Why fear handshakes if they can bring about peace

Bandari FC coach Anthony Kimani in a handshake with his Kenya Police FC counterpart Francis Baraza during FKF Premier League at Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani, Nairobi on December 12, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

There can never be palm trees without sand. Same way, there can't be a promising future without political harmony - that's just how life is wired.

But what do you do when elections foment crises and become a cradle of agony for up-and-coming democracies like Kenya and Brazil?

Since abiding peace is what everyone needs, we must ask the hard questions when every five years Kenya goes through deep-seated divisions that take years to heal.

Diplomat Abba Eban once accused the Palestinians of 'never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity' to resolve their conflict with Israel. In our situation, the political elite never miss a chance to miss doing what's right. I stand corrected. The last four election cycles did not necessarily leave Kenya a better place. Lives were lost and the country endured months and perhaps years of tribal abhorrence.

Last year was no different. Nothing but acrimony. Azimio leader Raila Odinga and his brigade insist they do not and will not recognise the presidency of William Ruto. The president, from his end, claims the highest office in the land schemed to deny him victory. President Ruto claims August 15 was night of the long knives when his 'hero' Wafula Chebukati was to be abducted and killed.

Enough victimhood already. But who is fooling who on these claims? We may be staring at a long period of showdown. Raila and his troops have threatened product boycotts, mass action and sustained anti-Ruto rallies.

And, Ruto backed by his all-weather deputy Rigathi Gachagua have hit back, saying they will not allow another 'handshake.' Something has to give way.

The long and short of it is that credible elections in Kenya and many countries will remain a fantasy for years to come. What if... just what if nations known for endlessly grim post-election periods elected to faithfully use unity governments as a truce opportunity? This could, to a greater extent, pacify dissenters and ensure life moves on. This is not to say elections should lose meaning.

But even if we hold countless elections and the players still mess up the process, the outcome will forever be acrimonious. It's been proven that rigging starts with political party primaries.

Why hold elections and pretend to move on when there are credibility questions around it? Living in denial can be a costly affair.

It is unsustainable to cling to the illusion of democracy without energy. I am talking about a situation where we put forward grand ideas on electoral reforms but implement them in a languid manner, perhaps pulled back by ethnicity and the big money factor.

The unfortunate thing is that many African governments have done nothing to encourage citizens to contribute to democracy by ensuring their votes count. Poll management must not be left to electoral commissions alone. Fully knowing will lead to full appreciation of sanctity of the vote.

You may parade figures and talk about winning. But without appreciation by the citizenry in terms of credibility of the electoral processes, it is all but empty. The opaqueness, whether real or perceived, is unhealthy. Where there seems to be post-poll discord, it might be a worthy attempt to go the unity government way. Truth is, African countries can manage their political affairs. All that's needed is creative minds that guarantee inclusivity. If making unity governments a permanent feature can be a reliable stop-gap strategy towards peace, it is a good experiment.

A unity State or better still elongated presidential terms from, say five to seven years, can be the norm to steady the ship. Whoever becomes president - fairly or otherwise - must learn to be magnanimous. Nothing prevents a 'handshake' if it's in public interest. After all, not every handshake is about positions. Bottom line is peace.

The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo

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