For the second time since Raila Odinga chose to lead his supporters in street protests primarily challenging William Ruto’s ascendancy to the presidency, Odinga’s Azimio La Umoja One Kenya and Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza have opted to give the infamous bipartisan talks a chance.
Much as the scope of the talks may be limited to only parliamentary processes – Odinga’s coterie of demands, an omnibus of sorts, tended to include anything and everything he could use against the Ruto regime; high cost of living, late payment of civil servant salaries, skewed state appointments in favour of certain ethnic groups, and counting – the talks for their own sake augur well for a country that has remained caught up in election-mode almost nine months after the fact. In fact, the biggest relief for the majority of Kenyans will be, hopefully, a toning down of the deluge of vitriol spat on the daily by politicians and their minions.
But even as the country sighs, a sense of uncertainty still looms.
Sticking to its script – that any sign of ill will from their Kenya Kwanza interlocutors will result in their going back to the streets – Azimio La Umoja seems to be entering the talks with a lot of reservations, giving the impression that peace can be disturbed at any instance. On their part, Kenya Kwanza haven’t given any substantive indications as to how far they are willing to make concessions and entertain Azimio’s ever-growing list of demands, some considered amorphous and unrealistic, save for opening the tiny window for legislative reforms.
This, therefore, means that the talks remain delicate and possibly shallow.
But for the sake of moving the country forward, both Raila Odinga and William Ruto must now realise that the time for playing ping pong is over because Kenyans are jaded, tired, hungry and angry. And so if the duo choose bipartisan talks as the route to go, then the committee comprising Kenya Kwanza and Azimio La Umoja legislators must be given a proper mandate, sufficient technical and other support and timeliness within which they must deliver.
And much as the bipartisan parliamentary bit may be the anchor process agreed upon by the two antagonists, questions of inclusion still linger. The need to expand the talks to bring in other critical voices in society – the (limping) civil society, the (pacified) student movement, the (captured?) trade unions, (the besieged) religious groups, and others, including potential observers and guarantors – remains unaddressed.
This means Ruto and Odinga and their brain trusts (we hope these exist) must as a matter of urgency transform the talks from a two-man deliberation into a national endeavour with real political gravitas (even if most sectors of society have been cannibalised), even if led by legislators for now. This way, the issues at hand will be addressed without the score-taking of who between Ruto and Odinga wins or loses when an issue is decided upon in a particular way.
After taking decades to clamour for a new constitution and eventually enacting it in 2010 – taking more than blood, sweat and tears – Kenya and Kenyans are getting process-fatigued, especially if the results of such laborious exercises (like the new constitution) still seem either inadequate or aren’t followed by a culture of fidelity (constitutionalism in this instance).
These talks must therefore be concise, precise and specific, fuelled by loads of goodwill from the two political coalitions and everyone else in between and around them. It certainly won’t be a quick fix, but agreeing on what ails Kenya today (most of which are open secrets) and settling on ways of addressing the same (which won’t need a reinvention of the wheel considering the heavy-lifting done in constitution-making) should take the shortest time possible, because any group of patriots around the table shouldn’t disagree on what ails Kenya and how to resolve the same using either new or old tricks in the book (constitution).
May the peace hold, and may Kenya be spared the burden of intrigue.