Handshakes and building bridges are agents of National Reconciliation and peace building

Throughout history, handshakes by renowned leaders in the world have marked important events of posterity. On April 27, 1945, US and Soviet forces met and shook hands with Russian soldiers on a broken bridge.

The handshake marked the victory in Europe during the Second World War. Palestinians’ Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s handshake was the beginning of the peace process between their two countries after years of war.

More recently, the world witnessed an historic moment of reconciliation when the then US President Barack Obama and the Cuban leader Raul Castro shook hands at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa. It was an act that had seemed unthinkable for more than half a century until when the two Cold War enemies paid tribute to Mandela.

Perhaps the most legendary and celebrated handshake has been Trump’s with the world leaders in recent history. Closer home, two acclaimed enemies, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai shook hands in Harare following the signing of a deal that led to Tsvangirai taking office as Prime Minister.

When done in public between national actors, a handshake is a demonstration of the parties’ unfettered commitment to live up to the gestures’ expectations.

Seeking forgiveness

Nelson Mandela once said that if you want to make peace with your enemy, work with him, then he becomes your partner.

This is what the president and the opposition leader did in front of God to reconcile the deeply divided communities of our country.

Taking the lead from Bishop Desmond Tutu’s “No Future without Forgiveness” the president removed any doubts of his intentions in the handshake.

During his State of the Nation address, he extended an olive branch to his opponents and tendered apologies to and on behalf of Kenyans, seeking forgiveness from anyone he might have offended and forgiving those who might have offended him, particularly during the height of the dreaded five year election cycles. How else can a man, with all the instruments of authority to wield, better express meekness to achieve peace.

The value of an apology tendered by a head of state in possession of all the instruments of authority to exercise cannot be under-estimated. It is reinforced by sociologist Dr Nicholas Tavuchi’s assertion that ‘apology speaks to something larger than any particular offence’. Such was Uhuru’s apology.

The building of bridges further underscores the intent of the handshake. It improves the relationship between people who are different or do not like each other such as has been experienced between communities and people in our country.

Reparations include offers of apologies and recognition of the plights of the victims. In their public statements, the two leaders have endeavoured to meet other forms of reparation, of satisfaction and guarantees of none repetition.

The disenchanted

The other forms of reparation of compensation and rehabilitation must await reports of enquiries and commissions in such painful memories as that of the late baby Samantha Pendo, which reminds us of the sad fact expressed by Joseph W Singer, a Professor of Law at Harvard University, that “compensation can never compensate”.

Detractors and hardliners must embrace the reconciliation and peace efforts. As the president alluded in a recent public address, there are some who are not happy with the handshake. In many situations, there will be hero worshipers overdoing a good thing to draw attention, the cheerleaders and hecklers who go by which side of the bread is buttered, and the sadists and doubting Thomas.

That handshake, made in the meekness and sincerity of our leaders’ hearts, is God sent, and a game changer. The disenchanted lot must not be allowed to cause let or hindrance to the public good of the handshake and the building of bridges. After all “Frogs in a river do not stop cows from drinking water.”

Uhuru and Raila have several firsts in humility, which have saved this country from the brink of chaos. Uhuru and Ruto, started their presidency in 2013 by an unprecedented kneeling down for prayers during the swearing in. At the swearing in of their second term in 2017, Uhuru, quoting  the scripture in Isaiah 43:2  on how God will be with His people in deep waters, in difficulties and fire of oppression.

He summed up thus: “We have got here, not because of our own might, but by God’s grace. More recently, Uhuru and Ruto, once again exhibited humility before God when they knelt down for prayers at a church in Huruma Estate, Nairobi.

Uhuru and Raila in Nyeri and Kibera, respectively, earnestly prayed for rain. Like in Elijah in the Bible, within a short time of their prayers, it poured heavily. Raila in his memorable ‘Kibaki Tosha’ saved our country from the brink of a political crisis.

The significance of the handshake and the offer of amends by the presidency and the opposition is that it underpins the process of reconciliation and peace-building for our country.

The media, thus ought to play a critical role in highlighting factual opinions of how the reconciliation and peace-building process our leaders have initiated can be sustained to bring lasting peace to Kenya.

Mr Kimani is an Accredited Mediator, a consultant in Conflict Management and a Counseling Psychologist. justinkimani30 @gmail.com