Last Friday, we said in this space there was a lot more that President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga had to do to make their handshake meaningful for this ethnically and politically fissured country. We stopped short of reminding them of what former President Daniel Moi used to reprimand us about: ‘Haitaongeza ugali kwenye sufuria zetu (It will not give us more ugali in our pots).”
Today, we take heart that both Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto used the auspicious occasion of the State of the Nation address on Wednesday to seek forgiveness for the ‘sins’ sprouting from last year’s political events. Uhuru expressed regret about the way things evolved, albeit praising security forces for the clampdown on National Super Alliance (NASA) supporters.
Speaking in Parliament, Uhuru appeared a little mean with the extent of what the apology covered, probably because in Kenya, seeking forgiveness may be interpreted to mean weakness. Ruto followed later with a tweet to the effect that “I apologise to anyone offended or hurt in anyway by what I have said or done at any time”. The former college Christian Union leader went on: “Find it in your heart to forgive me. I have forgiven all those who wronged me.”
Well, Raila hasn’t said much and we don’t know if he feels he wronged anyone or if he is convinced he is the victim of the two political villains. What is clear is that the handshake, if we are to take it seriously, heralded a new political dispensation in Kenya. However, a lot will depend on the whether this sprouts from sincere hearts or is another tablet of political expediency politicians have prescribed for Kenyans to lower political temperatures, and because it seems the fashionable thing to do while another formula is sought to sort out their bitter political rivalries.
There are certain realistic demands made of those seeking forgiveness and the best lesson comes from Sunday school. You have to confess your ‘sins’, which means you ought to know where you went wrong. You have to make amends, like returning what could have been stolen or compensating for actions that deprived others. You also must demonstrate remorse and affirm that you won’t repeat the ‘sins’. That is how it happens in the Church. I don’t know about mosques or other places of worship such as the Hindus’ Mandir.
But because we are not talking about religious forgiveness and atonement of sins here, let us contextualise what our leaders are doing. Aware of the divisions wrought by past and poorly conducted but heavily manipulated elections, shocked by the depth of trust fissures between specific ethnic groups, foreboding over what the future portends as 2022 campaigns began the day Wafula Chebukati declared Uhuru-Ruto the victors, and with hearts saddled by the ropes of conscience regarding blood-letting and State aggression against protesters, out leaders found the need to move a step towards each other.
There are, however, several questions that arise over this rapprochement. The first is if it is based on a solid foundation and whether it will survive the vagaries of political weather as we go towards Kenya’s most hotly-contested election ever – 2022! Also, if the change of heart will trigger an open and sincere fight against the evils that have bogged Kenya down headlined by tribalism, corruption and nepotism.
On this I can freely share my reservations, but let us wait and see. We may in fact, and hopefully, be wrong, in seeing this rapprochement as another strategy to lower political competition by stacking more seats in the kitchen and allowing more snouts to come in and have their fill. After all, they had been told to make do with the aroma of the meat being roasted inside!
To Raila specifically, do not forsake your vast political constituency and liberation politics in exchange for a place at the political high-table, four-wheelers, outriders and police sirens clearing your path in this traffic-ridden city! It may turn out that Kenya needs a stronger opposition now than ever before to get the hands and salivating mouths off the handles of the doors to our national granary.
After all, it was you, Raila, who accused Uhuru of collapsing the tent of the Opposition to let Kanu work with Kibaki when he was vandalising his hostile political parties to set up that mongrel he called ‘Government of National Unity’. That is how Uhuru finally ended up as head of Treasury and later, Deputy Prime Minister under you, but taking orders directly from Kibaki. In short, my friends, this handshake could herald good fortune for Kenya, but it is also a double-edged sword. Our leaders could choose to feast on the meat in the kitchen and ask the rest of us, mta-do? (what will you do?)
Mr Tanui is Deputy Editorial Director and Managing Editor, The Standard