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Uhuru apologises to those he may have hurt during poll campaigns

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Hon. Paul Ongili (Babu Owino) after delivering the State of the Nation Address at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta apologised to Kenyans for letting them down during the divisive political period last year, and pledged to forge a united nation in his final term.

Yesterday, in his first State of the Nation address to a joint sitting of Parliament since his disputed re-election, Uhuru acknowledged the difficult road to healing the rift, particularly his truce with his main opponent and NASA Principal Raila Odinga.

He rallied politicians against divisive politics, asking them to apologise to Kenyans for almost driving the country to the precipice during the electioneering period.

The President, who led one side of the political divide, hit a conciliatory note, apologising for his part in causing disunity. “If there was anything I said last year that hurt or wounded you, if I damaged the unity of this country in any way, I ask you to forgive me, and to join me in repairing that harm,” he said.

Uhuru told leaders they are tasked with improving the livelihoods of Kenyans, ensuring better returns for farmers, and better healthcare for families bankrupted by such costs. “We need change now, in this generation, so that our children grow to adulthood in a totally different Kenya. We must demonstrate we are truly Kenyan citizens. We must do this for our country, not for self,” the President said.

It was a message that was hugely applauded by the legislators, who immediately took the challenge as they offered each other a hand.

And in a show that the country’s divided political front is ready to forge ahead on a united path, Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, one of the fiery critics of the President, who has in the past been accused of insulting the Head of State, made way to the Speaker’s seat from where Uhuru was addressing the House to offer him a symbolic hand. The President gladly accepted Babu’s hand.

Uhuru told politicians that unless they jointly work towards peaceful campaigns and a united Kenya, they risked burning the country, and would carry the tag of the generation that broke the united states. “…last year taught us that if we don’t put an end to unrestrained political competition, it will put an end to Kenya”.

“You saw what happened. In the heat of the campaign, words of anger, malice, and hatred were spoken. Politics was no longer a debate between opponents on issues; it was a clash of irreconcilable enemies.

The consequences

“You saw the consequences: Lives lost, property destroyed, our unity sapped,” said Uhuru. The President said politicians have a duty to help the country move away from that kind of divisive politics, saying the political class owes Kenyans an apology for driving the country towards this end.

He said politicians must resist political competition that leads to loss of life and destruction of property. “All of us, and in particular we leaders here, will have to admit that last year we failed in our duty to preserve the unity of this country. And we must make amends. Let us apologise for our words, and for the anger and malice that Kenyans heard,” said the Head of State.

He added: “Let every leader in the country reach out to our sons and daughters and remind them that they have it in them to forge a Kenya that speaks gently, that criticises constructively, and that embraces and respects dissent and competition as healthy and civilised ways of collaboration”.

Uhuru challenged MPs and senators to lead the course of redefining the country’s politics, saying their political differences should not always lead to enmity. He appealed to Kenyans to shun ethnic division driven by political competition. “If Kenya is to remain strong, we must change our approach to political competition. We are proud, and rightly so, of our cultural heritage, but it does not follow that our ethnic identity is our political identity,” Uhuru said.

He added: “We have done that for half a century, and it has brought us very close to complete ruin. Too many of our leaders have manipulated our ethnicities to seize power, and then exploited it to avoid accountability. “We cannot afford another 50 years of farmers struggling to make a living, of families without proper sanitation, or of families bankrupted by healthcare costs. We need change now, in this generation… We must demonstrate we are truly Kenyan citizens,” said Uhuru, in a speech hailed by both sides of the political divide in Parliament.

The President revisited his handshake with Raila, hailing the “statesmanship” exhibited by the former Prime Minister, who, he said, was equally committed towards a united country.

Public handshake

He said through their public handshake, they had committed to reconciliation, with Kenyans as their witnesses to the undertaking. “When he and I met earlier in the year, we agreed to work together to strengthen the unity of our country. We hoped to emphasise then that collaboration comprises both competition and disagreement. We did not immediately solve all Kenya’s most pressing problems, nor did we see eye-to-eye on every proposed answer. It is important to emphasise that unity doesn’t mean unanimity,” said Uhuru of their meeting with Raila.

The President, as required by the Constitution, tabled three reports; on measures taken and the progress achieved in the realisation of national values and fulfilling the international obligations of the Republic, and another on the State of Security.

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