Uhuru snubs Raila Odinga’s calls for dialogue at rare meeting of leaders
MACHAKOS COUNTY: President Uhuru Kenyatta and Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) leader Raila Odinga Saturday shared a podium for the first time since the latter’s sustained push on the government to dialogue with the Opposition began.
During the rare meeting at the burial of former Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces and one-time Cabinet minister Jackson Kimeu Mulinge, Raila even exchanged niceties with the President briefly and bade him goodbye after addressing mourners as he rushed out to attend another public function in Narok.
Other top political leaders in attendance were retired President Daniel arap Moi, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Leaders of Majority and Minority in the National Assembly, Aden Duale and Francis Nyenze, Leader of Minority in the Senate Moses Wetang’ula and Machakos Governor Dr Alfred Mutua and Senator Johnston Muthama.
The funeral ceremony of Mulinge, who died aged 91, served as a perfect opportunity for speakers to urge a political ceasefire between Raila and Uhuru over heightened tension on dialogue. Reverend Timothy Ndambuki of the African Brotherhood Church, who presided over the function, set the ball rolling by asking the political leaders present to emulate the fallen hero by uniting the country.
“And I am glad that the President and the leader of CORD have been united in his (General Mulinge’s) death here in Kathiani. Let his death be a symbol of unity in Kenya,” said Ndambuki.
His sentiments were echoed by Raila and other CORD leaders, with the former PM maintaining that dialogue was the only way out of the current crisis: “What happens in Parliament is debate, which is restricted by the bell, and not dialogue. Parliament cannot dialogue — it is the wrong place!”
Speaking last among the CORD leaders, Kalonzo warned that the alternative to dialogue was chaos. But, he told the President that Kenyans do not want a chaotic State.
Wetang’ula assured Uhuru that he had nothing to lose in giving dialogue a chance: “We are not challenging your authority because we recognise you as President and we are not planning to overthrow your government because we do not even have the capacity to do so.”
Nyenze equally made a passionate appeal to Uhuru to save the country by inviting the Opposition to dialogue with the government: “If you do this, you will have saved this country from its current myriad challenges.”
But addressing the mourners, the President appeared to snub the CORD brigade’s pleas, opting instead to eulogise the departed great soldier: “If we all loved this country the way Mulinge did, then we can make — as a country— tremendous progress.”
Nonetheless, the President echoed Raila and Wetang’ula’s sentiments to the effect that the country’s political leaders should emulate the humility and peaceful nature of the late Mulinge.
“Let us respect each other as Kenyans and let us equally make a difference in the people’s lives so that we leave this a better place than we found it,” he said.
Moi and Duale were categorically opposed to dialogue, insisting that any such discussions must be channeled through the existing legal framework.
“Kwani bunge ilijengwa kwa sababu gani (Why was Parliament built?). And if the President errs in one way or another, then raise that issue in Parliament or wait for another five years and challenge him at the ballot, instead of doing so through public rallies,” said Moi.
And reminding the President that he took an oath of office to safeguard the Constitution, Duale advised the President against giving in to the push for dialogue or conducting talks outside the set institutional framework.
Local political rivalry also took centre stage at the funeral, with Muthama, who spoke in the local Kikamba dialect, declaring that it was time for Kalonzo to now take over the political leadership mantle. It was unclear from his sentiments whether he meant the leadership of CORD or the country.
And in an apparent reference to the perceived rivalry between Mutua and Kalonzo, Muthama asked the community to rally behind the former VP and not any other leader. But the governor asked the locals to embrace development and not empty political talk.