Handshake has elevated Kenya’s geopolitical profile

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga. Photo/File

King’ori Choto

The March 2018 truce in the form of a Handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his erstwhile nemesis Raila Odinga was historic.  

With the gesture, the two leaders restored peace and stability to a nation bitterly divided by the protracted 2017 presidential election.

At a time when many previously stable democracies globally, have developed deeply divided and tribalism or racialised politics, Kenya’s Handshake was a rare push in the direction of building bipartisanship.

At its core is that most rare quality in hard-fought political contests in this part of the world: Pragmatism. It is a model that is being emulated in other parts of the world. 

Kenya, with all its problems, may turn out to be an example of the world if it builds on that moment of political pragmatism and vision.

One-and-a-half years down the road, the Handshake has paved the way for national healing and dialogue. Key to this has been the nationwide consultation tour by the Building Bridges Initiative Presidential Taskforce (BBI) seeking citizen views and solutions on the country’s pressing challenges. 

These include ethnic competition and antagonism, divisive politics, corruption and exclusion, to mention just a few. Out of BBI will probably come transformative proposals that will then be subjected to further political and legal processes, in line with the Constitution, to ensure that they are implemented.

The Handshake is also credited with cushioning the ongoing war on corruption from political interference. It has also spawned impressive bipartisan goodwill on national issues both in and out of Parliament.

However, a section of the political class is opposed to the Handshake and the BBI. Naturally, and especially those opposed to Raila,  they see it as a threat to their political interests. 

Others dismiss it as an attempt by powerful political families to perpetuate their hegemony in the country’s politics.

Yet listening to them closely, it is their families’ long exposure to the peaks and valleys of Kenyan politics that has made them determine that they must forge different politics for the sake of Kenya’s future. 

One of the much-touted benefits of the Handshake was its impact on the region. The combination of Uhuru and his foreign policy apparatus has come together with Raila and his continent-wide role as the African Union Special Representative for Infrastructure Development.

Their clearly coordinated and collaborative approach to regional issues has brought clear benefits for Kenya and the region.

They worked together to improve Kenya and Tanzania relations, which has been characterised by misunderstandings that gave way to a sense of division and competition. 

Raila also joined Uhuru’s push to support peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their Handshake has given them the legitimacy to speak of two political camps coming together for the sake of stability and progress.

Another notable aspect of the partnership is that, in their own right as influential African leaders, and as scions of famous Pan-Africanists (Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga), the two men lend considerable gravitas to Kenya’s renewed geopolitical and diplomatic offensive. 

By presenting a united front, they give the country unprecedented diplomatic leverage in advancing her continent and international agenda.

Back home, the Uhuru-Raila deal has seen the fast-tracking of major projects in western Kenya, the ODM leader’s political stronghold. The most prominent is the port of Kisumu which the President initiated in 2016 but now has a stable environment for implementation.

As long as the alliance between Uhuru and Raila holds, it can be expected that Kenya’s geopolitical profile will continue to rise. With the country seeking a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council, the handshake’s significance and impact will be seen in how the two leaders lobby countries in Africa and beyond to support the bid. 

Something else is worth noting about the Handshake. I am reliably told that scholars from other countries, including the US, have been trooping to Kenya to study the Handshake, hailed as a first in Africa.

In a continent where political disputes are normally resolved through the barrel of a gun, that a turbulent epoch in Kenya’s history ended with a Handshake between two fierce rivals is something worth writing home about. — The writer is a lawyer and public affairs specialist —[email protected]

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