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February 17, 2019

Don't let 2022 warp handshake

NASA leader Raila Odinga, Cs Najib Balala and President Uhuru Kenyatta during the BKO 2018 Ceremony at Muthaiga Golf Club, March 25,2018. /ENOS TECHE
NASA leader Raila Odinga, Cs Najib Balala and President Uhuru Kenyatta during the BKO 2018 Ceremony at Muthaiga Golf Club, March 25,2018. /ENOS TECHE

This last weekend President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga shared a public platform for the second time since they ‘shook hands’ on the steps of Harambee House on March 10. This was at the 2018 Barclays Kenya Open at the Muthaiga Golf Club. Uhuru was chief guest and he invited Raila.

However, golf courses are not regular settings for either Uhuru or Raila. In fact, Raila’s social media page even made a joke out of it, saying despite the elegance of the event he still prefers watching Gor Mahia football matches.

So what took the two leaders to this event?

I think they wanted to endorse their own message of the ‘handshake’. This is because since that handshake some politicians from both sides of the political divide have been literally shouting themselves hoarse trying to interpret, shape and manage what it actually meant.

Some Jubilee politicians have even told us that Raila actually left NASA and joined Jubilee! This has then led some NASA politicians to condemn Raila for betraying them. The interpretations of that handshake are as many as the politicians sharing them. Unfortunately one gets the feeling that most are deliberately skewed to sabotage the rapprochement between the two leaders.

For example, it is interesting that in all the interpretations of the handshake in political events over the last week - except for Deputy President William Ruto — no one else is sticking to the message of what Uhuru and Raila actually say the handshake was about: that they came together to unite Kenyans.

Ruto is the only one insisting that what happened on March 10 was good for Kenya because it brings Kenyans together. However, even the DP’s message gets lost because by the time he makes this positive point all the other politicians accompanying him have said something totally different, and negative.

Back to the joint golf appearance. In my opinion Uhuru and Raila were sending a message to Kenyans, and to the politicians around them. I think they were telling Kenyans ‘… forget what you are hearing out there. Focus on us. We did this. Let us explain why we did it and what we hope to achieve. And by the way, we are comfortable enough that we can now even hang out together at a social event!’

The message to politicians was sharper. ‘Stop trying to manage us, or what we did. We did this by ourselves without reference to any of you. Stop trying to interpret what we did. Just watch and learn. Stop trying to shape the narrative of what our handshake means, so as to suit what you want. We did it for us, and for the Kenyan people. Not for you. So stop trying to manipulate what we think about each other as Raila and Uhuru. We know each other more than you know. And we are both comfortable enough with each other to make the commitments we have made.’

But there is an even deeper message, which most politicians with an eye for 2022 do not want to hear. After the meeting on March 10 Uhuru said ‘… our future cannot be dictated by the forthcoming elections. Starting today we will begin the process of bringing our people together’. The message here is simple. Our coming together is not about 2022 politics. That must wait for this.

If we can all internalise the messages from Uhuru and Raila, and ignore the ones from the politicians, then all our interpretations of what it means, and our understanding and expectations of what Uhuru and Raila will do now and moving forward, will change — fundamentally and for the better.

Then we — especially the political class — will genuinely support them, notwithstanding our 2022 ambitions and aspirations, and work today for what serves Kenya’s interests best, today.

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