One year later, from foes to friends: Uhuru and Raila surprise

Namibian President Hage Geingob (center) holds President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga's hands during Mashujaa celebrations in Kakamega. [DenishOchieng/Standard]

On October 26 last year, the political air was foul and just like past electioneering periods, palpable fear was evident on every Kenyan’s face.

Kenyans were going to a repeat election after a tumultuous one that had shaken the country to the core after it was nullified.

Worse still, opposition leader Raila Odinga, who commands near equal political weight as President Uhuru Kenyatta, had pulled out of the race, citing poor preparedness of the electoral agency.

Apart from the bravado that hid the inner fear from Jubilee supporters who were repeatedly chanting they wanted to give President Kenyatta a birthday party by electing him overwhelmingly in the repeat poll, the country was tense and the trepidation could be felt in silence of the nights across villages and towns.

The Kenyatta and Odinga political rivalry, birthed in the 1960s, was on the zenith and threatened to tear the country apart.

Two days later, Uhuru was declared winner of the election against five other competitors with 98 per cent of the votes cast. But only about 35 per cent of the registered voters had turned out to cast the ballot.

National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) secretary general Peter Karanja and Catholic Bishop Alfred Rotich admit the moment was agonising for the country.

Pain and suffering

“We kept on praying for the country that God take charge,” says Rotich.

When Raila said, after the now famous handshake on the March 9, that no Kenyan blood would be shed again because of politics, he intuitively acknowledged the pain and suffering that the two families’ chauvinistic battle had caused.

Interestingly, when episodic love visits the families, they refer to each other as brothers. This is similar in times of grief.

Though seen more of a sibling rivalry, could the battle between capitalism and socialism have been at the heart of the political divide?

In the 1960s, Raila’s father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga seemed to lean towards socialism then espoused by China, East Germany, Russia and most of Eastern Europe.

As a beneficiary of the ideology, Jaramogi had his son and hundreds of Kenyans earn scholarships in the Marxist leaning countries.

On his part, Jomo Kenyatta, a British political protege, had embraced capitalism, having spent nearly two decades in the UK, where many believe was a period of grooming before he took over Kenya’s leadership.

There are, however, stories of Jomo having reached out to Jaramogi who was said to be pursuing interests in his Nyanza region.

In a book The Reds and the Blacks published in 1967 a year after Jaramogi was resigned as Vice President, William Attwood writes that the doyen of opposition was prodded into politics by Mzee Kenyatta who found Jaramogi an accomplished businessman in the early ‘50s.

But the chaos that erupted when Mzee Kenyatta who had gone to open ‘Russia Hospital’ in Kisumu changed the relationship between the allies. The bitter exchange degenerated into a shooting in which many people were killed and this was the culmination of the bitter feud.

Zero sum game

There are those who believe that the sons of the two friends turned foe surpassed the performance of their fathers. What with the last General Election that saw Raila pull out of the race only to swear himself in as the people’s president months later?

Their political war ended at a zero sum game in the scheme of things. Uhuru ceded ground and in a statement after the handshake deliberately referred to Raila as His Excellency 15 times. According to the Order of Precedence Act, the HE title is only entitled to the president and his deputy.

It could only be brotherly agreement for in return, Raila has confounded friends and foes alike as being a brother’s keeper.

Last week, Uhuru and Raila sat in the same podium and the camaraderie between them as they shook hands with the Namibian President at Bukhungu Stadium during the Mashujaa Day celebrations made the nation feel the unity of purpose.

“My brother Raila Odinga and I have agreed to work together and unite the nation, we have now started the journey of building a great nation,” said President Kenyatta.

From bitter political rivalry, today Raila seems to have decided to politically insulate and help Uhuru to possibly secure a legacy that could easily have evaporated into thin air.