“The Handshake” has become a common reference to the political truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and The People’s President Raila Odinga. The deal was made public through a handshake on the steps of Harambee House on March 9th 2018. Very few people knew about the talks between the two prior to the handshake and they kept the faith of their bosses to keep it a secret.
These talks might have begun just before the January 29th swearing in of Raila as the people’s President. We heard romours of NASA leaders meeting the US ambassador before the swearing in. The five weeks between the swearing in and handshake is a short time to bridge the divide, as NASA leaders were being arrested and hounded to court while some were being deported. If the talks began after the swearing in, then Uhuru Kenyatta knew where to strike in Raila Odinga, where his interests intersect his politics.
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Political analysts went into an overdrive explaining the theories and realities behind the handshake. In the year 2000, I was sent on a three year compulsory academic leave from the University of Nairobi. Just as the gravity of it was sinking in, we met a former student leader who had graduated the same year. That day along University Way, he gave me a lesson on political realism. “Where your interests are served, the interests of those around you are served as well.” This is the prism I chose to shake the handshake through.
It is a good lens to look at political reality but a bad premise to lead a country you expect to develop. There is no place for sacrifice in politics, and a country cannot develop without sacrifice. Where personal and selfish interests come first common good is pushed at the back. This is why when I tried to shake the handshake through my mind, I did not like what my mind saw.
Raila is the greatest politician to walk our soil. The title The People’s President suits the man, but he never won the top prize. He is a victim of trying to please the masses at the expense of his fellow aristocrats which led to the theft of his election wins. After 2017 debacle his supporters were bracing themselves for a parallel system of governance centered on counties where NASA had a majority in County Assemblies.
These counties began by passing laws establishing Peoples’ Assemblies with the plan to push for secession through a referendum. Then Raila pops up at Harambee House to pour water on all these efforts.
The handshake happened and neither party revealed the details of the deal. This is why I concluded that it has nothing to do with Kenya’s future but the selfish interests of the parties involved. If there was rapport between the two then the Miguna saga could have played out differently two weeks after the handshake.
Nothing revealed the hollow handshake than the sight of Raila Odinga at the airport as lawyers aligned to NASA rushed to court to fight for Miguna’s entry but fail in their efforts. This saga indefinitely put off proposed joint tour of Luo Nyanza and other NASA zones by Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.
The handshake was like cessation of hostilities between two warring parties. It does not mean a deal has been reached but in principle the parties agreed to talks. The problem is the two principals painted a rosy picture which they could not fully paint without the input of trusted political lieutenants.
At the end of the handshake, Raila was exposed while Uhuru held the power and everything depended on his honour. This is my main reason of cascading the reason for the deal to Raila’s basic interests and Uhuru’s political interests.
Looking at the team of elders, clergy and academicians put together under “Building Bridges” banner to run programs; oh my, that NGO buzz word. Their mandate shows that the details of the deal were an afterthought. They will address ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, security and corruption. These are issues that fall under several constitutional commissions but lack of political will has hindered their performance. The formula is well known, the team will recommend several constitutional changes. Because they have no power to change the ideals and values of politicians, poor or lack of political will to actualize the recommendations will still be a challenge.
Raila Odinga will be two years shy of being an octogenarian in 2022. It just hit him that may be, he will never be president and it is good to accept that fact early.
Looking at his family, there is nobody with a quarter of his abilities since he lost his son Fidel to unclear circumstances. Raila has realized that there is no one to look after the Odinga clan after he has left the scene. The safest place to leave them is in government. This will guarantee the family economic patronage and protection.
The only grandchild of Jaramogi in public service is Jaoko Oburu. The son to Raila’s elder brother and member of East African Legislative Assembly is a County Executive for Siaya County. He has been touted as a possible heir to the Odingas political throne but the fact that he has never looked for political battles to fight on his own dims his political mien.
The Odinga family is a political family, they have built their fortune politically and it can only be protected and grown politically. This is the motivation of Raila Odinga in this truce, everything else are details. On Uhuru Kenyatta, as the president, his headache has been his legacy and then his succession. His legacy is also dependent on who takes over from him.
It was becoming difficult for Uhuru to lead the country with Raila pushing his agenda on the sidelines. Raila is one man who you are better off keeping close than giving his space to do his political theatrics.
Uhuru’s Big 4 Agenda of Universal Health, Affordable Housing, Food Security and Industrialization was being swallowed in the NASA noise in the public arena. The only way was to get Raila to tone down his antics and the handshake did just that.
These are the basic interests of the two parties and it is obvious that in them the interests of those around them are also well taken care of. No ODM MP came out to oppose the handshake despite none of them knowing the details.
There were some murmurs in Ford-Kenya and ANC but that is expected. Within Jubilee Party, the former URP wing behind Deputy President William Ruto has not hidden their suspicion to the deal. Uhuru’s side in JP is well behind their man.
The handshake gives Uhuru’s backers the chance to throw William Ruto into a spin. The ‘Uthamakistan’ as the cabal of Kikuyu elite power brokers is known were afraid of a Raila presidency but look more scared of a Ruto presidency.
In early May, William Ruto showed up in kabarak with Energy CS Charles Keter and MP Chepkut who had been spotted in Kabarak earlier landed at former President Moi’s home in a chopper. Moi could not see them in the absence of his son Gideon Moi. The younger Moi who it is believed knew of the visit played an offside trap on them.
This is where the secondary interests come in. Raila must prove to his people that there is something to the deal beyond a golden ‘handcheque’ for him to prepare for life outside active politics.
On Uhuru’s side his main headache now that he can push his agenda peacefully is handling a disgruntled William Ruto. Raila is pushing constitutional review to his supporters meanwhile Uhuru’s men are assuring an unconvinced William Ruto of their support in 2022.
William Ruto has just realized that money cannot buy class. Raila and Uhuru are sons of Kenyans first President and Vice President respectively. This automatically makes Ruto an outsider in the matrix, like Moi in 1978, Ruto will need another Charles Njonjo to ascend to the presidency.
Raila Odinga has been shaking hands with people perceived to be against Ruto like retired president Moi and former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo. Some of Ruto’s allies like Governor Mike Sonko have also rushed to shake hands with Raila while others have been spotted visiting Moi. The handshake kicked off real politik.
Ruto thought that family money covered the follies of Uhuru and Gideon Moi. What he failed to take note of is the systems behind their second names.
He embarked on a resource accumulation spree in readiness for the fight of his life for the top seat. A master strategist, Ruto is now sitting with a war chest ready for a fight that might not even happen. Raila has been the main target in political wars in this country and now going forward it looks like the battles will be drawn around Ruto.
I do not know who advised and made it possible for Uhuru to rope in Raila, he deserves a fat cheque. This handshake is a political masterstroke that sets Uhuru and his backers ahead of the pack going into 2022. Central Kenya or rather Kikuyus have been apprehensive to come out openly that they are not comfortable with a Ruto presidency.
Raila is pushing constitutional change to bring in a parliamentary system and tweak devolution as his goal in the bargain. Ruto is against changes to the law as this may throw out his deal with Uhuru to support him in 2022. As things stand, Uhuru and his backers have set up Raila and Ruto against each other as they pick the dividends.
In 2010, politicians rejected Committee of Experts proposal for a parliamentary system of government out of fear of Raila Odinga, the then Prime Minister designate. Now that Raila is on his way out of the scene, someone believes we can try out parliamentary system.
Bomas Draft constitution in 2005 proposed 14 devolved units, but fear of Kalenjin (or KAMATUSA) in the Rift Valley by Kikuyus led us to the inefficient and uneconomical 47 units we currently have. Have we dealt with our fears? I wish these proposed programs will help us deal with our fears and build trust before we think of changing the constitution.
In the end, Ruto’s failure to clinch the presidency will be blamed on Raila and not Kikuyus. After all Raila blames Ruto for his failure to win the presidency in 2013 so he will be paying back in kind. This will cleanse Uhuru but the headache is how Rift Valley where Ruto’s Kalenjin community has had a longstanding enmity with Kikuyu settlers.
I see a situation where the Kalenjin will be told to offer another kingpin for the presidency and that is where Gideon Moi will come in. Another scenario is Eldoret becoming the new Kisumu of Kenyan politics where the police will be deployed in obscene proportions.
Ruto may look like the loser but Kenyans are the real losers. It is obvious that our is not a democracy but an aristocracy. ‘The people’ will never have their way and their president must bow to the president of the state. (