What the Uhuru- Raila handshake really means to Wanjiku

President Uhuru Kenyatta with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga when they addressed the media at Harambee House, Nairobi last week Friday. [Photo/Standard]
The public gesture of reconciliation between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga and their desire to move the country forward following the year-long electioneering campaigns last year is obviously a relief to many of us who have been wondering what gains a person can get by tearing the country apart just to hold on or to get to power.

The gesture can, therefore, be interpreted in the most positive way possible, even if it is difficult to tell the real motivations of our Kenyan politicians.

However, we must also, as Kenyans, raise two substantial concerns on the implications of the “program” between the two leaders. First, where is ‘Wanjiku’ in this arrangement? Second, how do we, as a country, deal with conflict? In other words, how do we solve our problems at the national level?

It is important to appreciate good initiatives and so I repeat that the truce – at least as of now – between Uhuru and Raila must be appreciated. Behind the initiative, there is an impression that the leaders must have pondered hard on the direction the country is headed. In their wisdom, borrowed or not, they listened to themselves and opted to front the good of the country before their personal interests. Great!

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Legitimacy question

But, that is as far as it goes. 

Even as lay law interpreters, we do know that the power to govern the country belongs to Wanjiku. It is donated to whoever is legally elected and enjoys a solid legitimacy. This is important because legality alone does not bestow legitimacy to rule. President Uhuru has suffered the latter hence the interest in reaching out to Hon Raila.

As it turned out last year, we did not have a conclusive presidential election outcome. If it did, our attention would be anywhere but looking back to 2017 elections. As a result Wanjiku is as divided as the political leaders themselves. And this is where the problem is.

The assumption that if Uhuru and Raila agree to work together to pull the country out of the current quandary is only a half truth. Obviously the leaders have great influence over their supporters. But as things stand, the supporters will not just buy into boardroom arrangements and move on with life. The Kenyan voter today is more civically alert and easily agitated than ever before. Solving deep seated grievances without involving this critical mass could turn out to be disastrous in the next general election.

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Further, we may give benefit of doubt to the arrangement between the two leaders that their “program” will work and help us move forward. However, the army of radical and discontented persons around the two leaders over time is most likely to fuel enough underground fire to scuttle the good intentions. Where will that leave us? Back to where we are today.

This brings us to the second substantial concern. How do we solve our conflicts?

Post-election violence

Since the 1992 our elections have always cost lives. The 2007 post-election violence is the best example of what happens when we do not confront our grievances but opt to wish them away through short cuts and coercion. The 2017 presidential election outcome – and a few other gubernatorial seats – have left bad taste in the mouth since these outcomes were inconclusive. Like in the past elections, we lost lives. People were injured and will live with those injuries the rest of their lives.

The logical question is this: who takes responsibility for the inconclusiveness of the election outcomes? Trying to always ask the “why” question on this largely failed electoral process ends up giving those charged with the mandate to ensure free, fair and credible elections a leeway to evade responsibility.

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The post-election elite solutions to electoral illegalities and other forms of electoral malpractices only entrenches the belief that elections outcomes can be manipulated to favor some candidates. This is where Wanjiku loses sovereignty and the power to determine who gets to govern.

The disillusionment is whether it is worthy holding elections if, given our experience from past elections, there is no guarantee that every vote counts.

I strongly pitch for the radical but pragmatic idea that let us go back to ‘Wanjiku’ and solve our electoral problems through the ballot. Regardless of what other options we consider, as is the case with Uhuru and Raila now, until we get the electoral process transparent so that every vote counts, we will always end up with violence and/or boardroom solutions. 

Moreover, this political arrangements are unnecessarily too expensive as seats will have to be created for appeasement of supporters. Besides, betrayal and the unpredictability of our politics do not guarantee peace and stability. Granted, repeat elections are expensive but it is more expensive to avoid ‘Wanjiku’ in solving the electoral problem.  

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