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February 22, 2019

DICK ONEKO: Handshake a boost to unity, growth

President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) greets opposition leader Raila Odinga of NASA at Harambee House, Nairobi, on March 9, 2018. /REUTERS
President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) greets opposition leader Raila Odinga of NASA at Harambee House, Nairobi, on March 9, 2018. /REUTERS

Kenyans have made different interpretations of the historic March 9 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga. History will judge Uhuru and Raila fairly; the success of the handshake secures their legacies and bequeaths a viable nation to posterity.

The success of such a momentous political matter will not be a walk in the park. It will require great vision, resolve and fortitude. Sacrifices of friendships, egos, ambitions, careers, self-interests — sometimes at great cost — will be required to move the handshake forward.

But with the collective political capital and goodwill that Uhuru and Raila possess, the handshake and Building Bridges Initiative can reboot our spirit of unity and nationhood. Failure cannot be an option.

When I shook hands with Uhuru and joined Jubilee in 2016, I was motivated by the desire to find a way to end the divisive, toxic and destructive nature of Kenyan politics. Kenyans needed to come together to revive the dream of our Founding Fathers that envisaged a united, prosperous nation with equal opportunities for all, irrespective of tribe, gender, religion or race.

This is the essence of the handshake. All patriotic Kenyans should pray for its benefits to cascade across the entire country to create equity and uplift the status of marginalised regions.

The new spirit of cooperation and complementarity across the political divide couldn’t have come at a better time. Inequality is at worrying levels. According to a recent report by Oxfam International, the gap between the richest and the poorest has reached extreme levels. Less than 0.1 per cent of the population (about 8,500 ) own more wealth than the bottom 99.9 per cent ( 44 million plus).

The richest 10 per cent earned on average 23 times more than the poorest 10 per cent. Life expectancy between different regions is 16 years. The doctor-patient ratio is about 1 to 20,700 in certain regions and 1 to 120,000 in Northeastern.

These are some of the issues that the handshake and the Building Bridges Initiative must address. Regional disparities and inequalities are some of the underlying causes of conflict worldwide.

I have previously advocated a ‘Marshall Plan’ for the Lake Victoria region, which directly and indirectly supports about 14 counties with 15 million people representing about 35 per cent of the national population, many of whom still live in poverty.

Revival of fishing and agriculture (horticulture, cotton, rice and sugarcane) by financing and building industries and infrastructure to support them would revive the economy and improve livelihoods.

The handshake accords Uhuru and Raila a chance to back a development blueprint for the Western region alongside other national economic development plans, particularly the Big Four agenda.

Raila’s stature, influence and close association with the Executive can help secure for descendants of the region appointments to key state institutions, debunking the culture of exclusion and inequity.

In his many trips abroad, Raila now occupies a unique position to persuade investors and donors to help in the rejuvenation and growth of the nation.

Management consultant

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