Political pundits have intimated that the March 9 meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga fundamentally changed Kenya’s political dynamics as they had been up to that point. A friend of mine compared what happened that day to someone walking up in the middle of a chess-game where one side clearly has an upper hand and literally upending the game and scattering the chess pieces all over the floor. Whatever the case the reality is that the ‘handshake’ clearly changed our politics in ways that we still do not understand.
During Kenneth Matiba’s funeral service in Murang’a, Uhuru admitted that not everyone in Jubilee — or NASA — is happy about the handshake. A few days later during his State of the Nation address to Parliament, he explained that he and Raila did not agree on everything during the handshake. But the two leaders were committed to uniting Kenya because they understood that unity is not unanimity.
Uhuru has on many occasions stated that a united Kenya is very important to him. Anyone who has had the occasion to listen to the President articulate his understanding of why Kenya keeps lagging behind knows that he blames our disunity for our lack of socioeconomic and political progress.
NASA co-principals Moses Wetang’ula and Musalia Mudavadi have not hidden the fact that they are unhappy with the handshake. However, it is easy to understand why. The handshake has helped Raila reinvent himself, which means his hold on the Western Kenya political bloc remains intact. The two gentlemen had hoped to inherit this bloc for the 2022 elections.
In Jubilee there is a clique that is also very uncomfortable with the handshake. This group is made up of those who were positioning themselves for a post-Uhuru government. They were already on 2022 campaigns for the presidency. This group is upset because the handshake introduces new dynamics to what looked like a sure-thing game; and disorganises what looked like a predictable presidential election.
The response to the handshake from both the NASA and Jubilee groups has been the same. They have declared open political war on it. But whereas it has been easy for the NASA side to attack the handshake by attacking Raila, the Jubilee side has been forced to be more strategic as they cannot attack the handshake without attacking the President. This is the group ‘warning’ Uhuru to be careful about his handshake partner. They do not realise such suggestions assume Uhuru is naïve and does not know what he is doing.
In 2012 Uhuru initiated a political handshake with William Ruto. It was as unexpected as the March 2018 one. It stabilised the Rift Valley and led to the formation of the Jubilee Party that got Uhuru and Ruto into the presidency. In 2018 Uhuru initiated a second handshake with Raila. This handshake is not meant to displace the 2012 Uhuru-Ruto handshake, as some are trying to suggest. It is meant to enhance it.
To my Jubilee colleagues, when Uhuru joined up with Ruto in 2012 many were shocked. But it worked for a better Kenya. When he initiated the handshake with Raila many of us were shocked again. But we have seen the positive changes in our national cohesion in just that short while. Let us accept Uhuru knows what he is doing and stop second-guessing him!
Uhuru is not a naïve politician. He initiated the handshake with Raila. He is firmly in control of how it is unfolding. Those trying to ‘sell fear’ to Uhuru — as we say in Nyeri — must know it will not work. Uhuru intends to implement his Big Four agenda. He needs a united Kenya to do this. The handshake provides us with this united Kenya. Let us support it, even as we play our different politics.