What if things were to fall apart and Raila walks out of handshake?

President Uhuru Kenyatta and National Super Alliance (NASA) leader Raila Odinga publicly reconciled and agreed to work together in the interest of Kenyans. They announced the burying of the hatchet after talks at Harambee House, Nairobi, on 9/3/2018. [Willis Awandu, Standard]

That it is no longer at ease in the Handshake house of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM’s Raila Odinga is not a secret. 

In the aftermath of last weekend’s outburst by close allies of the two partners, the Handshake stakeholders have been quick to dismiss fears raised as a “mere storm in a tea cup”. 

But what if, to borrow Chinua Achebe’s words, the centre cannot hold and Raila bolts out of his pact with Uhuru? 

If the ODM leader were to exit from the famous Handshake with President Kenyatta, he would not only be leaving behind an empty shell of a ruling party, but also facing an uncertain future. 

However, analysts are beginning to draw parallels between the issues raised by Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, the looming 2022 General Election, and the emergence of new formations that could hurt the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) prospects. 

Super seven

University of Nairobi political scientist Philip Nying’uro opines that Raila’s exit would not be a surprise to observers given his political history, but it would cause a rift among the ‘super seven’ backing the BBI Bill presently before Parliament.

“A fallout between Uhuru and Raila would, undoubtedly, scuttle the push for constitutional amendments fronted through the BBI process through which the president has said he hopes to fashion a legacy,” said Nying’uro.

However, Amukoa Anangwe, a former lecturer of political science at the University of Dodoma termed the BBI as an afterthought by the leaders even though President Kenyatta has recently upped his involvement following a backlash from his Mt Kenya backyard.

But a split between the two leaders – whose truce came at a time when the president faced questions over his legitimacy following a disputed repeat election in 2017 – could portend more if the history of broken political marriages involving the former PM is anything to go by.

When the two politicians came together, allies of the DP read mischief in Raila’s intentions and warned that his involvement would leave Jubilee a shell.

Their concerns were that the ODM leader was out to wreck the ruling Jubilee Party from within, “just as he had done to Kanu in 2002”.

They were referring to the mass walkout staged by Raila, then Kanu secretary general, of disgruntled party top guns following former President Daniel Moi’s endorsement of Uhuru as Kanu’s presidential candidate for 2002’s election.

The Handshake, birthed on the porch of Harambee House on March 9, 2018 — the union of once arch-rivals in the 2013 and 2017 presidential contests that marked its three years yesterday — is now facing turbulent times after surviving sustained attacks by its dissidents, led by Deputy President William Ruto.

However, recent shocking remarks by Raila’s close allies hinted at a much bigger problem kept under wraps, an indicator that it has not been rosy with the ongoing popularisation of the BBI process.

On Saturday, Siaya Senator James Orengo alleged that a clique within the Interior ministry was out to thwart Raila’s 2022 presidential ambitions and to benefit from what they did not work for.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo was more brazen, stating that ODM would not hesitate to pull out of the Handshake. Such claims have since then echoed within the inner circles of ODM.

In 2002, Raila had hoped to land the endorsement as he had merged his then  National Democratic Party (NDP) with Kanu. The two parties had worked in cooperation for two years.

The Kanu-NDP cooperation, and later official merger, weakened the opposition and gave President Moi a somewhat easier time in running the government at that time.

Raila’s exit months after promulgating the union sounded the death knell for Kanu as it lost the 2002 elections and Raila, through his “Kibaki tosha!” declaration, played a lead role in its loss.

Kibaki’s wagon to the presidency, the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (Narc), would suffer Kanu’s fate in 2005, two years after it came to power, through Raila’s hands.

A constitutional referendum, similar to the one fronted by the BBI, placed then President Kibaki and Raila on opposite sides. Kibaki led the campaigns for the constitution while Raila led the opposing side that won in the ensuing referendum, pitting Banana and Orange.

President Kibaki and Raila, among other leaders, rode on a euphoric wave in 2002 that would later crumble under the weight of broken promises.

Though he has denied seeking President Kenyatta’s backing in next year’s race, Raila has said that the president’s central region owes him.

The dilemma for the former premier is whether to stay put in the Handshake and risk the all-familiar fate of 2013 and 2002, where he waited for an endorsement that never came.

His other option is to bolt out as he did in the past. The effect of such a move to a crippled Jubilee may be difficult to quantify, according to analysts, but it would certainly hurt the president’s legacy, currently hinging on the success of the BBI’s apparent mission of ethnic inclusion.

Nying’uro believes that Uhuru risks being a lame-duck president if Raila were to abandon him, a move he says would dent his ambition to play a key role in the political space post his retirement next year.

“Raila could choose to do to him (Uhuru) what he did to Moi when he endorsed Kibabi in 2002. He could endorse another candidate to ensure Uhuru’s pick for president would not succeed,” Nying’uro told The Standard.

He adds that Uhuru’s image would be dented, an opinion shared by Francis Waka, a senior lecturer of philosophy at the same university.

“The Handshake stabilised Uhuru’s programme... If Raila bolts out, Uhuru would seem untrustworthy to Raila’s and Ruto’s supporters. But both would stand to lose,” Waka said.

Anangwe, on his part, says the president’s legacy was thwarted by divergent interests between Raila and Ruto, and that the Handshake did little to bolster him.

“A fallout between Raila and Uhuru was a forgone conclusion in 2018 as it was premised on a fallout between the president and his deputy,” Anangwe said.

According to Winnie Mitula, a professor of political science, Uhuru’s legacy would not suffer as much if he were to split with Raila after his term ends.

“The Handshake has made the current regime survive. Without it, the president would have had a difficult time in running the country. If the Handshake crumbles, then the country would go into the 2022 elections in a difficult situation,” she said.

She adds that the BBI project, spawned by the Handshake, had created some leverage for politicians seeking to succeed the president, and that ending it would dent their chances, besides the president’s legacy.

Political might

“Every candidate is hoping that Uhuru and Raila will endorse them as a Handshake candidate. Such a candidate would have political might,” she added.?

An ODM MP who did not want to be named urged his colleagues to be cautious on how they handle the sensitive Handshake issue and should Raila decide to bolt out.

“We should be very guarded with our pronouncements at this crucial time as it might be difficult to deal with the fallout. Raila is in a very vulnerable position as he has very limited options,” said the MP.

Insiders have argued that the Handshake has also clashed with Raila’s past ideologies to fight for land injustices and human rights violations as well as graft. He has in the past downplayed a lot of issues in government and therefore a fallout would reignite his support base.

Oburu Oginga has said there was nothing that would stop his younger brother from working with Ruto in 2022.

Oburu said Raila and Ruto had worked together before, and their differences were political and not personal.

ODM chair John Mbadi has said no political party can form government without forming a coalition, hence their commitment to work with others.