Last week ended with one of those political events that seem to only happen in Kenya. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his erstwhile political nemesis opposition leader Raila Odinga walked out of Uhuru’s Harambee House offices, together. They then proceeded to address a joint press conference where they committed to work together to ensure the divisions Kenya is facing today are bridged!
It was surreal. People who did not see it for themselves thought it was a prank, or ‘fake news’. Someone even accused me of photoshopping when I posted on Facebook a picture of both leaders holding hands! But Kenyans literally breathed a sigh of relief. In my opinion there are several key reasons why this happened.
One, Uhuru is a statesman. Reaching out to Raila cannot have been easy, but Uhuru has proven that he always takes the high road when faced with complex situations. He did it in 2012 when he reached out and partnered with William Ruto to bring peace to the Rift Valley.
He did it throughout the ICC process, when he submitted himself to a court he did not believe in. He did it in 2017 when he accepted the Supreme Court nullification of his electoral win, despite strongly disagreeing with it. He has this capacity to operate outside his comfort zone when it is necessary to move Kenya forward.
Two, Raila is a nationalist. Raila has championed the struggle for multiparty democracy, pushed for a new and progressive Constitution, accepted to work in a coalition government and led a very aggressive opposition. However, he seems to have realised that Kenya must go beyond new structures and institutions to active social nation-building.
This must have guided his decision to accept Uhuru’s request for them to unite to slay the dragon of ethnic tensions that has plagued Kenya since Independence, and that reached its highest levels ever under their joint leadership of different sides of the political divide.
Three, both men are thinking about their legacies. Uhuru is in his final term as President. He has a ‘Big Four’ economic legacy he wants to secure. However this legacy requires a stable united country. I therefore imagine the President must have decided that the Kenya he leaves behind must not only be well-developed economically but also cohesive, peaceful, united and stable.
Raila on the other hand must be thinking that he does not want to be remembered as the man who spent his entire life fighting for a united Kenya, only to become the excuse used to divide it into ethnic bastions in his old age.
But there was a fourth and very personal reason to each of them during that epic show of unity last week. It is a fact that the two leaders have proven beyond any doubt that they are their own men, leaders in their own right. They do not live in their fathers huge shadows. However, I suspect Uhuru and Raila also understand the historical significance of having a Kenyatta in the presidency, and an Odinga in the opposition, five decades later, at a time like this.
Uhuru and Raila must certainly feel a sense of responsibility, carried over from their fathers, for the sociopolitical divisions that exist in Kenya today. The two scions of Kenya’s Founding President and Founding Vice President must have seen this as a divine opportunity to heal the wounds caused by their fathers and hand over a united nation to the next generation of Kenyans.
It is important for every Kenyan to support this Uhuru-Raila unity pact. Let us not lay obstacles in their path. I have had the honour of working for both leaders and I know that if not interfered with, each leader will use his immense influence to help Kenya move forward, beyond our current divisions. How they will do that, only time will tell. But we need it done.