Double-edged sword that is the Handshake
When President Uhuru Kenyatta walked down the steps of Harambee House on March 9, last year, side-by-side with his then political nemesis, ODM leader Raila Odinga, he was a man on a simple yet delicately complicated mission; uniting a country that was slowly but steadily being torn apart by political incongruities.
At the press conference, the President declared that Kenya’s future would not be dictated by elections any longer, decrying the cycle of constant instability witnessed in the country every election cycle.
“For this country to come together, leaders have to discuss freely and openly what ails our country and the cause of the ethnic divisions,” he said, expressing hope of receiving support from “every single leader and every single Kenyan” in the quest to “unite the country.”
However, less than two months after that gesture of statesmanship that even earned the two leaders honourary degrees from the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology, the Handshake was facing opposition.
A cross-section of leaders from the Jubilee Party started questioning Raila’s sincerity claiming he was hell bent on dividing the ruling party by sidelining Deputy President William Ruto and denying him a chance to ascend to the Presidency in 2022.
The cavalry, led by Leader of Majority in the Senate Kipchumba Murkomen questioned why Raila only shook hands with the President and not Ruto.
In a complete antithesis of the intention that was declared at Harambee House, the Handshake has led to a spectacular and public disintegration of the ruling party as leaders from two groups—Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga—traverse the country holding fundraisers and political rallies either expressing their support or painting the Handshake as a ploy by Raila to push for a change in the Constitution and create a political position for himself in the government, even after losing elections.
As the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) team tasked with collecting views from the public on how to unite the country prepares to release its report, confusion seems to be rife over what the initiative is meant to achieve.
Uhuru has, on more than one occasion, lost his temper and publicly handed Central Kenya leaders several dressing downs, casting the image of a man, seemingly, fed up with politicians who don’t understand what the Handshake represents.
Opinions among the Mt. Kenya political leadership are that the region heaved a collective sigh of relief after the Handshake.
Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki once credits the Handshake for the freedom with which the President is now able to make frequent trips all over the country.
However, there is an endemic distrust for Raila. Naivasha MP Jayne Kihara says Raila may very well be misusing the President’s goodwill for his own selfish gains.
Ruto is also on record casting doubts on the former Prime Minister’s sincerity with the handshake. In a TV interview early this year, Ruto declared that he does not believe Raila did it in good faith adding that this was history just repeating itself. “See what happened in the merger between Kanu and LDP. Raila came in and walked away with half of Kanu,” said Ruto.
The notion that the deal between the President and the man he once described as muguruki (a mad man) is also meant to sideline Ruto has been a driving force for the growing resistance to the Handshake.
However, Kipipiri MP Amos Kimunya believes that Mt. Kenya leaders should be at the forefront in championing for an integrated Kenya.
His sentiments are shared by Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia who has called on leaders to trust the President because he is in a better position to know what is good for the country.
Political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi, however, summarises the Handshake as being “a secession of hostilities that did not end or resolve any of our hostilities.
It only froze something that will recur later on,” while Machakos governor Alfred Mutua says only a “generational change” will save the country from the perennial “politically inclined conversations that do not solve any of our problems.”
All in all, one thing is clear; Uhuru has an uphill task of convincing the country and more so Mt Kenya that the Handshake will ensure an improvement in their quality of life and does not bear political undertones. [email protected]