We must protect letter and spirit of handshake

Thursday, March 11th, 2021 16:20 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta PHOTO/COURTESY


Thursday March 4 should have passed as an ordinary day in Kenya. But it didn’t.  

It was the day on which about seven minor elections were happening in disparate spots in the country. Five wards and two constituencies electing representatives to the county assemblies and National Assembly, respectively, in a country with 1450 wards and 290 constituencies should not, ordinarily, be such big national news. Most Kenyans actually went about their lives like nothing was happening.

Until some not-so-civil images and news bites started streaming in.

A former Cabinet Secretary was shown on national television beating an officer of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IBC), a senator was shown wailing over some Sh2 million that had been stolen from him and bank notes seen flying around- one wonders what a senator was doing with that kind of money in hard cash at a polling station- and a county woman representative was heard hurling invectives at some fellow leaders inside a voting hall.

Elsewhere, some Members of Parliament and Senators were spotted brandishing guns and kicking teargas canisters as they pushed and shoved suspected opponents in a remote ward far removed from their home constituencies and counties, not to mention Nairobi where their offices are domiciled.  

In a nutshell, the violence that was witnessed on that day was too much for a by-election. Actually it is not even acceptable for a general election. The fact that such ordinarily low interest political contest can degenerate to such magnitude of tension and life threatening sprouts of hostility is not only unfortunate but also a clear sign of a society on self-destructive mission.

But it wakes the country up to the reality that we are treading on very dangerous grounds.

Just a day after the chaotic “small” elections and two days to the third anniversary of the symbolic handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and de facto Opposition chief Raila Odinga, cracks started showing in the pact that was ostensibly entered to avoid “violence after every electoral cycle”.

Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, a close ally and legal advisor of Mr Odinga told the country that some people he did not name but who he said are domiciled at the President’s office in Harambee House were working to sabotage the handshake and frustrate the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

The BBI, a product of the handshake, has been touted as the roadmap to everlasting peace and tranquility in the country. It is currently set for debate at both the National Assembly and the Senate having been officially endorsed by 43 of the 47 county assemblies across the Nation.

The law requires such an amendment to the Constitution as the BBI to only get endorsement from a simple majority of county assemblies, which is 24. If the vote the county assemblies is anything to go by, the Bill will get overwhelming popular endorsement at the referendum, which is the next stage after Parliament, and will become law.

But scenes like those we saw on that darkish March 4 Thursday and the sentiments of senior players in on the political pitch point to a bad future.

In another three months, we are likely to be going to a divisive referendum seeing that a section of the political leadership has identified itself with the opposing side and might just want a hot contest to prove a point.

Like they did by sending prominent Members of Parliament to go and disrupt an otherwise minor ward elections, these BBI opponents may opt to employ both financial and human resources at their disposal, and they have them in plenty, to cause chaos in the country to show their might.

That the plebiscite is coming just about a year before a general election projected to be highly competitive is reason enough to believe that a violent one will likely foretell a bloody campaign period and the reaction thereafter.

That is why we, all of us, must protect the letter and spirit of the handshake and the BBI to achieve lasting peace and unity in the country.

Michael Cherambos comments on topical issues. [email protected]

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