Opposition leader Raila Odinga is rooting for constitutional amendments to see through the nine-point agenda he agreed on with President Uhuru Kenyatta two months ago.
On Tuesday he rallied his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party troops behind a proposal to restructure the Executive and introduce a three-tier system of governance.
To achieve the envisaged changes, the ODM leader said, a series of public events will be organised across the country to outline the terms of the March 9 meeting, commonly referred to as The Handshake, to Kenyans.
“Addressing some of these issues may require changes to some of our laws and even amendments to the Constitution,” he said during a party meeting at Elementaita Lodge in Gilgil. “When that time comes, we must be bold enough to pick up the challenge as a matter of duty to the nation.”
His remarks, and their echoing by the party top brass, are likely to raise political temperatures in the country as Deputy President William Ruto and his allies are opposed to any constitutional amendments ahead of the 2022 polls.
That President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga worked on the deal in secret is also likely to antagonise some of their followers, whose political ambitions could be affected adversely by the changing political dynamics.
In principle, Mr Odinga, who has called for Kenyans to revisit the 2005 Bomas Draft on the basis that the current structure of the presidency gives the holder of the office enormous power and authority, is nibbling on the seat of Mr Kenyatta’s successor even before he or she is sworn in.
Under a parliamentary system, Mr Odinga argues, the power in the national Executive is exercised by ministers drawn from the majority party in the National Assembly, but Mr Ruto’s camp argues that any proposal to change the Constitution will take the country back to another round of political campaigns, to the detriment of peace and Jubilee Party’s development agenda.
“Without the changes we envision in the memorandum of understanding, 2022 will be messy. It will come with the same confusion, heartbreaks and, possibly, chaos.
We are trying to forestall such eventualities. As a forward-looking and reform-minded party, we must resist the efforts of political shylocks demanding their pound of the flesh out of the handshake,” insisted Mr Odinga.
The nine-point agenda, which will now be implemented by a 14-member team unveiled last week, includes how to deal with ethnic antagonism, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, strengthening devolution, ending divisive elections, ensuring safety and security of Kenyans, ending corruption, and ensuring a shared prosperity.
Mr Odinga maintained that his handshake with President Kenyatta was never about the politics of 2022, saying “it was too significant an event to be reduced to a struggle for positions, promises, and the ambitions of individuals”.
“This country has had elections before. We had Presidents, Prime Ministers and even Chief Secretaries before. There is nothing special about 2022 elections,” said the former PM.
Mr Odinga told the party officials that Kenya is at a crossroads, likened its elections to “mini civil wars”, and warned that leaders must think beyond 2022 and put the country on a path towards lasting unity and meaningful reconciliation.
He said he is prepared to work with old and new allies in the Opposition and in government, and his party members should follow him if ODM is to “take its rightful place in driving Project Kenya and the birth a new nation within the next one year”.
On the sidelines, ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya spoke of the importance of amending the Constitution to ensure what was agreed upon by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga comes to fruition. The party’s secretary-general, Mr Edwin Sifuna, asked members not to be distracted by political “shylocks” and should support the handshake.