President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition Chief Raila Odinga pulled a shocker on their closest allies in a surprise deal that is likely to radically alter the country’s political equation.
After nearly nine months of charged political electioneering that pushed Kenya to the brink of disintegration, Uhuru and Raila publicly met after days of delicate and closely guarded behind-the-scenes negotiations.
In what rekindled memories of the Grand Coalition deal, the two protagonists announced that they had buried the hatchet and “agreed to roll out a programme that will implement our shared objectives”.
However, the secret talks that culminated in the meeting at Harambee House yesterday excluded the two leaders’ closest allies, including Deputy President William Ruto.
Also kept in the dark were Raila’s co-principals, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula, in what is promising to be the biggest test yet for NASA unity.
Sources said that Ruto only knew of the deal on Thursday evening and was not invited to the tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte at Harambee House, just opposite his office, where Uhuru and Raila met before addressing the nation.
“Our future cannot be dictated by the forthcoming elections. Starting today, we will begin the process of bringing our people together,” Uhuru stated.
But Ruto, a shrewd politician, took to Twitter to congratulate the two for “being statesmen” without any sign of trouble.
“You have risen to the moment for Kenya and against hate, negative ethnicity and division. The unity, stability and transformation of Kenya supersede all other partisan interests,” Ruto said.
But in what rekindled memories of his January 30 swearing-in, Raila’s opposition partners admitted they were not privy to the Raila-Uhuru talks.
“While we have always advocated for dialogue, as Co-Principals of the NASA coalition, we are not privy to the discussions at Harambe House,” the three said in a joint statement, adding they only saw the meeting through the media.
But Musalia’s Spokesman Kibisu Kabatesi was more blunt and hit out at Raila for his “habit of sneaking”.
Kabatesi said: “Our questions are, has he [Raila] finally accepted the legitimacy of Uhuru Kenyatta as the President of the Republic of Kenya? This habit of sneaking is not very good for confidence building in the coalition.”
Only four of Uhuru’s most trusted lieutenants were aware of the deal.
They are Intelligence chief Phillip Kameru, Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua, State House Comptroller Kinuthia Mbugua and Ambassador Martin Kimani.
Mbugua is said to have been the emissary between State House and “Raila’s people”.
From Raila’s side, the deal was only known to three people: Lawyer Paul Mwangi, former Permanent Secretary Andrew Mondo and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed.
Although United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit is understood to have heightened the urgency of the deal, talks are said to have started a few weeks ago.
The Luo Council of Elders and their Kikuyu counterparts, for instance, are said to have met last week as part of preparations for Friday’s announcement.
There was speculation that plans could be afoot to table a Bill in Parliament to expand the Cabinet to accommodate Raila’s interests, but this could not be ascertained.
Sources said that Uhuru had been advised that the divisions in the country were becoming entrenched and would completely obliterate his legacy.
There were also concerns that the unending politicking was also taking a toll on the economy.
Raila, who had vowed to fight for electoral justice, was also wary that his co-principals were scheming to isolate him by secretly accepting to work with the government. He beat them to the tape.
In a clear indication that Uhuru had climbed down from his earlier hardline stance, divisive elections would now be part of the nine-point agenda that the leaders will narrow down on.
Previously, Uhuru had insisted that he would only have dialogue with NASA on development and nothing to do with politics and elections.
“We must seek to shift our terms of engagement as leaders, as individuals and as citizens, if we are to have competitive and constructive elections. That should be our first priority,” read the joint communiquÃ© by Uhuru and Raila.
Other issues that have been identified are ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of a national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, safety and security, corruption, shared prosperity as well as respect for human and civil rights.
It was telling that the eight-page joint communiquÃ© issued from the Office of the President referred to Raila as “His Excellency” throughout, signalling that Uhuru could be intent on handing him a bigger role as part of the national unity partnership.
Raila is always addressed as the “Right Honourable” a salutation he acquired when he served as Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition.
According to the plan, Raila and Uhuru will establish a joint office with advisers to assist in the implementation of the roadmap.
Counterterrorism Centre head Kimani and lawyer Paul Mwangi will spearhead the establishment of the programme.
“In the life of any nation, a time comes when the people and their leaders must audit the progress made towards the attainment of the goals and prayers laid out at the founding of the nation,” Raila said.
Sources close to the deal told the Star in confidence that the two leaders had taken personal decisions as the sons of the two foremost political families that have held the country to ransom politically. They want to bequeath a united country to future generations as they serve out their political careers.
“They don’t want to retire from politics and leave an even more divided country. They want to fix the history that has been carried on from their fathers. There are children being born today into hatred of the other’s community and fighting for what they do not know,” said a source close to the discussions.
The source added that Raila did not care what would happen to the Opposition NASA unity as he is focused on a legacy.
“From the way he is talking, he wouldn’t bother. He is ready to chart a new path. He has fought for this country, brought about multi-partyism and a new Constitution. The only thing left is the unity of the nation,” added the source, saying that the NASA leader does not intend to contest again for the Presidency.
While it restores Raila to statesmanship, for Uhuru it will be another masterstroke after successfully forging a coalition in 2013 with Ruto from the bitterness of the 2008 post-election violence crisis that mainly pitted the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities.