The March 9 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and NASA leader Raila Odinga gave Kenya, once again, the image of a country maturing in democracy and tolerance. The handshake, probably after the Justice David Maraga judgement that led to the nullification of the election victory of the Jubilee party, is the second most important event to happen in Kenya in the last one year. Of course those in disagreement with the judgement were angered but the Justice Maraga ruling gave the impression that the justice system is free from political manipulation. The handshake equally demonstrated Kenyans are able to resolve their issues without fighting
In April, while attending a conference in Washington DC, the delegates at the conference showed nothing but admiration for Kenya.
Despite all the talk about corruption and an underperforming economy, Kenyans created the image that theirs is a country that is stable and mature. The boost in Brand Kenya was clearly one of the benefits of the handshake. The stock markets stabilised, the Kenya shilling became stronger and there was general sense of euphoria. The Building Bridges Initiative was indeed worth a Nobel Prize for Peace.
Without the handshake, I don’t know where we would be today. Probably at a worse place than we are, perhaps in ruins as each side of the political divide dug their heels. Demonstrations and civil unrest would have been a daily occurrence.
By March, many investors had adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Others had started to pack in readiness for an awful eventuality. In fact, a number of multinational companies had actually moved out of the country and many were down-scaling their investments.
Comparing then and now; Kenya is heading in the right direction. But then that is one side of the coin. The other side shows that all is not that rosy.
While President Kenyatta is building bridges and extending an olive branch to the opposition, those within his government are grumbling. This is publicly being denied by the top leadership, but it is very clear out there that all is not well within the Jubilee Party. There is a cold war.
I’ll tell you what; if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. This maxim is very applicable here. The disagreement within the ruling party on the controversial issue of the Mau Forest is a clear indication of a rift. This is all too familiar. Politically we have gone through this path before.
The fall-out over Mau within the ruling party is symptomatic of an underlying issue that is troubling the Kenyatta administration. During the Grand Coalition government under President Kibaki, the Mau Forest was a source of disagreement between people within the government. But the real issue then as now, is not about tree cover. I don’t think the political class cares about the environment as such or mind the welfare of the poor and the underclass. Disagreement over Mau is just a proxy war. The problems are elsewhere. It is all politics.
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The skeptics aver that while the President is building bridges, one side of his government is erecting walls. All indications are; it might all go back to square one. The grey situation is already troubling. Are we really headed in the right direction?
It appears something is being cooked in the newly-founded dalliance between the Opposition and the Government. But for whose gain and whose loss?
Naturally, when people don’t get sufficient information on the status of affairs speculation backed up by conspiracy theories takes up that space.
And with the social media in abundance, rumour mills are ready to disseminate both true, but more often, fake news. On Monday when officials at State House invited the press for a briefing, social media caught fire with speculation that there was an imminent Cabinet reshuffle.
There is also speculation about a Government of National Unity, which to me, is a good thing if the purpose is to unite Kenyans and thereby bring about prosperity, but not as a pretext for more noses at the trough.
I guess there is nothing wrong if all those who can contribute towards making Kenya a better place get included in the Government or are given the opportunity to serve the nation. While we are doing this, we should also be careful not to shrink the democratic space.
Taking on board the Opposition should not mean that Government remains unwatched because that too could be a worse off malady than what we sought to cure in the first place.
Mr Guleid is a governance consultant and the chairman, FCDC Secretariat; [email protected]