There is a well-known phrase that has been used by a variety of states and entities throughout the annals of history: “Unity is strength”. This is a very lofty idea that few would associate with Kenya since its establishment almost six decades ago.
The motto of our republic, “Harambee”, let us all pull together, has been sadly more about hope rather than practice.
Throughout our history, Kenyans are just as likely to pull one against the other, especially on the tribal and political level, then face each other in genuine respect and amity.
However, a little over one year ago, something unprecedented happened that has since changed the country’s political architecture, but more has demonstrated to the Kenyan people that a different path is not only possible but achievable.
When President Uhuru Kenyatta reached out to ODM and Nasa leader Raila Odinga, Kenyans were rightly staring in disbelief.
Uhuru had only recently trounced Raila in the elections and had no political need to be magnanimous. Raila was potentially a spent force who had lost so many elections as to become increasingly politically irrelevant, and with Uhuru unable to run in the next elections, on a purely political level, it made little sense.
Nevertheless, the handshake was never about politics: It was about unity, progress and development. It was about uniting for the common good, to deal with the pressing issues that face our nation. It was about fighting corruption together and looking for ways to ensure the Big Four agenda could be actualised and not remain another empty promise.
Primarily, the handshake was a message by Uhuru to the people of Kenya that far too much energy and resources are spent fighting to further divisions rather than fighting to increase unity and thus progress.
The political debate over the last year has been less on political or tribal lines, as has been far too often in the past, but more on looking at the issue itself and finding ways to meet challenges, rather than allowing party lines to be placed above the national interest.
Of course, the handshake and resultant relationship and agreements have not been the panacea for all the ills of our society, but it certainly true that the current political situation is preferable to what has gone before it, including riots and bloodshed.
Nonetheless, not everyone appears convinced.
A report released recently by the Uwazi Consortium, a loosely based group of self-styled civil society organisations, suggests that the handshake has contributed to a problematic atmosphere in Kenya.
The author of the report, titled Civil Society and the Post Handshake Politics in Kenya, Dr Kenneth Orengo, the chairperson of Uwazi Consortium, said: “The relative peace resulting from political unity may be good for the country in the short term but in the long term may ruin Kenya’s democracy by disrupting growth of opposition politics.”
Of course, having a robust opposition is important in any democracy, but anyone who believes that the President has no opposition or political opponents has been living in a cave this last year.
Every single policy that Uhuru has promulgated over the last year, and beyond, has been met with strong debate, as it should be. Bringing Raila in as a partner rather than an enemy has hardly stunted that.
Even those who released this confused report admit that the handshake was “popular”.
However, they don’t seem to understand why it was so.
Simply put, the Kenyan people are sick of divisions and discord, especially among our leaders. We remain scarred from the aftermath of the 2007 elections when over 1,000 people died and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Do the naysayers of the handshake miss these tumultuous times so much?
I know that the average Kenyan prefers the handshake to the raised fist.
For the first time in our history, we have leaders who are living by our national motto Harambee and we are witnessing the results. It is clear that so many things can be achieved through unity that was never possible while division weakened our nation.
Anyone who doesn’t recognise this salient fact is doing a disservice to the nation.
MP Igembe North