How handshake shocker changed political terrain

Namibian President Hage Geingob(2nd left) holds hands with President Uhuru Kenyatta(L), Raila Odinga(2nd R) and Deputy President William Ruto at Bukgungu stadium in Kakamega County during the Mashujaa day celebrations on 20th October 2018
Namibian President Hage Geingob(2nd left) holds hands with President Uhuru Kenyatta(L), Raila Odinga(2nd R) and Deputy President William Ruto at Bukgungu stadium in Kakamega County during the Mashujaa day celebrations on 20th October 2018

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition chief Raila Odinga pulled a shocker on their closest allies in a surprise truce that has radically altered the country’s political equation.

After months of charged political electioneering that pushed Kenya to the brink of disintegration, Uhuru and Raila publicly met after days of delicate and closely guarded behind-the-scenes negotiations.

However, the secret talks that culminated in the Harambee House handshake on March 9 excluded the two leaders’ closest allies, including Deputy President William Ruto. Also kept in the dark were Raila’s Nasa co-principals, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula. As was lawyeer and confident James Orengo.

The consequences of their exclusion from the negotiation table followed. It immediately triggered new political realignments as suspicion and mistrust began to rock the two major political formations — Jubilee and Nasa.

The opposition bond had already been debilitated by Raila’s January 30 mock swearing in ceremony, which his co-principals snubbed.

Political analyst Mark Bichachi says the handshake dealt a staggering blow to the foundation of both political outfits.

“Members of these two political formations were experts at fighting each other. Jubilee was a special purpose vehicle against Raila and Nasa a special purpose vehicle against Uhuru and Ruto. Disintegration was inevitable because there is nobody now to fight,” he told the Star.

He predicts even major political realignments in the New Year because of the anticipated census, delineation of boundaries and, possibly, a referendum.

“The confusion will even be deeper with the 2022 polls beckoning... Obviously, there will be realignments. You are seeing people like Gideon [Moi] coming out strongly, and people like Mudavadi trying to reinvent themselves as the speakers of the opposition. Realignments are going to be the order of the day,” he said.

Raila has since been named AU high Representative for Infrastructure Development, while Wiper leader Kalonzo is peace envoy for South Sudan. The new assignment has particularly diminished Raila’s role in local politics even as Nasa disintegrates.


The coalition’s four affiliate parties — ODM, Wiper, Ford Kenya and ANC — have already withdrawn direct funding to its secretariat, sounding its death knell.

Ruto and his allies have been jittery that Raila is plotting to infiltrate Jubilee and disorient their succession plan. In October, a furious Ruto claimed Raila was planning to kick him out of Jubilee.

“I was in ODM before and they kicked me out... I want to tell you here today that you cannot kick me out of ODM and then follow me to Jubilee to do the same, it’s impossible,” he said. Ruto’s lieutenants have also claimed that the renewed graft war, part of the handshake deal, is targetting him.

But despite the protest from Ruto’s wing, Uhuru has remained steadfast and is not about to disregard his deal with Raila.

“And I know there are many who were not happy with what we did. We know! We are hearing from all sides. Some from my side, some from his [Raila’s] side,” Uhuru said during the funeral service for multiparty democracy crusader Kenneth Matiba in April.

“That’s why I’m surprised that when we meet with Raila and shake hands, stories started about 2022. As Raila has said, there’ll be 2022, there will be 2027, and there will be 2020 and 2030. Let’s leave these politics aside. Let’s focus on what matters to our people.”

Last month, the President delivered even a bigger surprise to those positioning themselves to succeed him. In an unprecedented move, Uhuru said his choice of successor will be a shocker.


Political observers have said the statement was the clearest signal that he might renege on his pledge to back Ruto for the top job. Jubilee had an informal deal of a 10-year presidency for Uhuru, and another 10 for Ruto.

“You can’t take the President’s remarks lightly. They mean a lot, especially when they come at a time when Kenyans are aware there was an obvious political deal for 2022. The DP should know that the master is not happy,” Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny said.

Ex-Nasa communications official John Onyando said Uhuru’s succession will be determined by two factors — how far he is determined to block Ruto and to what extent he accommodates Raila.

“While Ruto is the frontrunner in the Uhuru succession, without state machinery on his side, his campaign will quickly founder,” he said.

“Unlike Raila, Ruto has no national constituency and cannot finesse a wave that will propel him beyond his Kalenjin base. He, however, would cash in on unravelling of the handshake. Thus, Uhuru cannot afford to play Ruto and Raila at the same time — notwithstanding the immense leverage he holds in influencing his succession.”

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