In both official and personal interactions, President Uhuru Kenyatta and NASA leader Raila Odinga address each other as “ndugu” (brother).
Even as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government of 2008-2013, Raila and Uhuru addressed official government letters and memos to each other as ndugu and not dear sir, PM or DPM.
There is a general understanding that the two leaders, now at the centre of a new unity deal, generally respect each other even as they differ fundamentally politically.
But as Uhuru embarks on his second and final term as President and Raila pursues final actions on the political stage that will have a huge impact on how Kenyans remember him, the question that has been on the minds of most Kenyans is whether history will repeat itself between the Kenyatta and Odinga families.
When he took over in 2013, Uhuru is said to have been keen to end the decades-old animosity between his family and Raila’s, which has translated into a love-hate relationship between the Luo and the Kikuyu, even in the Diaspora.
This concern appeared to be shared by the Odingas and is said to be part of the reason Raila simply accepted the Supreme Court ruling that confirmed Uhuru’s win in 2013 and proceeded to wish the President well. Raila is said to have been uncomfortable starting another prolonged contest with Uhuru, which risked widening the rifts between the two families and communities.
Raila has often stated that the differences between his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, who were first Vice President and first President of Kenya respectively, were ideological, not tribal or personal.
When Jomo Kenyatta died in 1978, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, his first Vice-President, with whom they had fallen out politically, attended the lying-in-state of the body at State House, Nairobi, and wept too after saying a prayer in Dholuo. After the dirge, he told the media he had no fundamental differences with Kenyatta
The subject of whether the sons of the founders of the Kenyan nation will heal the wounds or keep digging is a sensitive one, even among the MPs allied to the respective leaders.
In Parliament, however, a number of Luo MPs view Uhuru more favourably than Deputy President William Ruto.
Some say that in any contest that happens to pit Uhuru’s interests against Ruto’s they will back Uhuru because they think he is more respectful of Raila.
Yesterday they came out to defend Raila’s decision to work with Uhuru.
“We gave Raila the mandate to chart our destiny for us, just like Jubilee supporters mandated Uhuru to chart their destiny. Jubilee has rallied fully behind Uhuru. Let us rally fully behind Raila, the two leaders and support them to deliver a united, transformed, prosperous and just nation for all of us,” said the MPs in a statement signed by James Nyikal, Opiyo Wandayi, Millie Odhiambo, Anthony Oluoch and Mark Nyamita.
Raila too is said to be keen to retain the mutual respect with Uhuru and has often asked his team to refrain from attacking the President personally.