Political revolutions can sneak up on a country. Remember this iconic slogan of the Black Power Movement in the 1960s – the revolution will not be televised. Gil Scott-Heron, the African-American soul and jazz poet-musician, later immortalised the phrase in a poem and song of the same title. But as it turns out, sometimes the revolution is – in fact – televised.
Take the Arab Spring. Or the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. I saw with my own eyes – on television – as the mighty Soviet Union collapsed into a heap of ashes. Which begs the question – was the “televised” March 9 “handshake” between NASA’s Raila Odinga and Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta the ignition of a Kenyan revolution? Can a revolution be bloodless and peaceful?
Let’s be clear about one thing. Like it or not, Raila and Mr Kenyatta are the two most consequential political leaders in Kenya today. We don’t have to like either of them to come to this obvious conclusion. It’s just realpolitik. The two men – the undisputed titans of Kenyan politics – fought to a draw in last year’s aborted elections. I call them “aborted” because they left the country on the edge of the cliff. One match and Kenya would’ve gone to hell, and stayed there. But to in wisdom, Kenyatta and Raila did the unexpected. The two buried the hatchet. I can’t pinpoint the exact burial ground for the hatchet, but I am sure it’s six feet under.
Then Raila and Kenyatta came up with the Building Bridges Initiative. I personally would’ve come up with a more inspiring title. But I guess neither semantics nor razzmatazz were the point. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. If the initiative becomes a “revolution” then the lackluster title will be the biggest linguistic decoy in history. I support the initiative, and I will tell you why. It’s the first important thing Kenyatta has done that I support. I wish him well and I hope – with all my strength – that he succeeds. I know for a fact that Raila has fully committed himself to the initiative. He ain’t looking back.
Even so, it’s Kenyatta who has the upper hand. That’s because he controls the instruments of coercion and the largesse of the State. But Raila holds the ace. He can “unearth” the hatchet, and therefore doom the “revolution.” That’s why both gentlemen need each other. One will be stranded in the wilderness without the other.
I didn’t think I would ever say this – but Raila and Kenyatta are now Siamese twins. You can’t separate them without “killing” both. That’s why they will not – repeat not – be separated. Unlike the biblical Moses, they don’t have forty years to wander in the desert. It’s the reason they’ve fiercely defended their bromance from malignant courtiers and pretenders to the throne.
We have all witnessed Kenyatta swat his numero dos – William Ruto – like a fly each time the latter tries to put sand in the gears of the handshake. Even Aden Duale, the voluble Majority Leader, has lost his acerbic tongue. Once Jubilee’s designated attack dog against Raila, Mr Duale has lately gone into the witness protection programme.
Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, another kamikaze Raila attacker, now dangles dangerously on a thread looking down a deep ravine. A Don Quixote character, Mr Murkomen talks as though he’s smoking something. A political guillotine won’t to be too far if he doesn’t stop attacking the Kenyatta-Raila détente. Kenya’s two most important protagonists demand their lieutenants support a new dawn, or be damned.
This is what my crystal ball tells me. Raila and Kenyatta are doing what their famous dads didn’t do – set aside their differences and put Kenya first. Kenya was broken by the political chasm between Mzee Kenyatta and Jaramogi. That rift gave birth to the rapid tribalisation and the moral and material corruption that have retarded Kenya. The result is that even little countries – like Rwanda – are eating Kenya’s lunch.
Ethiopia, the historic but backward behemoth to our north, will soon be East Africa’s most important state. We’ve either been stuck, or going in reverse, for decades because of the sins of the founding fathers. Kenyatta and Raila can change our history.
The handshake has created an inflection point in Kenya. But the demons of the past threaten to kill this dream. The biggest one is the unbridled ambition of some who thirst for power in 2022. Let me predict this – the 2022 election will plunge Kenya in an unprecedented inferno if the handshake fails to exorcise our tribal and corrupt genes. If Kenyans want to become a real middle income country – not a pretend one – then the handshake must succeed.
-Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua