NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 10 – Deputy President William Ruto Tuesday night lifted the lid on behind-the-scenes intrigues ahead of the surprise March 9, 2018 political truce between his party leader, President Uhuru Kenyatta, and 2017 presidential election arch-rival, Raila Odinga.
Ruto revealed that Odinga had reached out to him four times after President Kenyatta named a partial Cabinet on January 5 last year, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader suggesting that the Head of State was sidelining his deputy.
His comments on the March 9 pact between Kenyatta and Odinga suggested that Odinga sought a political settlement to end anti-government protests organised by Opposition parties which eventually culminated into a self-inauguration on January 30, 2018, when the former Prime Minister was crowned the People’s President.
“Before Odinga engaged the President on the handshake, he approached me. Odinga approached me on four occasions after the election and we actually spoke on phone when he sent emissaries,” he said.
“I could hear the trend: ‘You know you can see the President has started appointing ministers…’ and I told him we’re a single party – no longer a coalition of parties – and the President as Party Leader doesn’t have to consult me on Cabinet appointments,” Ruto pointed out.
The Deputy President told Citizen Television’s News Night he declined to engage Odinga adding that he informed Kenyatta on attempts made by the Opposition leader to engage him.
During the interview, Ruto also dismissed claims that President Kenyatta kept him in the dark when he finally inked a deal with Odinga in March last year which ended months of political tension triggered by the Opposition’s refusal to acknowledge presidential election results.
“I declined to engage Odinga because the Jubilee Party has one central command – the Party Leader. Finally when the handshake happened, it wasn’t necessary for President Kenyatta to let me know, being the gentleman that he is the President brought me on board,” the DP told News Night.
According to Ruto, Kenyatta also sought his opinion as he embarked on talks that led to the March 9 deal.
Ruto noted that despite having had reservations about engaging Odinga due to concerns over his genuineness, he agreed to join President Kenyatta’s quest for national unity under the March 9 accord which saw the Head of State appoint a 14-member taskforce to scrutinize factors impeding national unity.
The Building Bridges Initiative advisory team which was given a year-long mandate in March 2018 was recently given a five-month extension to allow it time to conclude public engagements across the country before presenting a report to Kenyatta and Odinga.
President Kenyatta has already hinted at a possible referendum to re-structure the Constitution should the taskforce recommend the re-configuration of the structure of government to address what he has termed winner-take-all politics that has been blamed for chaos before, during and after successive presidential elections.
“Our politics must not be on the basis that some people win and others lose. We have to look at a way of in which we can remodel our politics so that we never have some Kenyans feel excluded when others are in government,” Kenyatta said on January 20.
The Head of State made similar remarks on December 13, when he visited the lakeside city of Kisumu that voted overwhelmingly for Odinga in the 2017 presidential election.
Ruto has since wadded into the referendum debate insisting that the plebiscite should be people-centred and not an exercise to create positions in government for perennial poll losers that often use the constitution as the bogyman.
The DP, while giving an address at the Royal Institute of International Affairs – Chatham House – in London on February 8 proposed the creation of an official Opposition in Parliament so that the runner-up in a presidential election is automatically nominated to the National Assembly as Official Leader of the Opposition with his running mate taking up the role of Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
“The real problem is that we’ve people who participate in elections and they have only one outcome which is not how democrats operate. If you go to an election and you’re only expecting to win then you have a problem,” he said.
Ruto and Odinga have differed on the structure of devolution, the former vehemently opposition a proposal to have a three-tier system of government with the introduction of eight regional governments in addition to existing county governments.
Odinga has been championing for the creation of regional governments in what pundits have interpreted as a move to secure the political careers of county governors allied to him who are serving their second and final term in office.