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The twists and turns in the handshake journey three years later

POLITICS
By Allan Mungai | March 9th 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Harambee House in Nairobi, on March 9, 2018. [File]

It’s been three years since President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga sealed a political deal that surprised millions of their supporters.

It was on March 9, 2018, when the two were seen on the steps of Harambee House in Nairobi shaking hands after a hotly contested presidential election in August 2017 election. 

The now-famous handshake came at a time the country was in turmoil after Raila disputed Uhuru’s victory.

Violence broke up as soon as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had declared Uhuru, the Jubilee Party candidate, winner of the election with 54.2 per cent of the votes cast against Raila of the National Super Alliance (Nasa).

Raila and his team challenged the outcome at the Supreme Court and their prayers were granted as the bench ordered a fresh presidential election.

However, Raila would boycott the repeat presidential election on October 26 arguing reforms they wanted on the IEBC to address alleged irregularities in the initial poll had not been effected.

Nasa had issued a list of conditions they refereed to as the ‘irreducible minimum’ they insisted had to be fulfilled before they could participate in the fresh election.

The conditions included unfettered access to IEBC servers and cancellation of the electoral agency’s contract with election material supplier, French firm Safran & OT Morpho. They also wanted dismissal of IEBC personnel they accused of bungling the election.

The conditions were not met and on the eve of the repeat election, Raila announced a new wing called the National Resistance Movement had been created within Nasa.

The Opposition also announced boycott of products of companies they claimed were working with the government to steal their election victory by aiding election malpractice.

Handshake timeline.

However, the repeat election went on even though voting was suspended in 25 constituencies in the ODM leader’s perceived political base in Western and Nyanza regions amid continued demonstrations.

Uhuru went on to win the poll with 98 per cent of the votes cast although the turnout was only about 40 per cent of registered voters.

 Raila and his supporters in Nasa questioned Uhuru’s legitimacy now that he had run alone in the repeat poll.

On January 30, at the peak of the agitation and in front of thousands of his supporters at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Raila would take an oath as the ‘people’s president’, ignoring threats of arrest and possibility of treason charges.

What followed was a crackdown on Opposition politicians such as lawyer Miguna Miguna, who was arrested and deported to Canada. It was Miguna who administered the oath to Raila.

That is why it was a big surprise to millions of their supporters when Uhuru and Raila emerged on the steps of Harambee House enthusiastically clasping hands in a handshake that confirmed a détente on March 9, 2018.

In effect, by coming together, the two leaders ended the political crisis that had engulfed the country leading to turmoil on the streets, carnage  and loss of lives as their supporters clashed.

However, three years on, and the handshake appears to be slackening as doubt and discontent creep in.

The deal heralded a period of tranquillity but also prompted a deep-seated unease within Uhuru’s Jubilee Party and resistance to the deal.

At the same time, the rapprochement put existing agreements between Uhuru and Deputy President William Ruto, as well as between Raila’s ODM party and its partners in the National Super Alliance, to a test as Uhuru and Raila’s political partners accused the duo of leaving them out of the deal.

The deal was pegged on nine agenda and the eventual intent of spearheading constitutional amendment through the Building Bridges Initiative.

The BBI was to address ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, divisive elections, safety and security, corruption, shared prosperity, responsibilities and rights.

Both Raila and Uhuru said their cooperation had nothing to do with the 2022 elections but statements from their allies have been telling.

DP Ruto has been uncomfortable with the handshake which he claims was meant to be an avenue to deliver the elusive presidency to Raila.

Raila and Uhuru have spend most of the three years defending their deal. Raila’s party is constantly pushing back against criticism that they have been neutered while Uhuru is preoccupied with stemming a fallout in Jubilee.

A draft copy of the BBI report, which proposed far-reaching changes to the constitution, was launched on November 27. This came more than a year of collecting views of Kenyans by a team Uhuru and Raila had picked to oversee the process.

The final report came on October 21 together with a constitutional amendment bill and handed to Uhuru and Raila during a meeting in Kisii. It contains plans to amend the constitution and among other changes, re-introduce the positions of a prime minister with two deputies, along with that of leader of the official opposition.

On November 25, last year, Uhuru and Raila launched collection of signatures to have more than one million Kenyans endorsed the Bill. They succeeded before the Bill was tabled before county assemblies which endorsed it.

IEBC approved the signatures on January 26. A week later, Siaya became the first county assembly to approve the Constitutional Amendment Bill. So far, at least 43 counties have endorsed the proposed constitutional changes.

The Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was simultaneously introduced in both the National Assembly and Senate on Thursday last week.

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