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‘Hatutaki mkate yao imeoza,’ Raila shoots back at Ruto – Exclusive

In an exclusive interview with the Nation, Azimio leader, who has been missing in action since last week, reveals he is suffering from a bad infection and is on bed rest; and refutes claims that he is seeking a back-door deal with President Ruto.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga is unwell and has taken bed rest, the Nation has learnt. The Opposition leader, who did not show up for the anti-government protests he called on Wednesday, July 19 and Thursday, July 20, travelled to the coast last week and spent the weekend there nursing what he said was “a terrible flu” before flying back to the city on Monday to recuperate.

His stint away from the weekly protests against the high cost of living, he told our reporters in a telephone interview on Thursday, July 20, was on his doctor’s advice, but he was quick to clarify that he was feeling better and would soon be up on his feet.

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Mr Odinga’s whereabouts were the subject of speculation starting Wednesday after he failed to show up for this week’s string of protests. While bloggers allied to the Kenya Kwanza regime intimated that the Azimio leader was unwell and admitted to an undisclosed hospital, none provided any evidence to support the claims. These rumours were amplified by Azimio’s uncharacteristic silence over the matter, and by the fact that it was Mr Odinga’s running mate, Ms Martha Karua, who signed press briefings on behalf of Azimio on Wednesday.

Sounding frail on the exclusive call with the Nation yesterday and appearing to breathe with slight difficulty, Mr Odinga said he was on the road to recovery.

“I want to tell Kenyans that Baba is doing well,” he said. “I was very sick from a terrible flu that left me bedridden and under the care of my doctor. But I am feeling much better now and I am confident I will be back on my feet soon.”

Mr Odinga was in Malindi on Friday, July 14, two days after staging a protest march in the city. He then left for Mombasa through Vipingo in Kilifi County, where he met the regional political leadership allied to his Azimio coalition.

On Monday, the former premier travelled back to Nairobi, where he met with Azimio stalwarts Martha Karua, Kalonzo Musyoka, Wycliffe Oparanya, Eugene Wanyama, Prof George Wajackoyah, Jeremiah Kioni and Mwangi Wa Iria to plan for the three-day string of demonstrations that began on Wednesday but drastically throttled down yesterday.

Also read: Maandamano Live Blog: All the updates as it happens

Appearing to defend the lukewarm nature of the protests in various parts of the country on day two, and the muted, almost feeble mobilisation by his Azimio leadership, Mr Odinga said that, despite his absence from the thick of the protests, Kenyans had shown solidarity in the “fight against punitive taxes”.

“I want Kenyans to know that the protests are not about Baba, Karua or Kalonzo. It is about Kenyans who are against the high cost of living and punitive taxes, and who are suffering due to what is happening to our economy. That is why citizens are in the streets,” he said.

Mr Odinga said his colleagues are coordinating the nationwide protests and are in constant communication with him.

In what could be interpreted to mean that the protests are here for the long haul until President William Ruto capitulates and agrees to dialogue, the Azimio leader said the Kenya Kwanza regime was being conceitedly arrogant in its push to raise taxes, and that it had “refused to listen to the cries of Kenyans”.

Dr Ruto has indicated that, while he is willing to lead talks with the Opposition on the cost-of-living crisis facing millions in the country, he will not negotiate a power-sharing deal with Mr Odinga.

Speaking in Kericho on Wednesday, the President said he had asked Mr Odinga and his Azimio brigade to engage with Kenya Kwanza through parliamentary leadership “but they chose to use demonstrations”. The President received support from his deputy, Mr Rigathi Gachagua, who repeated the often-cited claim that Mr Odinga is using the protests to open a back-door entry to power through another ‘handshake’ deal with Dr Ruto.

“We will not succumb to the pressure for a handshake that the Opposition is pushing for between President Ruto and Mr Odinga,” Mr Gachagua assured. “It will not happen.” Yesterday, President Ruto repeated the declarations in Isiolo, where he addressed rallies during a development tour.

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But Mr Odinga, sticking to the narrative that this is not about him or a vile ambition to grab power, said “Azimio is demonstrating because we are standing with Kenyans”. He wondered why he was being accused of an illegal attempt at a power grab, saying he has not talked to President Ruto about any political deal as claimed by the President, Mr Gachagua and other senior leaders in the Kenya Kwanza government.

“Ruto has not called me and neither have I called him. I want Kenyans to know that we are not after a handshake as Kenya Kwanza is insinuating. We have not and we will not ask for a handshake. Handshake ni porojo yao… ati watu wa Azimio wanatafuta handshake na nusu mkate. Hatutaki mkate yao ambayo imeoza.”

He ruled out any dialogue with the Head of State because, he claimed, he did not believe the President would be honest and sincere on the negotiating table.

“There is no reason to sit down with him and dialogue because he might not fulfill his pledges. I don’t want to trust him, because today he will say something and tomorrow change his tune and say something else,” he said.

While President Ruto has indicate a willingness to engage with Mr Odinga, there had not been any public declaration of an attempt to have the Azimio leader on the negotiating table. And, in any case, the Kenya Kwanza team believes that the Azimio camp would not come to the talks with a sincere and honest public interest mandate. As a result of the mutual distrust and the skepticism with which both camps view each other, a virtual wall separates them as the shouting match between them continues.

At the same time, Mr Odinga defended former president Uhuru Kenyatta of accusations that he was funding his protests, terming the Kenya Kwanza claims against Mr Kenyatta “political hypocrisy”. He added that President Ruto appeared to have continued with the habit of “taunting and haunting” his former boss from the Jubilee era.

President Ruto served as President Kenyatta’s deputy for 10 years but a dramatic fallout between the two towards the end of Mr Kenyatta’s second term relegated Dr Ruto to the edges of government.

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The animosity between the two was an open secret for months but blew up and became public after Mr Kenyatta announced that he would back Mr Odinga for the presidency last year, and Dr Ruto’s victory at the ballots handed him more firepower against both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.

But yesterday Mr Odinga said President Ruto should leave Mr Kenyatta alone.

“He is a retired president,” he cautioned. “I urge Dr Ruto to go watch video clips on how he used to treat Mr Kenyatta during the Jubilee government. He used to abuse Mr Kenyatta and oppose so many things his President was implementing.”

He said the Opposition would continue with its protests until the genuine concerns of Kenyans are addressed.

“Kenya Kwanza forced us to go to the streets because they refused our five demands during the bipartisan talks, which have collapsed. They are to blame,” he added, “Kenyans are not witless. If life is unbearable, they have a right to speak out. The State cannot force Kenyans.  to pay high taxes and chest-thump about it. That era ended with the former constitution.”

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