of Kenya in the negotiations to end civil strife in the troubled country.
It was his first formal role after the historic March 9 handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta, sealed on the steps of Harambee House, Nairobi.
Mr Odinga, accompanied by his lawyer Paul Mwangi and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, took a 7am Kenya Airways flight to Juba for the talks with Mr Kiir that ended at around 5pm.
Next week, Mr Odinga will travel to South Africa to meet former South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar, the ace of the other half of the new country’s ugly conflict
Details of the meeting emerged as Mr Odinga promised to use the handshake to tackle increasing corruption scandals in government, even as a 14-member implementation team developed a timeline, projecting that it would take them six months to produce a report on the initiative.
Speaking for the first time about the Sh9 billion National Youth Service scandal and the National Cereals and Produce Board scam in Busia, Mr Odinga said he and President Kenyatta had long agreed to tackle graft.
The 14-member peace team has, meanwhile, been working away from the public eye to come up with a clear foundation on what needs to be done to achieve the nine-point agenda sealed with the historic handshake.
“The team estimates that it will need at least six months to complete its work and present the findings to the appointing authorities — President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga,” a source aware of the goings-on, but not authorised to speak to the media, said.
The two leaders agreed to address ethnic antagonism, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, strengthening devolution, ending divisive elections, ensuring safety and security of Kenyans, ending corruption and ensuring shared prosperity.
To plan how the agenda will be rolled out, the team, which includes Senators Amos Wako (Busia) and his Garissa counterpart Yusuf Haji, quietly met last week at the Windsor Hotel and Golf Club.
In the three-day meeting from Wednesday to Friday, the team agreed on the terms of reference, rules of engagement and a broad guideline on how it will go about its job. It is set to meet again in the first week of June to review what was agreed on at Windsor before hitting the road.
“The advisers expect to travel to different parts of the country and to engage with different audiences in the coming days and weeks,” a statement after the Windsor meeting said, adding: “They are honoured by the opportunity to advise the two leaders on bringing Kenyans close together, and are united in their faith that such leadership can indeed lead to a million handshakes and a united, fair and prosperous Kenya.”
The team is expected to meet the President and Mr Odinga any time now to brief them on its progress and especially on the terms of reference and the rules of engagement.
Besides Senators Wako and Haji, the other members are University of Nairobi don Adams Oloo, Ms Agnes Kavindu, Ms Florence Omose, Prof Saeed Mwangumi, chairman of Kisii Council of Elders James Matundura and Kalenjin Myoot Council of Elders chairman Major (rtd) John Seii.
Others are Bishop (retired) Lawi Imathiu of Methodist Church, also a one-time chairman of the Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association (Gema), Samburu Woman Rep Maison Leshomo, Mr Morompi ole Ronkai, Bishop Peter Njenga, Makueni Woman Rep Rose Moseu and Catholic Bishop of the Archdiocese of Kisumu Zachaeus Okoth.
In its deliberations, sources said, the members vowed to avoid partisanship of any nature whether political, ethnic or religious, given that its key task is to ensure nationhood.
It will also arrive at decisions by consensus in addition to collectively owning decisions taken by the team. In the June meeting, the team is expected to narrow down on how to tackle each of the nine areas contained in the Building Bridges MoU, with indications that national ethos, devolution and corruption may stand alone.
For each of the three key areas, the team proposes to spend at least a month.
The work will include outlining the policy, administrative reform proposals, and implementation modalities, with views expected to be sought from citizens, advocacy groups and other stakeholders with relevant information.
Mr Odinga’s lawyer Paul Mwangi and Ambassador Martin Kimani for President Kenyatta form the secretariat of the team that was chosen based on their experience and sobriety.
It is still unclear whether the achievement of the deal will require a referendum as proposed by Mr Odinga, a position that has been dismissed by President Kenyatta.
Additional reporting by Shaban Makokha