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Irony of handshake politics and promise of growth

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga address the press after their 2018 handshake at Harambee House, Nairobi. [Willis Awandu, Standard]

As the Azimio coalition held its last rally in Mamboleo, Kisumu, the turnout was a record.

The Azimio leaders maintained that the Tuesday vote would be about the liberation of the country from a horde of thieves. They said they are a coalition of true patriots with a history of fighting corruption and maladministration.

Interestingly, the long-running political mistrust and division between the Luos and the Kikuyus dominated the rally. In particular, the Azimio brigade called for respect to outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been under siege from the Kenya Kwanza politicians. They also promised that the journey to national reconciliation has just begun.

In recalling the love-hate history between President Jomo Kenyatta and his first Vice President Oginga Odinga father to Azimio’s presidential candidate Raila Odinga, the rally took turns to pledge a united country going forward.

If that comes to pass, the post-2018 handshake would have provided the greatest cure for a long legacy of political betrayal in independent Kenya. Kenya’s persecution narrative involving the two tribes is common knowledge.

The founding president is blamed for detention of his former vice president after the formation of the opposition party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) in 1966; the killings during chaos at the opening of the New Nyanza Hospital; the assassination of Luo politician Tom Mboya in 1969 and a perceived string of economic sabotage of the region’s fishing and agriculture sectors.

Today, there is a different narrative after Uhuru Kenyatta, the fourth president and scion of President Kenyatta seemed to have paved the way for the ascension to power of his former nemesis Raila Odinga, the unchallenged political leader in Luo region.

Raila supported the late President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, in dethroning Kanu in 2002 elections. Ahead of the following elections in 2007/8, the friendship between the two had broken and relations between the Luos and the Kikuyus was at a low ebb.

The Western region has had little to show in terms of economic investments, especially after the Kenya Breweries Limited, Kisumu Cotton Mills (Kicomi) and the Molasses Plant were ground to a halt in the 1990s. The two industries were an employer to many people from the region. The re-organisation of the sugar and fish industries was always on the cards but no meaningful movement made it a reality.

The Western counties in the last term of President Kenyatta appeared to have stuck a good collaboration with the national government. Raila’s role in the matrix cannot be gainsaid in making sure the region is open for such collaboration after years of political agitation.

The counties have enjoyed new economic prospects in the last few years with noticeable national projects. Kisumu, for instance, has benefitted from the expansion of the international airport, rehabilitation of its port, and modernisation of public markets, roads and health facilities.

The national government has pledged to support the Kisumu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be established in Muhoroni Sub-county. If the industrial belt is realised, it will lead to accelerated economic development and jobs for young people.

The Kisumu Port (oil Jetty and a shipyard) will soon roar back to life and the Jomo Kenyatta international stadium will hugely benefit the sports talents in the region. The irony however still stands – it is happening in the regime of President Kenyatta!

For Kisumu, and the large Luo regions, the air is full of a feeling of atonement and hope. It may be the time to leave the crawlers’ mat of hate, despair and disunity. As the great bible teacher would be wont to say “Pick up your mat and go”. From where the Luo - Kikuyu divisions may have been sowed, a new hope for unity and boundless opportunities is in the air, and that is the irony.

-The writer is an advocate and an anthropologist

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