I was in my constituency over at the weekend and I had some very interesting discussions about what exactly the handshake between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga means.
Of course, and as is expected based on where I come from, the general feeling is suspicion: Very deep suspicion from ordinary folks across Nyeri. The story of the camel that asked to be allowed to put its head into a tent to shelter from the rain but ended up taking up all the space, throwing out the poor chap who was kind enough to consider helping the camel is being used liberally across the region.
It also does not help that the history of how Raila has dealt with past instances of cooperation or coalition with incumbent Presidents does not build too much confidence. For example, we all remember that in 1997, after a hard-fought presidential election, Raila got into ‘cooperation’ with President Daniel Moi and entered the mammoth Kanu party. However, in less than five years Raila had managed to disorganise Kanu so badly that it not only lost the 2002 presidential election and left power for the first time since Independence but has also never really recovered, to date.
In 2008, again after another hard-fought presidential election, which led to over 1,000 Kenyans dead, Raila got into a ‘coalition’ with President Mwai Kibaki. The coalition managed to put Kenya in such a place that we recovered some of the economic gains lost during the 2007 post-election upheaval, and we finally managed to pass a new constitution. However, the political rapprochement between the two sides of the coalition was so bad that the period has become the catch phrase for why coalition governments are bad.
However, could this be ‘third time’s a charm’ for Raila, as they say? I think so.
The primary reason I say this is because the context of why he did it is different. This particular ‘handshake’ does not place him in the pole position for the ultimate price he has sought for close to four decades, as the other two did. In fact, it disempowers him considerably as it makes him a perpetrator of betrayal, something that he has only claimed victimhood to in the past. This has cost him greatly, locally. This means he must make this deal work.
The general terms of the deal are to unite Kenyans. I expect Raila will make this his signature agenda. He will unleash his substantive political capacity towards becoming the champion of unity and cohesion. He will become the poster-child for national unity and cohesion. He cannot do otherwise. He would become irrelevant. Kenya is crying out for unity and Raila gets it. Unity allows him to re-invent his politics. As an icing on the cake, when Raila becomes a champion for unity it means, he becomes a partner with Uhuru in delivering the ‘Big Four’ agenda — which requires unity and stability. This creates goodwill with Uhuru and his supporters. I suspect this will be useful to him at some point in the not-so-distant future.
But this deal is not just about Raila re-inventing himself, or Uhuru running a stable country. There is critical benefit to all Kenyans: Uhuru and Raila jointly control close to 95 per cent of Kenya’s political thought. When they unite on an issue, everyone else must align themselves, or become irrelevant.
What this means is that for the first time, Kenya is looking at the very real possibility of a presidential election being determined by the person who best unites us across all our ethnic diversities. Can you imagine watching presidential campaigns where the political rhetoric is about which candidate is best placed to unite all Kenyans? It would be terrific for Kenya.
It would also be a great legacy for Uhuru a to exit stage on.