‘Handshake’ lowered temperature but a year later Kenya is still ailing

When Nakumatt Supermarkets started wobbling, a friend reminded me of our History class in ‘A’ Levels on France, the gladiator imperialist empire and its insatiable Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Emperor Bonaparte was a former commoner who rose to be a military leader of all time, but whose greed for expansion, to the point he spread himself and his armies too thin, stirred the turn-around of the phrase from grass to grace, then grass.

As his star started dimming with the 1815 battle of Waterloo that would leave him vanquished and disgraced, the symptoms of his blind rage and unbridled ambition came to be sardonically referred to as, ‘Napoleonic expansion’. That is partly what Nakumatt suffered besides, of course, the widely-held suspicion it was a money-laundering outfit.

A year later

Let us go back to March 9 last year- when some of us had a lackluster birthday- only for the dreary day to be crowned with the ecstatic news of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s and National Super-Alliance leader Raila Odinga’s symbolic handshake at the frontal steps of Harambee House.

It looked surreal at the time and so we spent the better part of the period that followed speculating on who was fooling who and who would dump the other “at the right time”. It was analogously like the case of a jilted lover waiting for his or her former partner to fall out with the new suitor if only to validate her or his conviction that this was a case of a tragic choice.

In the next few days, the “handshake” will be one-year-old, and to cap its ramifications across the political spectrum, Uhuru and Raila unveiled the road to another referendum. Though Deputy President William Ruto who wants Uhuru to declare him -in the words of Senator James Orengo “ heir apparent” not the “presumptive heir”- was present, he oddly stood out because of his past opposition to it.

According to Uhuru, the healing process anchored by the “handshake” will culminate in constitutional changes which will open the door of the Executive to more Opposition leaders. To midwife the process is the amorphous body called the Building Bridges Initiative.

There are those opposed to this approach arguing that it would further strain the taxpayer but also ‘dilute’ Jubilee Party’s majority. But interestingly, even the likes of Ruto who initially rejected the referendum plan have embraced it with their own list of demands.

Yes, the "handshake" lowered political temperatures but it is becoming apparent that it wasn’t the silver bullet to finish off Kenya’s malady. Well, we must acknowledge that it has created a more predictable environment to transact business and attract foreign investors. It has also mitigated the gale of rising ethnic tensions (and most likely only for a short time) and also allowed its warm embrace to cascade down the political tiers of party and ethnicity.

Rapid clean up

You cannot miss the fact that Uhuru seems to have defied the culture where the Executive has given lip service and made single-hits on the war on corruption. The inquisition into corruption has now reached the Cabinet and some of them are already having grueling sessions with physicians as they await the next news bulletin and newspaper headlines with much trepidation.

For once, the Directorate of Criminal Intelligence is following the tracks of a VIP who corruption is synonymous with his middle name. The talk is that there was a Sh7b kickback on a two-dam project and the paper-trail leads to his door-step; that of a Cabinet Secretary and a burly parastatal head in the North Rift.

It is now official that National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala have had sessions with detectives. Two or three others will have their day soon. These sessions can only mean two things; they are shedding light on what they know or to clear suspicion shrouding their names. But there is one certainty; the detectives are Daedalus-like creatures with wings held together by wax, which melt when they fly too close to the sun.

Nonetheless, just as elusive as the crossing into “Canaan” (the land flowing with milk and honey) was for Raila’s followers, so too has the “handshake” failed to address the problems facing the country today, including the suffocating appetite for foreign debt, Chinese neo-colonial lending tactics, tribalism and economic slowdown.

It has not addressed the waste and graft in public service and the private sector nor the fervour to beat the queue of life and to get ahead of the pack. Yes, there is a lot more than shaking hands- a strategy which could even turn symbiotic relationship between two powerhouses out to eat behind the curtains.

Mr Tanui is Deputy Editorial Director and Managing Editor, The Standard