Handshake: Tempest rocking Jubilee party

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust on them”. William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

On December 12, 2017, Kenyans were given a raft of promises. That President Uhuru Kenyatta would deliver affordable housing, affordable healthcare, food security and manufacturing. That the president would prise the country out of the grip of corruption.

That under the Jubilee administration, Kenyans would be at their most cohesive since independence. One after the other, these promises have slipped through the grasp of Kenyans like an exasperating mirage; so near yet so far as to be unattainable!

If greatness eludes President Kenyatta, it is by dint of the failures of those appointed to help him execute his vision. With a few exceptions, his Cabinet Secretaries (CSs) have come across as irresponsible and self-indulgent.

Unable to run with the broad strokes of his vision, they have failed to paint a picture compelling enough to reassure Kenyans that the president means business. They do him a great disservice when they issue unpopular edicts. The proposed housing levy and the Huduma number registration have demonstrated a marked lack of prescience and an inability to accurately read the mood of the nation.

But it is the dalliance of the president with Opposition chief Raila Odinga that has created a perfect storm. This new-found camaraderie between erstwhile enemies has been to the exclusion of Deputy President (DP) William Ruto. The president has publicly demonstrated that he owes fealty to Raila rather than to the DP. The famous “handshake” between Uhuru and Raila, pejoratively called the “hand-cheque” in some quarters, has precipitated a season of relative calm. But Kenyans wonder how long the detente will last and when the storm waters will break the dyke.

Greater inclusivity

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Because the exact elements of the “handshake” are shrouded in mystery, Kenyans can only surmise that they are premised on mutual promises. One such promise would be the immediate cessation of hostilities by Raila and his allies. This has since been achieved. The trade-off is an assurance of support for Raila to win the presidency in the 2022 elections. Because this is a futuristic event, it needs balance to succeed. Lack of balance from internal dynamics could cause the entire handshake to collapse.

One of the dynamics is the anticipated constitutional review. As much as Kenyans have a progressive constitution, there is still a feeling that it fosters a winner-takes-it-all affair. There have been calls for greater inclusivity particularly at the level of the Executive. If Raila and Uhuru fail to push through constitutional amendments to expand the Executive, will the handshake hold?

Raila has his own systemic weaknesses that are unresolved. He has an inner circle of hardcore supporters who are repulsive to other groups. This core group is responsible for causing disaffection within Raila’s ODM party. They are perceived to be dictatorial and undemocratic and have been blamed for the rigmarole that past party primaries have been.  They may have caused ODM’s loses in recent by-elections. Will this group be put in check or will it steal Raila’s birthright of greatness?

This narrative

Finally, the handshake must contend with town and gown factors. Those perceived to be born with silver spoons in their mouths are the gown group. In this camp are princes like Musalia Mudavadi, Uhuru and Raila. Those from the wrong side of the tracks are the town folk.These are the ones derisively described by the well-heeled as roughnecks. In this group are the likes of Oscar Sudi and Rashid Echessa, lackeys of the DP.

Dr Ruto has cleverly exploited this narrative and turned the 2022 elections into a class war pitting the haves against the have-nots, the gowns against the towns, the princes against the hustlers.

Until recently, the gowns have always appealed to the grassroots where the towns are the majority. Because they are the owners of capital, they have had various tools at their disposal including the media which they have used to put out narratives in their favour. But after the disastrous performance of the Jubilee administration, will that appeal hold?

The towns are growing in awareness and the realisation of the awesome power in numbers that they possess. They may not be owners of mainstream media, but they have the potent force of social media at their fingertips. It remains to be seen whether they can harness these powers and follow global trends such as those in Madagascar and Ukraine where town folk have prevailed. Kenyans may yet see the next leader achieve greatness or a dark horse thrust into greatness at the next elections.

Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council

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Uhuru Raila handshakeJubilee PartyPresident Uhuru KenyattaDP William Ruto