Editorial: For goodness sake, ‘handshake’ should not kill our democracy

President Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga when they met at Harambee house on March 9, 2018. [File, Standard]

Wiper Democratic Movement leader Kalonzo Musyoka has reportedly landed a new job courtesy of the much-hyped March 9 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader, Raila Odinga. Mr Kalonzo is now the new head of Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission on Peace in South Sudan.

If this is true, he becomes the second Opposition leader to get a high-flying job with the help of the Jubilee Government.

This is good news for the country and to a large extent, Mr Musyoka, who despite his experience in the public service, has spent the last seven years in the political cold. It is worth celebrating when Kenyans land such plum jobs.

This follows last month's appointment of Mr Odinga to the post of AU's High Representative for Infrastructure (obviously with the backing of State House).

Yet President Kenyatta's move is fraught with various pitfalls the biggest being that it risks undermining our maturing democracy. As it is, Mr Kenyatta has taken hostage all political parties in the country. One wonders whether we will have principled opposition to government policies.

Parliament, the people's only hope as we know it, bends to the whims of their party leaders. That is a lost course for now.

Make no mistake, this newspaper fully endorses the so-called handshake.

We believe that it was a good thing and came at the right time. Indeed, there is proof that the coming together of the scions of two of Kenya’s foremost families has had a positive impact economically, socially and even politically. All might not be too good, but the once vibrant Nairobi Securities Exchange has recorded great dealings in the recent past and the economy has regained its footing. For those who had wearied of the never-ending politics, the rapprochement couldn’t have come at a better time.

The vow by the leaders that Kenya will never again take the road to anarchy due to election disputes is highly commendable. We can only pray they keep their promise.

But there is a dark, sinister side to the handshake. The Opposition – ideally the government-in-waiting- has chosen to see no evil and hear no evil denying the country the much-needed oversight role to provide checks and balances.

Though there is relative peace, thriving underneath is the politics of self-promotion and self-glorification as politicians position themselves to succeed President Kenyatta in 2022.

The relative peace is good in the short term, but ruinous to our democracy in the long term. In the short term, Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka will get their security detail and escort cars and get access to the VIP lounge in airports besides getting their chums and lackeys appointed to boards of parastatals. In the long term, the citizenry will have been deprived of a loyal Opposition and the necessary checks and balances that underpin democracy.

Today, you never hear Mr Odinga criticising the government. When he speaks, he sounds like an appendage of Mr Kenyatta. That’s why, for example, he has not spoken as stridently as we would expect of him about Kenya’s burgeoning debt burden and the rising cost of living; that’s why he supported Mr Kenyatta's fuel tax while there was hue and cry from the holloi polloi over the same. It is tempting to conclude that the handshake took away the fire from Mr Odinga's belly.

In March, we cautioned that Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga had to work hard to disabuse Kenyans that self-preservation was the main motive of their meeting rather than a meeting of minds to address Kenya’s really pressing problems of inequality, unemployment, political intolerance and electoral injustice.

The jury is still out.

But we should be concerned about what the handshake portends for the 2022 elections. Without a formidable Opposition, diluted further as the likes of Mr Musyoka join the gravy train, it is unlikely the Opposition will have enough time to prepare to take on Jubilee.

And even if they went the polls, it is unlikely they will have policies different to those of the Jubilee Party, which they now support. That is why it should worry us when these Opposition leaders turn bedfellows with State honchos - even under the banner of a handshake.

The Standard
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