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How we got here: The story of handshake

By Eugene Okumu | March 9th 2019
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga when they shook hands outside Harambee house.

March 9, 2018, will go down in Kenya's history books as one of many defining moments when the country witnessed an unexpected event.

On this day, on the steps of Harambee House, the building that houses the President's office along Harambee Avenue in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga shook hands.

The symbolic event is a contrast to a few months prior when the two were firmly rooted on opposing sides of a hotly contested presidential race.

The now famous 'handshake' was a public declaration to cease all hostilities, and instead find common ground in the interest of moving the country forward economically, politically as well as socially.

The sigh of relief that the gesture, which was conducted in the full glare of national and international media outlets, elicited mixed reactions.

This considering that only months prior, the country found itself in the unfamiliar position of having to conduct a second presidential election within the same election year.

The outcome of the first presidential vote was nullified, another novelty in the historical annals of the country. Raila Odinga, the son of Kenya's first Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, successfully challenged Uhuru Kenyatta's win at the Supreme Court.

Raila was second time lucky after a similar petition against the same rival was thrown out in 2013.

The ruling delivered by a bench, that in some quarters was perceived to be friendlier to Raila, ruled that the petition did not present enough evidence necessary to nullify the poll. The judges added that the process was largely transparent and satisfactorily credible.

What ensued afterwards, was tension characterised by incendiary utterances by leaders from rival camps.

NASA brigade in a daring move called for a boycott on products and services from companies deemed to have been beneficiaries of what they termed a marred electoral process.

Raila bites the bullet

The seething tension would then end up in the mock swearing-in of Raila on January 30, 2018, at the historic Processional way of Uhuru Park, a location preserved for national events.

This was proceeded by a series of protests that claimed lives and left several brutalised adding to the tension that, if unchecked, was dangerously leading to the brink of civil unrest.

As if the affront that was mentioned in the same breath as treason was not enough, Raila’s woes piled as his supporters pushed him to explain whereabouts of his co-principals who conspicuously missed the event.

Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper Party), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya) were branded cowards who abandoned a comrade in the jaws of a lion.

Controversial lawyer Miguna Miguna and Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang presided over the Raila’s mock oathe taking, inviting wrath from the Jubilee government. In the following days after the ceremony, Kajwang would be arrested and Miguna deported.

The standoff itself between Uhuru and Raila was reminiscent of the falling out of their fathers decades ago. This was when Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s founding president parted ways with his first Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.


It came as a big surprise then, and more so to avowed henchmen in Uhuru and Odinga camps, that on a Friday afternoon (March 9, 2018), the two leaders walked out of the president’s office, having struck a peace deal, whose content remains a mystery to date.

Their announcement of a peace agreement, christened ‘Handshake’ was greeted with mixed reactions. To some Kenyans, this was a turning point in achieving political stability and economic growth but to others, Raila had betrayed a political course.

The two leaders, foes-cum-friends, promised peace and a renewed war on graft.

The hot and cold reception which has punctuated the relationship between Uhuru and Raila now seems like a distant dream a year after the handshake.

At the moment, the two leaders seem to be reading from the same script on a multitude of matters including the war on corruption and a need to review the Constitution.

Uhuru even graced Raila’s 74th birthday while in Mombasa to commission the rehabilitation of the Mama Ngina Drive in Likoni. This is aside from presiding over the launch of Universal Health Coverage in Kisumu County, and leading Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kakamega, regions where Opposition enjoys majority support.

While Raila has been accused of being paid to ease pressure on the Uhuru administration, the latter on his part is using this opportunity to fight graft and create a legacy for himself.

The full impact of the handshake is at the moment the subject of conjecture, but may only be fully apparent when Uhuru’s term comes to an end in 2022.

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