Uhuru’s Kisumu reception indicator of what “handshake” can do, let’s build on it
By Milan Kiplangat
Early this week, one powerful photograph made rounds on social media and reminded us about one of the lowest moments in Kenya’s history.
The image, taken on June 1, 2016, showed then Kisumu County Commissioner John Elungata addressing an empty stadium during Madaraka Day celebrations held at the Jomo Kenyatta grounds in the lakeside city.
Embarrassingly, the commissioner had no option but to read President Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech to himself, literally, - in the presence of several journalists - as residents, even children, gave the crucial event a wide berth.
The turnout was not any different across many other opposition strongholds as Kenya edged towards one of the most divisive elections in independent history. President Uhuru and other top government officials were treated to worryingly hostile receptions in those zones, particularly in Nyanza.
The subsequent nullification of the August 2017 presidential poll results and the boycotting of the repeat election by millions of Kenyans further polarized the country and left it perilously tittering on the edge. Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s daring coronation as the “People’s President” not only tempted fate; it was disastrous in every sense of the word.
Contrast this with the extraordinarily warm reception Uhuru received in Kisumu during his Madaraka Day outing this week and you will appreciate the value of some of the things we take for granted.
For three straight days, the lakeside city was painted red as the head of state and his entourage, which included his deputy William Ruto, was accorded the best possible reception the city could offer.
Who would have imagined a sea of humanity jamming the streets of Nyalenda to welcome Uhuru with song, cheer and dance in the same manner his Central Kenya supporters celebrated his victory over Raila in 2017?
Who would have visualized the country’s top political leadership congregating in Kisumu and speaking in one language devoid of divisive politics?
All this was made possible by the historic March 2018 Handshake between Uhuru and Raila. The fact that every Kenyan is today enjoying the fruits of this pact makes it all the more sweeter; for the two hitherto political archrivals made heavy personal sacrifices and ceded ground to make the truce a reality.
The Handshake has not only made the Kenyahood bond stronger; it has restored harmonious co-existence among Kenyans, helped stabilize the economy and generally set the country on the path to prosperity.
This has inspired hope among millions of Kenyans. Since 2018, Kenyans have been able to go about their businesses in a conducive environment where their middle, and last, names no longer matter.
Ethnic undertones have subsided and for the first time in decades, pro-government and opposition politicians have been working together and reasoning objectively when it comes to matters of national importance.
Devoid of egoistic politicking, the President has been able to tackle national problems with admirable ease.
Across Luo Nyanza, the fruits have been sweeter. By joining hands and working together, Uhuru and Raila have moved to end nearly five decades of hostility between Luos and the government, enmity that has its roots in the feud between their fathers, founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and his deputy Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
Courtesy of the handshake, Uhuru has effectively ended the long-standing cries of political and economic exclusion among the Luo community.
He has, in no time, transformed the sleepy Kisumu into an economic hub and set the entire region on the path to prosperity.
The over 20 mega projects that are either completed or ongoing in Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori counties will help elevate the region to inconceivable levels, making it compete with Nairobi and Mombasa.
This is what happens when people sit down, talk, listen to each other's grievances out and make peace.
Uhuru had the option of jailing Raila for treason after he swore himself in. He had the power to squeeze Embakasi East MP Babu Owino where it hurts most after he spewed expletives in his direction. But Uhuru chose peace. He judiciously chose not to let a good crisis go to waste.
And it came to pass that while Raila was this week truly humbled as he thanked the President for brining smiles to the faces of the people in Nyanza, Owino was by his side describing Uhuru as “the best President Kenya has ever had”.
In the Handshake, we have tangible evidence that a little humility goes along way. Let’s build on the successes and the lessons from this truce.
Mr Kiplagat is a regular commentator on social, economic and political affairs.