The 19-hour Uhuru-Raila meeting that brokered the handshake deal


The 19-hour Uhuru-Raila meeting that brokered the handshake deal
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

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga have for the first time revealed previously unknown details on how they arrived at the March 9, 2018 handshake deal that caught the nation by surprise.

Speaking on Wednesday during the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) taskforce report at the Bomas of Kenya, Mr. Odinga said they held talks for 19 hours as they deliberated on how to put an end to the tension and anxiety that had gripped the nation at the time.

Mr. Odinga says “it was not easy” while President Kenyatta describes it as a highly tense moment coming face-to-face with a man with whom he had traded all manner of insults in the run up to the disputed 2017 elections.

“It took 19 hours and it was not easy, as the president will explain to you later because we had called each other names,” said Odinga.

The Head of State disclosed that the meeting began with only him and Mr. Odinga behind closed doors and it was not until after an hour characterised by a tense moment of silence that the real conversation began.

“When we met with Mr. Odinga we took tea for almost 45 minutes without having any discussion. All we could ask each other is how is home… how is your wife… how are the kids? There was nothing else we could talk about because of the anger from the insults we had been hurling at each other,” revealed President Kenyatta.

“We were just the two of us in a room… we almost spent the night there. But after one hour that’s when we began talking.”

Before dropping their guards and agreeing to meet and talk, Mr. Odinga admits that together with the President they were under pressure from their respective supporters to make decisions that they were highly advised against.

“Our people said now that you’ve been sworn in as the People’s President, let us remove all portraits of the president from all public buildings in our strongholds and heap them somewhere and torch them and declare ourselves sovereign and begin to collect taxes and do our things. I looked at that and I said that is taking Kenya to Somalia,” said Odinga.

“On the other hand, the President’s people told him if somebody else is sworn that is treason. Arrest him prosecute him and hang them. So arrest Raila now. And the president also had an issue with that.”

He added: “It is under those circumstances that counsels of good will prevailed and we ended up having a conversation with the president.”

At the meeting, President Kenyatta says they spoke on how to end the wave of violence and political tension that had engulfed the country at the time and also how to prevent a similar scenario from re-occurring.

After the hours long deliberations, the two leaders resolved to call for a ceasefire and they invited lawyers who compiled what they had agreed upon before finally making their unity deal public.

“Eventually after all that long deliberation we agreed we have something we can put together. We invited lawyers to come and put our views together. We told them exactly what we thought was wrong with our society and what needed to be corrected and we gave them the responsibility of putting it together,” said Odinga.

After the handshake on the steps of Harambee House, the political tension that had left the nation at the brink of anarchy was wiped away.

Kenyatta and Odinga then formed the Building Bridges Initiative taskforce that for over one year collected views on healing the nation, curing divisive politics and fostering cohesion in the country.

The taskforce has since concluded its task and its report, which recommends a change in the governance system among other proposals,was launched on Wednesday at a colourful ceremony in Nairobi.

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Story By Benjamin Muriuki
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