How protagonists mid-wifed the Handshake deal
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition Leader Raila Odinga yesterday narrated how they broke the ice in a deal that saw the two, fresh from a bruising election contest, shake hands publicly.
The Head of State, speaking during the public launch of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, a product of their March 9, 2018 ‘Handshake’, said their first meeting, which was arranged through a phone call, was characterised by mistrust and suspicion.
The meeting was planned directly by the two , the President said, adding that it wasn’t easy because of the animosity between them, just like it was between their ardent supporters who were fighting each other.
“How we met (with Raila) was not an easy thing because just like there was extreme tension (that had led to bad blood) between you (supporters of Raila and him) it was the same situation between us, and I was wondering if I meet this person (Raila) what shall we talk about,” the President reminisced.
The meeting, whose venue the President did not disclose, was attended by just the two of them and took about 19 hours, signifying the depth of the discussion.
The two, Uhuru said, spent the first one hour basically saying nothing to each other, and when they started engaging each other, it was largely about irrelevant “weather” questions which, however, served to ease the tension and anger.
“We took tea for the first 45 minutes without talking to each other. One would ask the other; ‘how is your family?’ and the other would reply, ‘it’s fine’, you ask, ‘how is your wife’, and the response would be ‘she is okay’ , ‘and about the children?’ And the response would be ‘they are still studying,” the Head of State recounted, throwing the packed auditorium into a laughter.
After the one hour “of irrelevant talk and staring at each other”, the President said, they had much to discuss regarding what ails the country on matters elections, that they almost spent the whole night at the venue.
During the talks, they agreed that both believe in the same issues and that their disagreement was not “that big” but it’s the political contests which led to problems attributed to their differences.
“We agreed, let’s even forget about the 2017 election, why is it that after every election, we must fight? And that was the beginning of the BBI,” he said, adding that they agreed to drop their political ambitions and political party interests.
The ‘Handshake’ caught both the President’s and Raila’s allies, including Deputy President William Ruto, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and Wiper Party’s Kalonzo Musyoka by surprise that they openly complained.
Uhuru said he had an option of standing firm as the President but the nation was sharply divided to lead because in some places such as Nairobi violence was the order of the day and tension was evident everywhere.
“After the 2017 election, violence erupted and honestly, as the President, I would have stood my ground because I had won. I would have led (the country) and no one would have barred me from doing that because after taking the oath you agree to move forward,” he said.
President Kenyatta had won the August 8 contests but Raila, who was flying the National Super Alliance (NASA) flag successfully challenged his victory at the Supreme Court which ordered a repeat of the poll on October 26.
But Raila, who accused the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), of conspiring with Jubilee Party to short change him of his victory, declined to participate in the repeat poll and even attempted to block the exercise through violence.
When IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati declared President Kenyatta the winner, and after he was sworn in for a second term, the opposition backers took to the streets leading to deaths and destruction of property.
The Head of State said political interests had led to the doubts about the motive of the ‘Handshake’, a move which he fell short of describing as childish.
His deputy Ruto and his backers under the Tanga Tanga and Inua Mama movement have been skeptical about the ‘Handshake’ as well as the BBI process, saying they were created to scuttle Ruto’s 2022 presidential ambitions.
“You know with politics, when you mend fences with your opponent, your backers think that you are plotting against them and so they start organising meetings to scheme. Please (politicians) let us mature,” President Kenyatta said.
Raila, too, shared what led to the two meeting, saying had they not, the pressure from their backers would have burnt the nation.
Apart from the weekly protests and Raila being sworn in as the ‘People’s President’ at Uhuru Park, the opposition chief said they had agreed o remove portraits of the President in all public places in their strongholds because they did not recognise him.
The Opposition Coalition also called for boycott of products from some institutions that were perceived to be sympathetic to the ruling party.
On the other hand, the President, he said, was under pressure from his allies to arrest and detain Raila.