Handshake: Is Uhuru-Raila reunion new chapter in politics?

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019 12:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga. Photo/File

Today, Kenya marks 41 years since the death of founding Father of the Nation, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. As has been the ritual in the last four decades, the late Kenyatta’s family will lay wreaths at his mausoleum at Parliament Buildings and later attend mass at the Holy Family Minor Basilica.

Expected at both ceremonies, among other dignitaries, are Mzee’s widow, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, President Uhuru Kenyatta as well as Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who, however, flew out to Indonesia three days ago for a one-week tour as the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development. 

Beneath the facade of the memorial, all eyes will focus on Uhuru and Raila, whose mysterious camaraderie has confounded one and all since their rapprochement on March 9 last year.

Love-hate affair

What goes around comes around, so they say. A Handshake, a hug, a smile presumably tea and a telephone call are that what it may have taken to momentarily hammer home the brotherhood in the love-hate affair that is the tempestuous relationship between the Kenyatta and Odinga political families. 

Two years ago, the most political offshoots of the two prominent — some say dynastic — families, Uhuru and Raila, were fierce foes as they faced off in a bare-knuckle battle whose official outcome was a disputed resounding victory of the former to retain his seat at State House for another five years.

Barring open mischief and unforeseen, far-reaching constitutional intervention, in ways more than one, the duel of August 8, 2017 between the two protagonists-turned-comrades-in-arms could as well have brought the curtains down on an on-and-off warfare lasting five decades pitting the country’s two politically most influential families.

Proposed Constitution

Uhuru, the incumbent occupant of the House on the Hill in his second and last term, is the fourth President of the Republic of Kenya and the son of founding Father of the Nation, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who passed away on this day 40 years ago. On the other hand, Raila is the son of the late Jaramogi Odinga Oginga, independent Kenya’s first vice-president under Jomo Kenyatta.

In the countdown to Kenya’s independence, Jaramogi led a spirited global campaign for the release of then detained Kenyatta. British colonialists had banished him to the far-flung, northwestern Kenyan frontier towns of Kapenguria and Lokitaung owing to his relentless demands for the freedom of the Kenyan people. 

After Kenyatta’s release in 1961, the two became inseparable political bedfellows and it was therefore not surprising that at independence in 1963, Kenyatta  named Odinga his principal assistant.

But it did not take long for them to differ. They parted ways in 1967 on ideological reasons. Since then, Kenya’s post-independence political landscape has largely been defined by the hot-and-cold relationship between their two prominent families.

Raila first contested the presidency in 1997 and lost to President Daniel arap Moi while Uhuru made his debut in 2002 and lost to Mwai Kibaki, who was  then backed by Raila.

Founding Father of the Nation Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (right) with Jaramogi Odinga Oginga. PD/FILE

In 2005, Uhuru, then Kanu national chairman and Raila the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), were to come together under the umbrella of the Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya (ODM-K) in a successful crusade to block a proposed Constitution through a national plebiscite.

Raila ran for the presidency in 2007 but controversially lost to Kibaki, who this time round had the support of Uhuru. However, during the life of the 10th Parliament, which formed the Grand Coalition Government under Kibaki’s stewardship, Raila served as Prime Minister while Uhuru held the portfolio of Deputy PM and Minister for Trade, and later on Finance.

Uhuru and Raila were to face each other in the 2013 presidential contest alongside Mudavadi, Abduba Dida, former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua and former Education Permanent Secretary Prof James ole Kiyiapi from which poll Uhuru emerged victorious.

In August 2017, Raila made his fourth unsuccessful stab at the presidency whereas Uhuru’s bid was the third after losing to Kibaki in 2002 and winning in 2013. 

Post-election chaos

Raila went to the Supreme Court to challenge Uhuru’s victory. The Judiciary invalidated the election and ordered a fresh poll. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) set the repeat election for October 26m, which Raila boycotted.

He swore himself in as the “people’s president” after loss of tens of lives through a series of confrontations and pitched battles between his supporters and security agencies.  Prior to that election, Raila had declared he would not run for the presidency again. He remains cagey on this issue to date.

Uhuru will constitutionally not be eligible to run for presidency. So far, no strong politician from both the Kenyatta and Jaramogi families has emerged with the possibility of staging a formidable presidential competition three years from now.

That somewhat ends the bitter Kenyatta-Odinga political rivalry spanning five decades. Will the rest of the country walk with Uhuru and Raila in their enigmatic re-union? Only time will tell.

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