Deputy President William Ruto on Friday hosted President Uhuru Kenyatta, opposition leader Raila Odinga and businessman Jimi Wanjigi at his private residence in Karen, Nairobi, in a move seen as opening a new chapter in the now on, now off relationship between the State and the shadowy businessman.
The meeting could also signal a rapprochement between Mr Ruto and Mr Odinga, who have been critical of each other in recent months.
Their meeting comes only a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta warned that leaders from his central Kenya backyard will be surprised by his choice of successor when he eventually reveals who he will support for the 2022 presidential election.
The Jubilee administration, which President Kenyatta leads, has been on Mr Wanjigi’s case for over one year.
The businessman bore the brunt of a State-sponsored investigation before and after last year’s general election.
He is currently fighting a case in which he is accused of being in possession of guns illegally. At the height of his tribulations, he told journalists that the Jubilee Party was formed in his house, yet the police had the temerity to break in their quest to arrest him.
At one point, Mr Odinga had to keep an overnight vigil in Mr Wanjigi’s house to stop his arrest. On Friday, Mr Wanjigi was driven to the Karen lunch date in one of Mr Odinga’s vehicles. They made their way to Karen shortly after midday.
Earlier in the day, all four had attended a memorial service for the former Maendeleo ya Wanawake chairperson, Jane Kiano at the ACK St. Francis Church in Karen.
Multiple sources confirmed that Mr Wanjigi attended the lunch date even though he did not appear in the official photos of the meeting sent to newsrooms by the Deputy President’s press team.
Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, who also attended the meeting, confirmed that Mr Wanjigi attended the lunch talks, as did Mr Odinga’s spokesman, Mr Dennis Onyango.
The first to arrive at the DP’s home after the host was President Kenyatta who spent about twenty minutes with Mr Ruto. According to Mr Ruto’s Twitter handle, the two discussed issues related to national development and unity.
Mr Odinga and Mr Wanjigi drove into Mr Ruto’s home 20 minutes after the President had arrived. Mr Odinga had been scheduled to host Nasa Members of Parliament and a delegation from Embu at his Capitol Hill offices between noon and 2pm.
Even though both delegations turned up for the meetings, Mr Odinga did not show up, apparently held up first at the memorial service and later at the lunch meeting. His aides later cancelled a scheduled press conference.
The ODM director of communications, Mr Philip Etale, said that the two cancelled meetings are likely to happen next week.
By late last evening, it was not clear what was discussed at the lunch meeting that lasted for about an hour. It was also not clear whether the meeting was a coincidence or had been planned.
There were also conflicting reports about what led to the meeting. While an ally of Mr Odinga said it was just an abrupt invite for lunch, Mr Murkomen said it had been planned by the DP to extend an olive branch to Mr Odinga.
According to an ally of Mr Odinga, the DP had invited the President for lunch after Ms Kiano memorial service and he in turn, asked Mr Odinga to accompany him.
“The thing is that the church is in the vicinity of the DP’s residence in Karen. The DP had invited the President. I don’t think the DP was expecting to see Mr Odinga,” said Mr Junet Mohamed, the Minority Whip in the National Assembly.
What is important is that the meeting came against the background of a perception of strained relationship between the President and his deputy.
Whereas Mr Ruto has been traversing the country campaigning for 2022, the President has appeared critical of these moves, accusing his number of roaming.
The President has said at public gathering that leaders should stop campaigning since elections were a long way away and the promises they had given wananchi were yet to be fulfilled.
The meeting is also likely to confound Jubilee politicians, who met in Naivasha this week and where an attempt to discuss the President’s role after 2022 was shot down. When he met them on Thursday, Mr Kenyatta was critical of the leaders, saying he would give his direction about 2022 when the right time comes.
Yesterday, Mr Murkomen said of the meeting: “The DP just wanted to extend an olive branch and the spirit of working together with Mr Odinga in the wake of the handshake. That was all.”
On March 29, President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga came together in what came to be known as “the handshake” ending months of animosity that had divided the country.
And last month, as Mr Odinga joined Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto during Mashujaa Day celebrations, Kenyans learnt that Mr Odinga had been appointed an African Union envoy for infrastructure development, ending months of speculation that he was destined for a high-level appointment at a continental level.
Since then, some political leaders have been asking Mr Odinga to relinquish his presidential ambitions for 2022 while his supporters have said he should not.
However, it was Mr Wanjigi’s presence in the meeting that brought to the fore the tell-tale signs that something bigger must have been afoot during the meeting.
It is believed the meeting may have been used as a rapprochement between the billionaire businessman and the President and his deputy following their bitter fallout in 2014 over the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) and over Mr Wanjigi’s support for Mr Odinga’s presidential campaign in 2017.
Before the fall-out, Mr Wanjigi enjoyed good standing in Jubilee, where he is reputed to have brokered the alliance between Mr Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) and Mr Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA).
After the fall-out, he became one of the driving forces behind the formation of Nasa, which brought together Mr Odinga, former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, and former Cabinet ministers Moses Wetang’ula and Musalia Mudavadi.
In recent weeks, Mr Kenyatta has reached out to Mr Musyoka and Mr Mudavadi. Mr Wetang’ula was also in a delegation of leaders from western Kenya when went to see Mr Kenyatta at State House in the run-up to the Mashujaa Day celebrations.
The President has been keen to win support for his Big Four Agenda as he seeks to secure his legacy ahead of his retirement in 2022.