By Emeka Mayaka Gekara
The March 9, 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga is not anchored on any law. It is political marriage whose survival rests upon the good faith of the two partners.
While it has been lauded for restoring sanity after a disputed election, it has also helped expose one of the biggest weaknesses of Kenyan politics: it is dangerously personalised. Significantly, it has been argued that it was meant to buttress the political ambitions of the two leaders.
Having realized that he cannot implement his agenda and secure a legacy in an environment of constant agitation inspired by Raila, President Kenyatta had to seduce his rival. It was an act of surrender by both men. Having lost presidential elections thrice, culminating in mock swearing in as the people’s president, Raila had to find closure to the agitation and pick a political lifeline. Their troops were forced to toe the line.
An argument has been made that that Kenyan politics revolves around the political rivalry between the Kenyatta and Odinga families. The rest of the players have no gravitas. It took an Odinga (Raila) to help Kibaki clinch the presidency in 2002. It also took a Kenyatta (Uhuru) to help Kibaki’s re-election five years later, and it will probably take a Kenyatta or an Odinga to make or break William Ruto (a fact he seems painfully aware about).
More importantly, the two have re-ignited solid debate on the need for inclusivity which remains the biggest cause of politically-related conflicts in Kenya.
A team has been set up to oversee the roll-out of a programme that will implement Uhuru-Raila’s shared objectives of addressing ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, devolution, safety and security and corruption.
The terms of reference of the Building Bridges Initiative are “to evaluate the national challenges outlined and make practical recommendations and reform proposals that build lasting unity.”
The biggest criticism against the handshake is it has literally turned the country into a single-party state, with opposition leader jostling to join Uhuru’s corner. This irredeemably denies the country the opposition’s critical role of the oversight. The question here is, who will watch the watchman? The answer lies in constant vigilance by the citizenry, a strong and independent Judiciary, as well as a competent media and civil society.
While both Kenyatta and Odinga have sought to persuade the country that the pact has nothing to do with the 2022 succession, you need to be extremely naïve to believe that.
But even as the two partners implement their agenda – national or personal – the country is entitled to know the secret details of their agreement.