How Raila meeting with Uhuru was sealed-Jesse Jackson key player


Nairobi, Kenya: President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Saturday’s meeting with Mr Raila Odinga at State House was the culmination of two hush-hush meetings, both in homes of influential personalities close to the two leaders.

The Saturday meeting was the second directly between the two fiercest rivals in the March 4 elections, and also the first to be acknowledged by the two sides, complete with television footage.

But inquiries within the President’s and Raila’s side revealed that the influential force bringing the two hitherto bitter rivals together was America’s civil rights and towering religious figure, the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

April 1 was characterized by two key events; it was Easter Monday as well as April Fools Day, when people the World over get half-a-day to pull pranks on each other. In Kenya, it was no different as families got out to enjoy the fun-day together, either in church, friend’s homes or even entertainment joints.

But behind the scenes, something else was taking off, and as it turned out, it wasn’t a prank at all. That Easter Monday ended with Uhuru, whose victory the Supreme Court upheld the previous Saturday (March 30), sharing a dinner table with Raila at the home of a mutual friend.

This first meeting took place at the home of the youthful wealthy businessman in the Muthaiga Estate.

 Second meeting

The businessman, whose name we withhold for legal reasons because he usually doesn’t brook any linkage to politics, was close to the late Prof George Saitoti, and when the former Internal Security minister died in a chopper crash, he shifted camp to Uhuru.

Both Uhuru and the businessman had been close and the youthful billionaire’s business and political ties to Saitoti had not strained this relationship.

The second meeting wasn’t Uhuru’s, but was a shared dinner table between Raila and Jackson at the home of Dr Evans Kidero, the new Nairobi Governor, and close ally of the former PM. Again as with the first meeting between the leader of Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) and Uhuru, this too was in Muthaiga where Kidero lives.

It took place the day following Uhuru’s inauguration on April 9, and confidants of the former PM told The Standard that Raila headed straight to Kidero’s home on arrival from South Africa that Wednesday.

Raila had gone to South Africa for ‘holidaying’ with his running mate in the March 4 race — former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka — and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula.

It is believed that Jackson sought out Raila after meeting Uhuru on the day of his inauguration with the message that it was in his (Uhuru’s), Raila’s and Kenya’s interest for them to build a rapport and demonstrate mutual respect for each other.

Civil rights

Jackson, thought not a member of President Barack Obama’s administration, was the most familiar American public figure at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, when Uhuru was sworn-in.

It was not clear if at all he could have had a message from Obama to Uhuru and Raila, even though it is not very much unlike American tradition for a private message of their leader to be delivered by a senior and respected citizen.

But even without Obama’s prodding, Jackson’s role as a civil rights activist has given him immense contacts and good rapport with many African leaders, and he could have put these at play.

Having been close to the presidency, polling 5.3 million against Uhuru’s 6.1 million, the American cleric exhorted Uhuru to appreciate the fact that he needed to send out a message of goodwill and reconciliation to the considerably big constituency that did not vote for him.

Raila’s aides, on condition of confidentiality so as not to be seen to be spilling the beans on secret talks between their boss and the new President, said of the ex-PM’s meeting with Jackson: “He went there (Kidero’s home) alone and expressed his willingness to work with Uhuru for the good of the country.”

The sources explained that after the Supreme Court ruling, the youthful businessman, who is also a son of a former influential minister in retired President Daniel Arap Moi’s Cabinet, tried reaching out to Raila using one of his long-serving personal assistants.

It wasn’t clear at this stage whether he is the one who initiated the meeting, or was acting on Uhuru’s behalf. However, the businessman also happens to be close to Uhuru’s deputy, Mr William Ruto, who would later tell the country after assuming office, that he had had lengthy meetings with Raila.

“This was the first attempt towards arranging for a meeting between Uhuru and Raila. The meeting took place on April 1at the businessman’s residence in Muthaiga,’’ confirmed the PM’s aide. Another of the PM’s advisors also confirmed both meetings that the former PM attended in the two Muthaiga homes.

“Mr Odinga denied the first meeting took place and that is his position. But the truth is that the meeting did take place at the home of the businessman,’’ he said.

In a Facebook posting earlier in the day another of Raila’s advisors had revealed to his string of online friends that Reverend Jackson, who like the late Martin Luther King is a renown black American civil rights activist and Baptist minister, was the key player in the Uhuru-Raila talks.

The advisor played down media reports that the Uhuru-Raila meeting, where both Kalonzo and Ruto featured, discussed the number of security guards the CORD leaders should be left with and the amount the State would pay them as retirement benefits.

Real issues

“…You can safely laugh at reports in sections of our media that Raila went see (sic) Uhuru about security detail and chase cars and retirement benefits,’’ Raila’s advisor who is also former top UN media personality, Mr Salim Lone. Lone then threw in the revelation: “The meeting was actually negotiated by the Rev Jesse Jackson and focused on real issues facing Kenya.”  He then referred his friends to the Sunday Standard story yesterday quoting Raila saying he had turned down the offer of a UN envoy role because his “plate was full’’.

Speaking in Khwisero constituency on Saturday after meeting with Uhuru, Raila explained his focus would be to strengthen CORD and urged those still sympathising with him for losing the presidency to stop because it was unnecessary.

Tell me sorry

“Do not tell me sorry for what happened. I do not wish to hear this. When a cooking stick breaks, do you stop preparing your meal? Certainly not! And that is why we want to state that we have enough work to do,” said Raila.

“Raila when invited for dinner by the businessman, sought to know what it was all about. He was assured there was nothing underhand, and all the cards would be on the table.

Because he was also keen to be part of healing the country (after the divisive elections), he accepted the invitation,’’ said another of Odinga’s aides.

When Lone was contacted, he confirmed Jackson did meet Raila at Kidero’s home.

“I can only confirm the meeting took place between Raila and Reverend Jackson at Kidero’s home and that they discussed a possible meeting between him and the President (Uhuru)’’ was Lone’s response to our questions.

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