Handshake two years on: Ruto, Raila allies differ on BBI

Historic truce was expected to unite leaders but has created divisions that now threaten peace

In Summary

• Deputy President William Ruto's camp has reservations on March 9, 2018, pact which gave birth to the Building Building Initiative task force.

• The BBI task force had nine issues to find ways on how to resolve them

Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga during the launch of the BBI report at the Bomas of Kenya on November 27, 2019
UNITED? Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga during the launch of the BBI report at the Bomas of Kenya on November 27, 2019

The historic handshake between political nemesis President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on March 9, 2018, was billed as the last bullet to slay the dragon of perennial ethnic animosities that often accompany presidential elections.

But two years on, the handshake has caused wide divisions on the political scene with its brainchild - the Building Bridges Initiative - dividing leaders almost in the middle.

While the handshake ended street demonstrations by Opposition supporters, the BBI has put the country on a campaign mode with popularisation rallies across regions.

Allies of Deputy President William Ruto have expressed reservations with the BBI process, saying it is being used to block their man's ambitions of becoming president.

The allies have been suspicious about the handshake since its inception. Ruto in 2018 said the handshake was a scheme to push him out of the Jubilee Party.

The BBI task force led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji presented its report to Uhuru and Raila in November last year before the team was expanded and given a fresh mandate to fine-tune the report and recommend ways of its implementation.

The team has been collecting views on how to tackle the nine issues Uhuru and Raila identified "to create a united nation for all Kenyans and future generations."

The issues included corruption, national ethos, devolution, divisive elections, safety and security, responsibilities and rights, shared prosperity, ethnic antagonism and competition and inclusivity.

While the other eight issues have not received much attention even after the report was submitted, it is the chapter n inclusivity that has left the nation divided. It is understood that both Uhuru and Raila are pushing for an expanded executive to promote inclusivity.


They want the reintroduction of the position of Prime Minister and two deputies which according to Ruto's camp, will burden the taxpayer.

“Two years ago, at the steps of Harambee House, two great sons of the soil shook hands. Their coming together in the wake of an acrimonious and disputed presidential election and subsequent street protests that were threatening the country’s stability brought peace and tranquillity,” Raila’s ODM party tweeted on Monday.

On Sunday the DP said debate surrounding the BBI should be about the welfare of millions of Kenyans and not a few individuals looking for power.

“The debate about BBI should not be for few people but for all Kenyans if the original intention of the initiative of uniting the country has to be realised,” Ruto said in Buuri constituency, Meru county.

Catherine Wangechi, a businesswoman in Nairobi said it is the politicians who should take the blame for causing chaos after every election.

She said the Constitution should not be amended.

“It is clear that the BBI is not about peace or posterity of the country but personal political interests of Uhuru and Raila. Many of us even do not even understand this BBI,” Wangechi told the Star.

She added, “All we ask our President is to plead with Raila so that they can retire peacefully from politics together. The two are the reason this country has been facing tensions after the last elections. If indeed we will fight after the 2022 election, then we can think of changing the system of government.”

Kandara MP Alice Wahome and her Kiharu counterpart Ndindi Nyoro said the Opposition had turned BBI into an instrument of division, ethnicity and hate.

“There is no value addition to the people coming from BBI. That is why President Kenyatta and his deputy have left it to Raila Odinga who is using it to divide the country,” Wahome said.

Nyoro said the ongoing BBI rallies have been turned into avenues for threatening and profiling Kenyans according to their communities.

“The so-called sensitisation rallies lost meaning of preaching unity among communities and are now dividing Kenyans more as politicians craft their 2022 line-ups,” Nyoro said.

However, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi and Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru differed with the allies of the DP, saying “the country has made several steps forward” due to the handshake.

Mbadi said Kenya was on the verge of collapse and Uhuru and Raila entering a truce saved the nation.

“We know where the country was after the contested divisive election. We reached a point where the country was divided into two - one recognising President Uhuru Kenyatta and the other recognising Raila Odinga. We were heading to a situation where we were to share this country into two,” Mbadi told the Star on the phone.

He added, “So the handshake was first to bring peace and calm the country and bring people together which in my view has been achieved. That time businesses were not operating, people did not know what will happen the following day.” 

The Suba South MP said unlike other handshakes, Uhuru and Raila went ahead and formed a task force to actualise the deal.

“Sometimes after a handshake, it (handshake) becomes the end of it. You see friendship then shortly you see people back to where they were. But the difference between this and any other kind of that arrangement is that we are seeing the two leaders growing and growing their friendship and love for each other and doing the things they promised to do,” he said.

“They came up with a strategy on how to bring people together. There is the BBI which has produced a report which is being discussed and likely to make changes for long-lasting prosperity.”

Waiguru said the greatest success of the handshake was to bring post-election political tensions to an end.

“The handshake calmed the country. Recently and through the BBI process, it has enabled Kenyans to have honest, though sometimes uncomfortable, the national conversation on what ails the country and propose ways of resolving them,” she said.

The Kirinyaga governor dismissed claims the BBI process has been hijacked by 2022 politics but acknowledged it has raised political temperatures “with some leaders being concerned that they are the target of BBI which is not the case.”

“In any political process, divergent views will emerge and political competition is inevitable. We just need to keep focus to ensure we achieve our ultimate goal of a more inclusive and united country, with gender and economic equity,” Waiguru said.

Edited by Peter Obuya