Opposition leader Raila Odinga is revered for timing his messages to good effect. For four months he has kept close to his chest what his handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta entailed beyond the ambiguous “uniting the county” narrative.
So much so that even a motley of delegations — elders, politicians, Orange Democratic Movement party front-runners, et al — that he has met to explain the surprise March 9 truce have all left with no clarity on what it was all about.
On Tuesday, however, Mr Odinga appeared to drop his guard, first elaborating what motivated the meeting and, second, what is expected out of the handshake with regard to constitutional reforms.
The latter begged for answers as it came after President Uhuru Kenyatta had declared, during former politician Kenneth Matiba’s funeral that focusing on constitutional reforms would distract him from his legacy projects.
What has changed for Mr Odinga to drop his guard on a matter he and the President appeared to have sworn to keep everyone guessing?
Some have looked for answers from the occasion — the opening of lawyer Makau Mutua’s boutique hotel in Kitui, and the company — his running mate in the last two elections, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, and Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, a key supporter of the limping National Super Alliance.
The first explanation appeared meant to mend fences with Mr Musyoka, who has, since the January 30 mock swearing-in of Mr Odinga as “the people’s president”, been looking for a political vehicle having misgivings that he has repeatedly been taken for granted in Nasa.
The issues that need constitutional amendments had been identified in the nine-point memorandum of understanding he entered with President Kenyatta, but Kenyans will have a chance to give views on how the process will be conducted, he said.
This second explanation appeared meant for his general support, which has been complaining that Mr Odinga betrayed them by entering the truce, thus abandoning the quest for “Canaan”, a euphemism for a new Kenya where democracy, the rule of law, equity and popular would yield prosperity for all.
Mr Odinga said the nine-point agenda being implemented by a 14-member team would culminate in the 2010 Constitution being opened up for scrutiny.
“We have agreed with President Kenyatta that if we manage to accomplish correcting these constitutional gaps, we’ll have transformed Kenya into a better country for future generations,” said Mr Odinga.
The team, he added, would go around the country seeking public views on the structure of government, electoral reforms and negative ethnicity.
“You’ll be asked how you want to be governed and how we can improve devolution and dis-tribute wealth in this country. You’ll also give views on whether you want the Executive structure the way it is, or whether we should adopt a parliamentary system of government, or go for a hybrid one,” he said.
His disclosures came amid concerns in some sections of his ODM party that it was taking too long for the handshake to be implemented, and for tangible benefits to be discerned.
Although these are not new as they had been raised by Busia Senator Amos Wako in April, it is telling that one of Mr Odinga’s confidants, Mr Junet Mohamed, who accompanied the opposition leader to the historic handshake at Nairobi’s Harambee House, was ambivalent on the deal when the Daily Nation contacted him.
Key players within the Orange party remain tight-lipped or cautious about the deal, with one such legislator from the western region saying “all is not well”.
Party insiders have since confided to the Daily Nation that Mr Wako’s public sentiments reflected the collective fear that Mr Odinga inked the deal with good intentions only to find it facing increasing resistance from some politicians within Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party.
However, Mr Paul Mwangi, Mr Odinga’s personal lawyer, who co-chairs the steering committee with Mr Martin Kimani, said the expectations of a quick roll-out of the initiative were unrealistically high.
“It is not correct to say four months is long,” said Mr Mwangi.
“No serious deliberation can take place in a couple of weeks.”
He added that political exchanges would not derail the initiative, and that the committee was about to name its first initiative, whose details he did not disclose.
“Kenyans need these solutions. We cannot say that because politicking is going on, then Kenyans don’t care about corruption or ethnicity. They will continue to care and will continue to ask for solutions,” Mr Mwangi said.
ODM party followers have been more concerned that Mr Odinga has taken tangible steps to move the handshake forward without reciprocation from President Kenyatta.
Mr Odinga has met the committee in person, and even called a party parliamentary group session to explain the deal, unlike Mr Kenyatta.
This inertia is believed to have held back the committee’s progress, including its official launch and much anticipated joint countrywide tours by the two, which have been postponed.
Instead, ODM followers feel President Kenyatta has been quick to cast aspersions on Mr Odinga’s understanding of the pact. On May 20, President Kenyatta declared during a round-table meeting on manufacturing with the Private Sector Alliance at State House, Nairobi, that he would not support calls to change the Constitution.
“It (amending the Constitution) won’t solve the problems we have, but engaging with the private sector on manufacturing, like we are doing, will,” President Kenyatta said.
That was in sharp contrast to what Mr Odinga said on Tuesday: “We have a good Constitution, but it is not working. That is why President Kenyatta and I decided to come together for the sake of changing what needs to be changed through laws review.”
Jubilee Party vice-chairman David Murathe said that was a “small misunderstanding” as President Kenyatta was committed to reducing the tribal animosity in the country and fighting corruption, the key ingredients of the handshake pact.