Uhuru Kenyatta defends handshake with Raila Odinga

Saturday January 5 2019

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A roundtable interview that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta held with leading media houses at State House Mombasa at the end of last year, has allowed political observers a peek into the political agenda his administration will pursue in 2019 and beyond.

During the hastily arranged interview, the president gave a briefing on the implementation status of his Big Four Agenda — affordable housing, food security, manufacturing and universal healthcare — and delved in greater detail into the chain of events leading up to his agreement with his political nemesis, Raila Odinga, in March last year.

“We have come to terms with each other,” President Kenyatta said.

“We have agreed that we can’t allow the kind of politics that have divided us to continue. There are many things we need to sort out to ensure that Kenyans have peaceful choices in 2022.”

President Kenyatta talked fondly of Mr Odinga while hardly giving Deputy President William Ruto as much as a mention. Analysts see this as a signal that the president is placing greater hope for a lasting legacy in the handshake — the political truce the two leaders sealed on March 9, 2018.

“I have engaged Mr Odinga for most of this year (2018). I believe I have a partner who believes in the cause. Ours is a long-term agenda to ensure that we develop a society that is politically inclusive and that we get a way of doing politics without dividing the country along ethnic lines,” he said, while declaring that he was not ready to discuss the 2022 election politics.

But, while it was meant to unite a then deeply divided country, the handshake has since become a source of divisions, with allies of Mr Ruto viewing it as it as a ruse to undermine their man.

The politicians have dismissed the deal, pointing out it is a scheme by Mr Odinga to get into the government “through the backdoor.”

The suspicion in the DP’s camp has been more pronounced, particularly because Mr Ruto was neither informed nor consulted prior to the President reaching out to Mr Odinga. This feeling has heightened in the past couple of months after it became apparent that President Kenyatta has not only moved closer to but also regularly consults Mr Odinga on weighty national issues.

In their meeting in March 2018, President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga agreed to implement a nine-point agenda that they said will alter Kenya’s political course — which includes tackling ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, safety and security and corruption.

Analysts now agree that the recommendations of a 14-member Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Task Force, gazetted in May 2018, and given has a year to collect and collate views on how to solve the issues the two leaders identified, will bring out the real intention of the handshake and determine the course of political events going into 2022.

“The real impact of the handshake will be felt and the truth on the course of Kenyan politics will be known when the task force presents its report,” University of Nairobi lecturer and political analyst Herman Manyora said, suggesting that the president, who has been cagey about his succession, may come out to set the record straight.

There is also the prospect of a referendum to change the country’s Constitution to introduce the position of an executive prime minister, and expand the executive.

Former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka says 2019 will be shaped by the recommendations of the taskforce and has challenged the team to taken on greater visibility to allow greater participation of Kenyans.

“Upon the recommendations of the task force, it is hoped that a technical team will quickly be put in place to deal with the important subject of the referendum,” he said.

That the effects of the handshake will be felt in 2019 excites Minority Whip in the National Assembly Junet Mohamed, who, nonetheless, argues that it is too early to conclude whether it will have a bearing on the 2022 presidential election.

“The seed of the handshake was planted in 2018 and it will germinate in 2019. The president and Mr Odinga have put considerable effort into this handshake and it is the hope of all Kenyans that it bears fruits as quickly as possible,” said ,Mr Mohamed.