One of the things I like to think I have down pat after almost 30 years in journalism spent watching people, particularly politicians, is deciphering whether they mean what they say and say what they mean.
Also, I have realised many people tend to be quite sentimental, especially with their political support, and will always applaud whatever makes them feel emotionally comfortable and reassured.
In fact, if warm and fuzzy were a nation building tool, then moments such as last week’s handshake on the doorstep of Harambee House between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his former boss, Prime Minister (emeritus?) Raila Odinga would mark the moment that Project Kenya got back on track. Unfortunately, as much as many people would love this to be true, I really don’t think it’s going to happen in quite the way they think or hope.
That is not to say there was no real feeling in the handshake. I think, stripped from their politics, the president and the former PM genuinely like each other and get along. In fact, I recall attending an evening function back in 2001, when the two were respectively in charge of the Local Government and Energy ministries in the Moi Cabinet — where I reported on their chumminess. In fact, had the term been in common usage at the time, I might have classified their friendship as a ‘bromance’.
The point is, the two men probably meant what they said last week, and if they are still on speaking terms next week, it might lead to even more interesting situations in the future, such as President Odinga and PM Kenyatta — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves with all this mushy brotherly love, Kumbayah stuff.
Kenya’s politics is still a mess and looks to remain so for some time to come, no matter who jumps into bed with whom for whatever short- or long-term political gain. For one thing, ours is still the politics of tribal chiefs coming together to configure a new political equation for support at the polls. This has been so since the days of the so-called “big tribes” in Kanu and the “small tribes” in Kadu back in 1961.
Whoever figures out a successful way to eliminate the tribal equation from Kenya’s politics and actually achieves it freeing us from this awful burden, will be the greatest Kenyan ever, as far as I’m concerned. Until then, even a group hug bringing together the President and the former PM and including Deputy President William Ruto as well as former VPs Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi and their Nasa partner Moses Wetang’ula, will do nothing to erase this system of the tribal eating chiefs, who could turn into tribal warlords in an instant.
Moments such as last week’s only go to prove that our politicians understand that their stock-in-trade is the art of the possible. And that a highly suggestible public, which is desperate to feel warm and fuzzy, will always applaud and forgive everything until the next tribal falling out.
And be assured, for as long as the tribal equation remains unchanged, there will always be a crisis around the corner.