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Plus for Uhuru as ODM now gropes in the dark

By Andrew Kipkemboi | April 5th 2021

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at State House, Nairobi, on April 1, 2021. 

In politics, the spoken word counts as much as the unspoken. A week punctuated by the sending of many mixed signals, the ODM party functionaries must be biting their lips and rubbing their hands.

Because of its very cohesive nature, it is easy to pick up discontent within the ODM fraternity. What might appear as a chain of uncoordinated messages in the end add up to something.

Lightning struck when Siaya Senator James Orengo and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo spoke up against the so-called Deep State’s quest to rearrange the political equation. This would obviously deny their man the advantage he has had. They were simply voicing the concerns of many in the party who feel that Raila Odinga was being pushed aside by a group of Johnny-come lately. “They are reaping what they have not sowed,” as Mr Orengo put it.

Many could have dismissed all that as gut-feel; unfounded fears not grounded on any fact. But when Wycliffe Oparanya – considered a stabilising force in ODM - suggested that BBI was no longer tenable considering the prevailing economic conditions followed quickly by Migori Governor Okoth Obado and Busia’s Sospeter Ojaamong, it was a pointer to something more sinister cooking. Don’t forget the storm gathering at the Coast, Mr Odinga’s other political bedrock.

Then came the retraction - fashioned as an April Fools’ Day prank - on the nomination of presidential candidates for the 2022 elections. Many wondered how the party would fool around with such serious matters. The truth is in the unspoken, not what we heard from Edwin Sifuna, the secretary general: ODM is suffering a crisis of identity.

Either ODM or the handshake is living on borrowed time.

The colourful words about the handshake fostering unity and peace and therefore development and progress all sound convincing. The unspoken word remains the grievance about a stitched-up election and whether all factors remaining constant, IEBC would guarantee the country an uncontested electoral outcome.

The March 2018 handshake has legitimised Uhuru Kenyatta’s flawed mandate. A withdrawal would deal him a bigger blow than it would Mr Odinga.

Yet the fear is not really what the absence of the handshake portends for our democracy, but rather what has spawned out of it; what it ought to achieve but which it didn’t.

The truth is the end of the handshake would toss us right back into the boiling cauldron of tribal politics bereft of ideology and focus.

By and large, the country remains stuck at the point where the two men had a hearty handshake in March 2018. Forget for a moment that a loyal opposition has been replaced by a mongrel - a cross between government and opposition. 

Never mind, too, that in 2017, Kenyans faced a stark choice between an incumbent devoid of a sense of accomplishment and a woefully incompetent opposition that was plainly naïve and bereft of ideas.

The handshake ought to have been a force for good. But truth be told, we haven’t seen or witnessed an ideological shift in our politics, and that could explain the president’s eagerness to demonstrate that all is well between him and “his brother” Raila.

It has done little to disabuse the country of the notion peddled around by politicians every electoral cycle that “it is our turn to eat”. We are seeing politicians lining up once again to defeat a certain political grouping not because of ideological differences, but because the group on the other side is different from them. We had hoped that the handshake would cure these survival-for-the-fittest contests.

Do party manifestos matter if you can invite your competitors to the table and share out the spoils of an election? Who do we hold to account for the slackening economy? Or the unresponsive fiscal reforms, high interest rates, high taxes and suffocating debt? On whose door does the buck stop to cure the skewed social justice?

Shouldn’t the Opposition be selling itself as the alternative government? Shouldn’t it be hammering on about the right to equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities and enlightening the population about what they stand for?

Sadly, the handshake and by extension BBI, is weighed down by the obsession with an unattainable win-win scenario. And hence the sense of insecurity and second-guessing you see around.

So far, it has been a win-win for both partners.

Uhuru is the man of the moment pulling the strings as he pleases, but as time goes by, the law of diminishing returns will kick in.

Soon, Raila might get the courage to ask what’s in it for him. If that happens, that’s where the end of the handshake will begin.

-Mr Kipkemboi is Partnerships and Special Projects Editor, Standard Group

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