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Let Raila rethink handshake to ensure it does not destroy him

By Makau Mutua | April 28th 2019 at 00:25:00 GMT +0300

I’ve concluded – much to my chagrin – that Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta is dithering on the war against corruption. The man from Gatundu has stumbled badly. He talks too much, and does too little, or next to nothing, on corruption. This is what I don’t know – is he afraid, or simply lacks the guts to guillotine the lords of corruption sitting next to him?

But I know this – ODM’s Raila Odinga is best advised to rethink his “handshake” with the scion of the Burning Spear. If Mr Kenyatta can’t execute an effective war against graft, Raila must exit the handshake. He must pull the plug unless Kenyatta demonstrates by deeds – not words – his mettle to fight the corrupt.

I know this column is music to the ears of Deputy President William Ruto and his band of naysayers on the putsch against the corrupt. Mr Ruto knows a successful prosecution of the corrupt would leave most of his allies – and perhaps himself – either mortally wounded, or in political Siberia. That’s why he and his acolytes scream to the heavens every time the word “corruption” is uttered by Kenyatta. The man from Eldoret also knows only the “handshake” gave Kenyatta the backbone to dare the corrupt. That’s why the collapse of the handshake would give him a clear path to State House in 2022. So before Jaramogi’s son exits the handshake, he must think thrice.

Politically neutered

Raila’s elder brother, the veteran Dr Oburu Odinga, knows a thing or two about byzantine political intrigue. Only a fool would take his advice to his younger brother Agwambo lightly. Oburu recently advised Agwambo to re-examine the handshake with a view to ending it unless the war on graft is real. In his view, the younger Odinga risks being soiled by the handshake. Read between the lines, Oburu is concerned that his brother will be used by Kenyatta and then dumped. Or that his brother will be politically neutered because of his association with Kenyatta if the graft war is fake. I agree with the good doctor – complicity would doom Agwambo’s great legacy.

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The war against graft was one of the key goals of the handshake. Most supporters of Raila went along with it because they believed the commitment of Kenya’s two key political titans would slay the dragon. For Kenyatta, the handshake would free him from Ruto to clean up Kenya and create a legacy etched in stone. For Raila, it would cement his legacy as a great uniter and historically Kenya’s most important democrat. So far, neither Kenyatta nor Raila have gotten what they bargained for. In a word, the handshake hasn’t delivered the goods. Which begs the question – who between Raila and Kenyatta can change the calculus? Could it be neither?

My view is that Kenyatta holds the keys to the kingdom. I know Raila came out to defend Kenyatta’s lame State of the Nation address. Methinks he was being strategic. He’s not ready to throw his dance partner under the bus. I agree with that calculation. He’s invested too much in the handshake to run for the hills at the first serious signs of his retreating partner. If he does, then he hands Ruto keys to the kingdom on a silver platter. He needs to play out the string, and see if there’s a “there there” in Kenyatta’s quiver. A true general doesn’t cut and run at the first sight of real trouble.

Nor should he panic. I know some shortsighted pundits have declared Ruto the king of the hill after ODM suffered multiple defeats in Ugenya and Embakasi. They want Raila to press the panic button. They’ve spun those defeats as a harbinger of how Ruto will eat Raila’s lunch in 2022. It’s juvenile logic. It shows utter ignorance of the fickleness of Kenyan politics. Those by-elections mean nothing – nada, zilch. Raila is playing the long game while Ruto is playing the short game. The former is far-sighted while the latter is myopic – blinded by pure thirst for 2022.  Raila shouldn’t – and I am sure won’t – be distracted by sideshows, or lose sight of the ball.

I end where I started. Political interests and strategies should be more permanent than friendships and tactics. In Kenya’s unprincipled political waters, this calculus is easier stated than lived. Even so, there are several constants that have driven Raila’s political life. He’s championed democracy, transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption. He’s used different tactics to get there. The handshake is just the latest of those maneuvers. But he should rethink it to make sure it’s not run out its course – by looking Kamawana in the eye.

- The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC.  @makaumutua

Handshake Raila Odinga ODM Uhuru Kenyatta
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