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January 22, 2019

DAUDI MWENDA: Handshake: Elephant in the room


A story is told from the Indian subcontinent of a group of blind men who heard that a strange animal called an elephant had been brought to their town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity they said, “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it.

The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, “This being is like a thick snake.” For another, whose hand reached the ear, it seemed like a fan. A third, whose hand was upon its leg, said the elephant is like a pillar, like a tree trunk.

The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said, “Elephant is a wall.” Another who felt its tail described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear. The blind men then discover their differing views, suspect one another of not telling the truth and then come to blows.

The parable has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies. Broadly the parable implies that one’s subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth.

At various times the parable has provided insight into the relativism, opaqueness or inexpressible nature of truth, the behaviour of experts in fields where there is a deficit or inaccessibility to information, the need for communication, and or respect for the different perspectives.

The same parable is relevant to our currently prevailing political situation in Kenya. Six months after the famous political handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, Kenyans are in the dark regarding the contents or gist of the agreement and, to be honest, the majority are groping around like the blind men.

Granted, a committee was appointed to draft a framework and substantive policy document but progress has been painfully slow.

The high-profile arrest and arraignment in court of Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu on corruption charges sent shockwaves and has exposed the soft underbelly of the handshake or ‘Building Bridges’ initiative.

A battery of 32 ODM lawyers rushed to represent her immediately, exposing fissures in a court that many had considered or expected to be apolitical. Raila’s position on this particular matter remains unknown as he has kept well below the radar. He is however known to be solidly behind the war on corruption.

ODM, however, appears intent on creating a martyr out of Justice Mwilu. They have openly stated that President Uhuru Kenyatta is after her neck following the promised “revisit” threat on the Judiciary. If, indeed, Uhuru is guilty of politicising the war on corruption, then ODM is guilty of the same by politicising the trial. This could be a big blow in the battle against corruption.

Issues of procedure aside, was this sensitive high-profile arrest sanctioned by both Raila and Uhuru or did one party act unilaterally? What does it portend having transpired so swiftly after the deportation of ODM lawyer and rabble rouser Miguna Miguna? Are we seeing a severely politically weakened Raila? Has he abandoned or betrayed his troops to henceforth survive by their own devices?

Paradoxically, the President announced in a BBC interview within the same week that Raila will not be given any position in government, as the Constitution does not allow it. His recent tours to various countries as a government envoy had led many to believe a plum position was on the cards. Where does this leave Raila in the totality of our geopolitics? What is the truth or what are the fallacies about our elephant?

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