Handshake Anniversary: Remembering the landmark Uhuru-Raila deal

Jared Onuko, a Standard Eight school drop out and a resident of Migori town working on the image of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga's handshake on July 19, 2021. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

The planned Azimio la Umoja delegates meeting to pick the coalition candidate will be the culmination of the evolving March 2018 handshake by President Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Mr Raila Odinga.

The two leaders have, over the last four years, built a close working relationship, which changed the political landscape as MPs from both parties worked together in and outside Parliament to advance government agenda.

It also led to a big split in the President’s Jubilee Party, causing a large faction of MPs allied to Deputy President Dr William Ruto to break away and form United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga first presented the handshake as a goodwill gesture for the sake of peace and development.

“Some people today are behaving as if they were not in this country. There was a lot of hatred and some regions were even saying they were ready to secede,” said Mr Kenyatta during a Jubilee National Delegates Conference two weeks ago.

Dr Ruto however argued in 2018 that the invitation of the Opposition into government was a bigger power play, and kicked off a rebellion in the Jubilee party.

Political analysts agree that the handshake could have been planned to chart the way for Mr Odinga to succeed the President in August 2022.

“The power deal must have been agreed quietly, but it was evident that the marriage between Jubilee and ODM would be formalised and that is what has happened,” says political analyst Mr Martin Andati.

Mr Kenyatta has constantly dismissed Dr Ruto’s repeated claims that the handshake should be blamed for rocking the harmony that existed in the Jubilee government.

Ati kutoka 2018 Baba na Kalonzo waliingia serikali na wakaharibu mipango (That Mr Odinga and Kalonzo disrupted government when they agreed to work with me in 2018,” said Uhuru.

The President has also rubbished claims that handshake and its child, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) were a political project to benefit Mr Odinga.

But Nyando MP Mr Jared Okello said after the handshake, there must have been talks about the 2022 elections. “It will be foolhardy to believe that Raila met Uhuru and there was no discussion at all about 2022,” said Mr Okello when asked about the Jubilee-ODM relationship in a TV interview.

The biggest indicator of what Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga were scheming in the 2022 succession emerged when they came out strongly to support the BBI shortly after the handshake.

It was a well-choreographed move that could have been used to give Raila a soft landing through a power sharing formulae proposed in the document that later culminated into the BBI Bill.

During the parallel NDCs, the President told delegates they agreed to make changes in the Constitution to enable all Kenyans to engage in politics freely without feeling alienated.

Again, referring to his deputy, the President argued that BBI was good, “but others began using it” to attack the government.

The Bill provided for positions of President, Deputy President, Prime Minister and two Deputies, which could have easily accommodated the likes of Wiper leader Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, Mr Gideon Moi and Mr Moses Wetang’ula in Raila’s government.

That is why Mr Kenyatta engaged in a series of covert and overt meetings with those leaders as the BBI Bill was also discussed. “BBI was part of the process, but it encountered some turbulence. But the handshake was supposed to give us a broad based coalition and that is what Raila is still working on now,” says Mr Andati. He, however, thinks the scenario will be completely different because Mr Odinga did not handle his relationship with Messrs Mudavadi and Wetang’ula well.

He argues that Raila should have looked for a tactical way of keeping them on board but he instead made them get disillusioned and that is why they went to bed with Ruto.

Mr Musyoka also embraced the handshake after first opposing it, arguing that Mr Odinga entered into the agreement without telling him and his then Nasa coalition allies Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula.

He then moved with Messrs Musalia, Moi and Wetang’ula to One Kenya Alliance, which  later roped in Narc-Kenya leader Ms Martha Karua and United Democratic Party’s Mr Cyrus Jirongo.

The exit of Messrs Mudavadi and Wetang’ula to Dr Ruto’s corner jolted the handshake plot, as is the continued hold out of Mr Musyoka from the Azimio plan.

If Azimio parties make good their plan to endorse Mr Odinga, it will be a culmination of a fully evolved handshake that shifted from coming together on March 9, 2018, to BBI and now to full endorsement.