Embrace the handshake, but don't let it stifle democracy

Unlike today, a heavy cloud hung over the country as Kenyans prepared to mark the 2017 Jamhuri Day celebrations.

At the time, there was a lot of trepidation following the threat by the National Super Alliance (NASA), having disputed the outcome of the August 2018 presidential election in which Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner, to swear in Raila Odinga as the people’s president.

Nonetheless, due to the special significance of December 12 in the country’s history, even an upstaged opposition had the presence of mind to postpone its plans to allow the celebrations proceed without a hitch. Had that been allowed to occur, it would have been at a cost in human life.

That is not to say the plan to swear in Raila was shelved. On January 30, 2018, it was effected at Uhuru Park. Palpable political tension ensued as many braced for the states’ reaction.

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Unbelievably, the government exercised restraint, save for the withdrawal of the security details of NASA leaders.

The government’s restraint paved way for the surprise March 9 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga on the steps of Harambee House.

The rest is history.

Today, as we celebrate this year’s Jamhuri Day, we can afford to look back and wonder what the excitement and tension that assailed Kenyans for the better part of 2017 was all about.

Yet, despite the negativity of the period; the deaths of protesters and minors who met their deaths while innocently playing on balconies in their homes, lost businesses , induced enmity between communities and destruction of property in running battles with the police, therein lay a lesson. As the period between March 9 and today attests to, there is more to be achieved through dialogue than grandstanding.

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It benefits nobody when members of the political divide go hammer and tongs at each other.

After the handshake, the war on corruption has gained momentum despite feeble attempts by a few to politicize the effort for political gain.

The economy has registered some improvement but above all, we are Kenyans once more. The tribal card that dishonest leaders employ to get their way is no longer potent.

Today we are able, as a united country, to face the challenges of improving the lot of Kenyans; to fight poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and diseases. Tomorrow, President Kenyatta will be launching the pilot phase of the Universal Health Coverage in Kisumu. With the tension that pervaded the country last year, this would not have been possible.

Nevertheless, as we marvel at what the handshake has been able to achieve, in particular, political tranquility, it should not be used to undermine our flourishing democracy.

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Democracy is underpinned by strong institutions like the Judiciary and a dutiful Parliament.

Parliament, however, seems not to live up to the expectations of citizens given the propensity of legislators to feather their own nests without the slightest consideration for the tax payers to whom the services for which they are heavily taxed have been in short supply. The feeling that the leaders we chose have not delivered is inescapable.

The handshake should not be used to allow the government go to sleep, secure in the knowledge that having gone to bed with the opposition, it had no need to keep looking over its shoulder to see who was monitoring it.

The role of the opposition to hold in check government excesses should not be undermined, and for that, Kenya needs a principled and loyal opposition that is not eager to jump into bed with the winning party every other electoral cycle.

Doing so would be to revert to the one party system of governance that allowed a single party and powerful individuals within it to run roughshod over citizens.

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Participatory democracy and the right to hold divergent views in the building of a cohesive country are the citizens right, for they need to freely make critical decisions; like who leads them.

Jamhuri Day celebrationsUhuru Raila handshake