How the Uhuru-Raila Handshake changed Kenya


How the Uhuru-Raila Handshake changed Kenya
FILE PHOTO: Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) greets opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition after addressing a news conference at the Harambee house office in Nairobi, Kenya March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/File Photo

In Summary

  • At the heart of this handshake, are attempts to find solutions to long standing national issues that spark ethnic and political friction every five years.
  • A panel constituted to collect views from a cross section of Kenyans is expected to submit its report, with recommendations by mid-2019. But there is already talk of a looming referendum to amend the constitution enacted 8 years ago.
  • With a population census scheduled in 2019, followed by the boundaries delimitation process; two highly political and emotive exercises, the handshake will be put to test.

The handshake between two erstwhile rivals in last year’s State House contest; Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga was one of the key highlights in 2018, and radically altered Kenya’s political landscape.

The country began 2018 with two Presidents. Uhuru Kenyatta seeking to assert his authority as he began a second term, after a near solo run in the October 2017 repeat presidential poll boycotted by his arch-rival Raila Odinga.

On January 30th, Odinga, in a mock swearing in ceremony, took an oath as the People’s President, a position unknown in the 2010 Constitution, amid fears of treason charges being instituted against him.

But in under two months, the tension and anxiety that had gripped the nation was wiped away in just one handshake on the steps of Harambee House.

A scenario akin to the 2008 handshake, only that Mr. Kenyatta had replaced former President Mwai Kibaki in the political script.

What seemed like a clear succession path in the ruling Jubilee Party was jolted, and talk of an imminent referendum to amend the constitution has dominated the political scene.

But it’s the secrecy with which the handshake was crafted that confounded friend and foe, even reverberating beyond the borders. Even those very close to Kenyatta and Odinga were kept in the dark.

A decision made ostensibly to lock out the would be hardliners.

Tulikubaliana nije peke yangu, na yeye peke yeke, asiye na Ruto, na mimi nisije na Kalonzo…it was talks before the talks,” said Raila. (We agreed that I come alone and Uhuru alone and not to bring Ruto and I was also to leave Kalonzo behind. It was talks before the talks.)

“Most people didn’t know, including myself, because it was purely a matter they had discussed, it’s something they had been engaged in, they were clear about the objectives. We were coming on board in various phases to try and assist them get together what they had in mind. The secrecy comes in because nobody else had a role to play until the two of them concretized what they wanted,” said Paul Mwangi, joint secretary, Building Bridges Initiative.

“There has never been anxiety about the handshake, what we have been doing is to call out the is the misuse of the handshake You’ve heard some people say this handshake is private, is between two people…that is the misbehavior we are calling out,” said Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen.

Even those who earlier cried foul for being left out when the handshake was crafted, began trooping into the tent and raising questions on the future of opposition politics.

Though the handshake brought down the raging political temperatures, it triggered discomfort in the Jubilee household.

Deputy president William Ruto seemingly indifferent to the Kenyatta-Odinga deal, amid concerns from his allies that there were hidden cards in the handshake to lock him out of the 2022 Kenyatta succession matrix.

Watu wa Kisumu saa zingine wanaambiwa ati Ruto haungi mkono handshake….mimi nimefika Leo Kisumu moue handshake kati ya Raila na Uhuru tuko nyuma yake,,” said DP Ruto during President Kenyatta’s maiden tour to Luo-Nyanza. (Residents of Kisumu have often been told that Ruto does not support the Handshake, well, I came to Kisumu to show you that I am behind Uhuru-Raila handshake.)

“The handshake should be about political morality, maturity, good manners and behaviors, unfortunately, some of our friends are only seeing 2022 and how they can have the President support to win the next elections and how they can split the jubilee party and make its successor to fail,” said Murkomen.

“I would like Raila to borrow the handshake leaf from Uhuru because when I shake hands with Ruto am referred to as a betrayer and I should be kicked out of the party. What is the real meaning of the handshake?” queried Aisha Jumwa.

“I think the history of political machinations in Kenya is that there are always secret moves, hidden cards, aces up the sleeves, and from that perspective people want to analyze the handshake and see if there are any hidden agenda… but there is nothing like that,” said Paul Mwangi.

As a result of the handshake, Odinga landed a plum position at the African Union where he is the Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa.

Kalonzo Musyoka too landed a special envoy slot in the South Sudan peace building process.

“It will be a shame if again in 2022, or 2027 or any other election you will have Kenyans after voting or in preparation for voting, there will be areas that will be blocked from voting. If that happens, the handshake will be meaningless,” said Murkomen.

At the heart of this handshake, are attempts to find solutions to long standing national issues that spark ethnic and political friction every five years.

A panel constituted to collect views from a cross section of Kenyans is expected to submit its report, with recommendations by mid-2019. But there is already talk of a looming referendum to amend the constitution enacted eight years ago.

Odinga, for instance, proposing a Parliamentary system of government and a three-tier devolution structure that will introduce 14 regional governments, alongside the 47 devolved units.

Kenyatta too has hinted at a likely departure from the presidential model of governance.

“This model of election where the winner takes it all and some people feel left out of the government, we must ask ourselves, is it a good thing?” said Kenyatta.

“Then the solution to that is we adopt a parliamentary system, with a ceremonial president and create a federal system, like we have in Ethiopia, where 80% of the national revenue goes to marimba…that should be the route, it’s a win win…lets have 47 regional presidents,” said Majority leader Aden Duale.

“It was like music to my ears when I heard Duale say he supports a referendum, but where I disagree with him is to have 47 mini presidents, we should have only 14 regional governments that make sense not these 47 counties” said ODM Chairman John Mbadi.

“ The fact that they are talking that way doesn’t mean its instructions to us to go into a particular direction, after all these views are expressed, the president and prime minister express their views, we will retreat and analyze what all other Kenyans and professionals are saying and what is in reports generated previously on this issues,” said Mr. Mwangi.

With a population census scheduled in 2019, followed by the boundaries delimitation process; two highly political and emotive exercises, the handshake will be put to test.

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