Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga pledge to build ‘bridges’

Wednesday April 18 2018

President Uhuru Kenyatta together with Raila Odinga when they met at Harambee House, Nairobi and announced they would work together towards a prosperous nation on March 9, 2018. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

By The EastAfrican

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga announced a unity deal just hours before US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s arrival, promising to end the “explosive stalemate” following the contested October 2017 election.

According to insiders in both the president’s Jubilee Party and the opposition National Super Alliance, the two leaders had been holding discussions for some time, but the impending arrival of Mr Tillerson could have put pressure on them to make a public announcement, committing to work together to unite Kenyans.

Mr Tillerson’s office is said to have reached out to President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga through telephone calls, but details of the conversations were not available.

The US Secretary of State, on arrival, praised the two leaders for pledging to work together, saying the announcement showed great leadership.

The two leaders later issued a statement titled “Building bridges to a new Kenya nation” in which they announced the rollout of a programme that will implement their shared objectives of addressing ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, safety and security and corruption. They also pledged to “stand together” to pursue the country’s shared prosperity agenda and asked Kenyans and leaders to embrace their rights and responsibilities.

The statement, as well as their public address made no reference to power relations, and both signed the statement as H.E (his excellency).


A team with representatives from both sides has now been mandated to set up an office to implement the programme.


The announcement followed months of calls on the two leaders to hold talks to end the political crisis following the election, whose results were rejected by the opposition, which vowed not to recognise President Kenyatta.

Immediately after the October presidential poll (a repeat after the Supreme Court annulled the first one held in August), US ambassador Robert Godec and other diplomats in Nairobi held a series of consultative meetings with President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to initiate dialogue to provide a platform for healing the country.

The latest deal rekindles the memories of post 2007/2008 election crisis where then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also visited Nairobi to push for mediation, which was later conducted under a panel of eminent Africans chaired by Kofi Annan.

Kenya, which neighbours Somalia, where Al Shabaab militants are wreaking havoc, is centrally located to protect the US interests in the region, and analysts contend that any action that could breed lawlessness raises alarm in Washington.


While Deputy President William Ruto and other Jubilee heavyweights were quick to praise the truce announcement, Mr Odinga’s coalition principals did not take the move kindly, saying they had no information about the meeting between the two leaders that ended with the announcement.

The Nasa principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula cried betrayal, saying there were no consultations as it has been the tradition when handling the coalition affairs.

In a joint statement, the three leaders said they only learnt of the meeting through the media even though a retreat is slated for March 12 during which coalition affairs will be discussed.

Analyst say that this is a repeat of a move Mr Odinga made after the 1997 elections when he and his National Development Party (NDP) decided to work with then president Daniel Moi and Kanu in what was called “co-operation.”

Mr Odinga later explained NDP, the Democratic Party of Mwai Kibaki and the Social Democratic Party of Charity Ngilu had agreed to give a joint press conference to announce that they were not going to recognise president Moi, but the three later chickened out.

Just like then, Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has been accusing the three principals of having betrayed the opposition leader when they failed to attend his mock swearing in on January 30 at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park. Leading ODM officials recently declared that ODM would go it alone.

Tillerson visit

Meanwhile, Mr Tillerson’s visit is expected to focus on continued support for the democratic process in Kenya, refugee issues, and press freedom.

While in Kenya, key regional countries, especially Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda will be watching keenly on his comments about trade, given that they are still awaiting their out of cycle review status, which is still under considerations by the US Trade representatives. This follows last year’s complaint by US used clothes firms over an impending ban on the same in the region.

“Agoa has been the cornerstone of US trade policy in Africa for almost two decades now. And with Agoa, we’ve seen a lot of progress. Total non-oil goods trade has more than doubled from $13 billion a year to almost $30 billion a year. In fact, last year, total US trade climbed to $38.5 billion, up from $33 billion in 2016,” Mr Tillerson said in his Tuesday talk at the George Mason University.

-Reporting by Fred Oluoch, Erick Oduor and Allan Olingo