Bridging the gap
Religious leaders, diplomats and other stakeholders are working behind the scenes to end political impasse
As Kenyans await the Supreme Court hearing of the petitions against Uhuru’s victory at the repeat elections, the ruling Jubilee coalition and rivals Nasa seem to be in agreement on three crucial points: That Kenya needs dialogue There’s need for a more inclusive government The 2010 Constitution is ripe for review
The two protagonists in Kenya’s political crisis both agree on the need for dialogue but there are still significant differences on what the agenda of the engagement should be.
Religious leaders, diplomats and other stakeholders have been working behind the scenes to bring President Uhuru Kenyatta and his challenger Raila Odinga to the negotiations table.
A source within the diplomatic corps told the Saturday Nation that the efforts had somewhat cooled off pending the decision of the Supreme Court on the October 26 repeat presidential election.
The Supreme Court ordered the fresh election after it nullified the August 8 one, citing irregularities and illegalities.
However, Mr Odinga pulled out of the race, arguing that the reforms he had called for to level the field had not happened. The Nasa leader is pushing for an interim government to carry out the reforms and hold another election after six months irrespective of the Supreme Court’s decision on the petitions against the result.
All stakeholders agree that the two sides must talk regardless of what Chief Justice David Maraga and his colleagues decide.
The diplomatic source said both Nasa and Jubilee were willing to engage but the President’s side is waiting for a decision of the Supreme Court before it makes up its mind on how to proceed and the agenda.
‘‘For Jubilee, being in power and not being contested (in case Supreme Court doesn’t nullify again) is certainly the sine qua non ( the most basic condition). It seems that under certain conditions, Nasa might drop their demand for another election, but they want to discuss reforms,’’ said the official who works in a key European Union embassy and who has been involved in the mediation efforts.
On Thursday, Catholic bishops said they will convene a National Dialogue Forum to address long-term issues of governance, transparency, poverty, unemployment, economic inequality, conflict resolution, injustices and accountability.
“Irrespective of the outcome of the Supreme Court decision on the presidential election peti- tion and any political situation, we are convinced this dialogue is necessary. It is evident and we must agree that there are underlying problems that only resurface during elections. To deal with our problems, we must dialogue,” the bishops said in a statement in Nakuru on Thursday.
Similarly, 15 Anglican bishops from Western Kenya led by Butere’s Rev Tim Wambunya asked politicians to shun inflammatory statements and embrace dialogue.
President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party has in recent weeks softened its stance on dialogue over an expanded executive and a more inclusive government, but insisted that it should only happen after the swearing-in.
Influential members of the ruling party told the Saturday Nation yesterday that while they are open to the dialogue the Opposition has insisted needs to happen, it would have to await the decision of the Supreme Court within the next 10 days.
Although he supports calls for talks on an all-inclusive government, Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju said that those efforts ‘‘should not revolve around rewarding a few people.’’
“Yes, the country must be involved in constant dialogue. But it cannot be premised on Raila Odinga leading. Dialogue as defined by Mr Odinga is where he is the boss, sitting on everybody. And that, we will not accept,” said Mr Tuju.
According to Mr Tuju, President Kenyatta had tried to make his government as inclusive as possible.
“Which part of the country does not have grievances? Everyone does. We need to have a national conversation to bring unity to a country that was divided during colonial days, but that conversation cannot be premised on one man leading it,” he said.
The Jubilee Party official’s stand came even as the Odinga-led National Super Alliance insisted that even after the Supreme Court makes a ruling on the petitions against President Kenyatta’s second term, Kenya’s protracted election dispute is far from over.
Mr Odinga — who successfully petitioned President Kenyatta’s August poll win and then abandoned a repeat exercise protesting lack of electoral reforms — has called for the formation of a six-month interim government before a credible election organised by a new electoral commission.
The coalition has called for the formation of a People’s Assembly to push for reforms under an interim government and pave way for new elections in six months, a suggestion Jubilee has dismissed.
“We must slay the dragon of election theft that rears its ugly head every election cycle, before we can address other governance problems,” said Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, who is allied to Mr Odinga.
On proposed talks, Mr Wandayi said: “The dragon of election theft cannot be slayed by cosmetic dialogue. We have seen the efforts of the church and other groups. But we are not in a hurry to engage in talks just for the sake of talks.”
But while Nasa argues that the way forward for Kenya was in a credible repeat election outside that which might be ordered by the Supreme Court for a second time, the Jubilee Party says they were only open to talks on the structure of government and elections, but within the law.
“What we have is not a legal problem. It is a political crisis, but which can only be addressed within the law. You cannot abandon the legal process halfway, and start inviting a political solution,” said Senate Deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki.
Similarly, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, who refused to be drawn into what exactly such a solution of the crisis should entail, said he was open to any talks between the two parties.
“Parliaments the world over facilitate dialogue for the good of the people. The Kenyan Parliament is equally willing to facilitate the process which must be within the confines of the Constitution and the law. We need to have something that is structured so that we know what we are discussing,” Mr Muturi said.
“The Constitution allows for public participation and, as Parliament, we can frame all the issues raised and seek solutions. But I will not be party to Ufungamano style of doing things or Uhuru Park kind of declarations.”
Prof Kindiki, who had earlier proposed the formation of the post of a prime minister and two deputies, yesterday stuck to his proposal, saying it was the only way to try and please a majority of the communities in Kenya.
“I foresee us relooking at the Constitution before the next General Election. There is an increasing realisation that in a plural society like ours, where politics is seen as an indicator of inclusivity or lack thereof, you need a slightly broader executive for perceptions of inclusivity,” said the Tharaka Nithi senator.
Already, the National Council of Churches of Kenya has put forth the prime minister proposal terming it as part of what they called an expanded government.
And like Prof Kindiki, the church warned that such a person should only be appointed by the president to avoid a different faction of power and should come under the Deputy President in rank.
“Such a prime minister and the two deputies should be accommodated without exceeding the constitutional requirement of 22 people in the Cabinet. That way, we do not bloat the wage bill and we accommodate other groups,” said Prof Kindiki.
But for that to happen, he said, the country must divorce itself from the current political players, proposing that it should be closed for those who have held such positions before.
Nasa leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta during a past event.