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Zero-sum political game, two years after handshake

By Jacob Ng'etich | March 9th 2020 at 09:00:00 GMT +0300

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga when they publicly reconciled and agreed to work together at Harambee House, Nairobi, on March 9 2018. [File, Standard]

As Kenyans mark the second anniversary since the ceasing of post-election hostilities tomorrow, aftershocks of the momentous handshake are still rippling across the country and have turned politics upside down. 

The handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga almost instantly extinguished political fires threatening to burn down the country after the 2017 presidential elections.

But two years later, the embers of the old fires seem to be smouldering, rekindling old rivalries and building up into a new volcano which is threatening to erupt in the next elections in 2022.

The wounds

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And the wounds supposed to be healed have refused to close up.

The scabs are opening and dangerously growing every day, with fears of developing into gangrenous wounds capable of spreading. 

Birthed by Uhuru and Raila as a silver bullet to unity of Kenyans, the handshake continues to confuse many as what are it’s true intentions.

And in the unfolding political landscape, the old order has been destroyed which has consumed old friendships and alliances, creating new fault lines whose resultant formations will ultimately shape the country’s destiny after Uhuru’s tenure.

Prior to the handshake, the country was tethering to abyss after the contested 2017 repeat election and Kenya was on the breaking point.

The handshake was credited with bringing down the political temperatures.

Sealed at Harambee House, the President’s office, the move that surprised Kenyans and left them talking has come with intriguing political and social developments. The deal clinched in the air of iery secrecy has remained enigmatic and in some cases, construed as a deal between the two gentlemen but lacks national influence.

In a statement, Uhuru and Raila said the rebirth would ensure that never again would the country fight because of politics.

The country has in the past fought during the electioneering period and the 2007/2008 post-election violence remains the most dreaded episode in the Kenyan period.

The aftermath of the handshake two years later is the quintessential case of the unexpected and interesting scenarios.

Today, thanks to the handshake, the political dimensions and formations have changed; politicians have broken party banks and are now finding new grounds. Political parties are fractured every day, those in opposition are in government and those inside are out.

National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale notes that the country not withstanding the good intentions of President Kenyatta, the handshake was a zero-sum game that had left the country more polarised.

“Two years later, the political atmosphere is at fever pitch, there is a lot of political groupings and tension, this was not Uhuru’s intention but it has reached there,” said Duale.

He admitted the Jubilee party was in disarray because of the handshake and the ruling party had had lost its focus.

“For the party that had a clear manifesto, we are now doing badly, the President needs to call the party to order and retrace the steps,” he said.

Deputy President William Ruto while addressing residents of Kandara, Murang’a County, noted that Jubilee was fracturing when it is supposed to be building.

Rivals turned friends

“We are squabbling when we are supposed to be cementing the party, we need to have a dialogue,” Dr Ruto said.

In the tectonic arrangement, Raila, once a sworn enemy of the Uhuru government, today sits on the high table and not only hosts Cabinet Secretaries but directs them on implementation of the Jubilee agenda.

Raila insists that the handshake gave an opportunity for Kenyans to achieve what they have desired for a longtime.

“This is the turning point in our country, we have an opportunity of talking with each other and finding our own solutions to the problem bedeviling us,” Raila told a prayer meeting in the United States.

Hard-hit is the Kenyan Parliament that is yet to find footing and remains dumbfounded after the Uhuru and Raila pact. The National Assembly and the Senate, once citadels of Kenyan interests, have carved in and remain dazed and lulled.

Jubilee chief Whip and Mumias East MP Ben Washiali acknowledges that Parliament, unlike its formation with the majority and minority, is today confused. “Those in the Minority have forgotten their role and now pretend that they are in government, the end result is that our oversight duty is in jeopardy,” said Washiali.

Two years later, according to political risk analyst Dismas Mokua, Kenyans are still in the dark as Uhuru and Raila have not explained the meaning and importance of the handshake at a personal level.

“Kenyans do not yet see their selfish and insurable interests in the handshake,” said Mokua.

Three things, Mokua says, comes into mind on the handshake. Raila, he says, has given Uhuru political insurance to take fairly drastic decisions and drive the political agenda.

Mokua acknowledged that the handshake has given birth to the BBI which if carefully managed can take Kenya into the next level.

Electoral injustices

However, he says, the architects of BBI have given electoral injustices and economic growth a wide berth.

“Kenyans have got a valid expectation that the architect of handshake and BBI will create a system that every five years as they approach election they do not become nervous and will create an electoral infrastructure where we have predictable systems for unpredictable outcomes,” says Mokua

According to David Oginde, the outgoing presiding bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries (Citam), as the BBI Steering Committee retreats to put together their final report and recommendations, it should not lose focus of fixing our politics.

“The true test of a successful work awaits the team in a short two years. If the 2022 elections come and go, and we all get back to our daily routines, then we can truly celebrate a job well done,” said Odinde.

Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi said the handshake, and by extension the BBI, had given an opportunity for the country to have a conversation with itself and raises issues of concerns from every region.

“We in the coast appreciate it, it has given us a moment to raise our concerns,” said Kingi.

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