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President, Raila phone chat that calmed BBI jitters

By Eric Wainaina
Thursday, April 1st, 2021
President Uhuru Kenyatta with ODM leader Raila Odinga during the BBI launch of signatures at KICC in Nairobi, recently. Photo/PD/File
In summary
    • Raila met with party officials to discuss recent developments in the country.
    • He reaffirmed ODM’s commitment to the spirit of the Handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta as well as the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2020, which is a product of  the BBI.
    • The BBI process has been thrown into disarray following Uhuru’s directive suspending parliamentary sittings and in-person meeting.

An hour-long early morning phone conversation between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga yesterday inspired the opposition chief’s meeting with his lieutenants to defuse growing uncertainty over the Building Bridges Initiative and the Handshake.

Highly-placed sources in government said the conversation between the two Handshake partners dwelt on the state of the Handshake and future of the BBI project, following murmurs of discontent from Raila’s allies that the President was no longer keen on the twin issues.

 Also on the table was the growing perception that the Raila camp was considering forming an alliance with Deputy President William Ruto to counter Uhuru’s perceived support for the emerging “Sacred Alliance” coalescing around opposition figures Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetang’ula and Gideon Moi. 

 It is during the call up that it was agreed that Raila mobilises his troops and reassures them both the Handshake and the BBI project remain on track and that the two leaders are firmly committed to the two issues. 

It was also agreed Raila dispels rumours that an alliance with Ruto was on the cards.

“The two held a telephone conversation at around 7am, which lasted for about an hour; the issues revolved around the continued talk that the Handshake and BBI are under threat because the unity between the President and Raila had collapsed.

There were also concerns about claims that Raila was leaning towards Ruto, and, therefore, it was agreed that Raila calls a meeting (with his troops) and discounts the narrative,” the source told People Daily.

Following the phone chat, Raila summoned some of his key allies, including ODM National Chairman John Mbadi, Secretary General Edwin Sifuna, Treasurer Timothy Bosire and Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, for a meeting at his Karen residence where he has been recovering from the Covid-19 infection. 

Also invited to the meeting was National Assembly Minority Whip MP Junet Mohamed and Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga.

A statement released to the media after the meeting declared the party’s unwavering commitment to the BBI Bill and the Handshake.

 “The meeting reaffirmed ODM’s commitment to the spirit of the Handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta that has created an environment of peace and stability required to address the pressing issues facing the country,” read the statement.

It went on: “We tasked the party and our supporters to continue showing this commitment to the Handshake and its wider national goals in word and deed, in the interest of the nation.”

Envisaged changes

The meeting, according to the statement, stressed the need for Parliament to fast-track the BBI Bill and release it to the public to have a final say on the envisaged changes to the Constitution through a referendum.

“We agreed that the BBI must be subjected to a referendum because it entails a fundamental reorganisation of the architecture of the Executive and Kenyans need to have a say in the reorganisation.

The party, therefore, fully supports a referendum on the document,” added the statement.

And in what was seen as a well-choreographed messaging to allay fears regarding relations between Uhuru and Raila and the BBI push, a similar statement was released by the BBI Secretariat through its co-chairman Denis Waweru, barely an hour after the ODM Karen meeting. In his statement, Waweru maintained that the Handshake was intact and the BBI push on course.

“We have noted a lot of sensational reporting and speculation touching on the fate of the BBI and the Handshake.

As the BBI Secretariat, we want to set the record straight and inform Kenyans that both the Handshake and the BBI process are intact,” read the statement.

Waweru added: “The Handshake between H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga remains solid, and the two remain in regular contact even as Mr Odinga recuperates.

The two leaders remain committed to the BBI and their resolve of having a united and inclusive Kenya is unwavering.”

Yesterday’s events came against the backdrop of murmurs that Uhuru had gone cold on the Handshake and the BBI and was gravitating towards the emerging Mudavadi, Kalonzo, Wetang’ula and Gideon formation.  

It also came a day after ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya had poured cold water on the referendum push, terming it “untenable’ and expensive and suggesting that the funds to be used for the exercise be re-channelled to pressing issues such as the fight against Covid-19.

The pronouncement from Oparanya fuelled rumours that the Orange party was quietly withdrawing its support for the referendum.

 Instructively, Oparanya, as well as his co-deputy ODM leader and Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, who has also appeared to be pulling in a different direction form the party position, did not attend yesterday’s meeting. 

Bosire, however, downplayed the duo’s absence saying they could not attend owing to the short notice.

 “Those who attended are those who could be mobilised at short notice, in any case, once the party leader was present, there was no need for the deputies to be present; did you for instance see any of my two deputies, or the deputy chairman or secretary general? No, because we represent them,’ Bosire said.

Mbadi and Sifuna had recently warned against any plot to shortchange ODM on the BBI process, saying it would not be a walk in the park. They added that any person wishing for that should tread carefully.

“Who would think that shortchanging the ODM party is easy? If anyone thinks so then let him watch this space.

We are not a ‘Sisi kwa Sisi’ party but a serious movement in this country that cannot be shortchanged that easily,” said Mbadi.

Siaya Senator Orengo also recently accused Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho of hijacking the BBI campaign to prop up the 2022 bid by the “Sacred Alliance” at the expense of Raila. 

Talk of a possible alliance between Raila and Ruto, on the other hand, stemmed from a radio interview last week, where the Deputy President hinted at a possible reunion with the opposition boss ahead of the 2022 general elections, saying he was ready and willing to work with all like-minded politicians who share his dream for the country.

“In politics, you must have a plan and I already have one. If there is anybody who wants to join us to fight poverty and other things that ail the country; he or she is welcome, even if it’s Baba. 

“If Baba (Raila) agrees with our manifesto and belief that poverty should be fought from the bottom to the top, we could work together,” Ruto said. But come last weekend and Raila’s elder brother Oburu Oginga clarified that Uhuru had not betrayed Raila.

“For now the focus of President Uhuru and Raila is to unite Kenyans through the BBI and I don’t think the President himself has betrayed or shortchanged him (Raila) as people may say. 

But in the event that there are any other developments then we shall cross that bridge when we get there,” said Dr Oburu on Sunday.