DARK CLOUDS

Handshake: Who is fooling whom?

Uhuru has nothing to lose if he abandons Raila.

In Summary
  • Uhuru has harvested what he wanted from the handshake, namely, legitimacy and a peaceful political environment to complete his second term
  • He has nothing to lose if he abandons Raila
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga during the handshake on the steps of Harambee House on March 9, 2018.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga during the handshake on the steps of Harambee House on March 9, 2018.
Image: Jack Owuor

The Uhuru-Raila handshake clocked three years on Tuesday, March 9. Touted by its admirers as one of the momentous political events of post-colonial Kenya, it is surprising no champagne was popped to celebrate the anniversary.

A State House meeting called to assess the state of the union was cancelled at the last minute for unclear reasons.

Dark clouds had gathered over the handshake days to the anniversary.

Raila threatened to marshal his troops in his Kibra “bedroom” to make a major announcement. But he did not turn up, reportedly after a phone call from State House.

The Kibra rally was convened after Baba’s stalwarts Siaya Senator James Orengo and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo bitterly complained that certain powerful civil servants close to the President were intent on derailing the handshake to impose their own man as Uhuru’s successor.

As dusk fast approaches the Uhuru administration, public attention has shifted from the fallout between him and Deputy President William Ruto to the shaky handshake.

Ruto his charting his own path and has no illusions about Uhuru’s endorsement. The divorce is done.

Initially a pact between Uhuru and Raila, the handshake has recently morphed to include other presidential hopefuls like ANC boss Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula, Gideon Moi of Kanu and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka – without a clear idea of the endgame. Obviously, ODM is not happy with this crowded marriage.

Despite the strenuous denials by either side, the handshake is about the Uhuru succession.

It is impossible to imagine Uhuru would enter a political deal of any other kind with Raila whose single ambition is the presidency.

What complicates the President’s succession plans, though, is that he has so many debts he should be renamed “Uhuru wa Madeni”. The first is to the Moi family that catapulted him to the national limelight. Moi nominated the political greenhorn to Parliament and appointed him to the Cabinet. He named him his successor in 2002. What will Uhuru do in return for the Moi family?

The ecstatic support Uhuru has received from Raila’s Luo Nyanza stronghold in the past three years, and now the frustration creeping into the ODM camp, are clear pointers to the fact that they understood the handshake to mean Uhuru would back Raila for president in 2022.

But Uhuru always knew this is difficult – if not entirely impossible.

Raila is unelectable in Mt Kenya. The handshake and his betrayal of Ruto have eroded Uhuru’s grassroots support in Central. His open endorsement of Raila would cut him off from his own people.

Despite his camaraderie with the ODM boss, Uhuru has repeatedly signalled that he will not back him as his successor. Raila’s brigade is seething with anger.

They would like Uhuru to declare Raila Tosha now and aggressively market him in Mt Kenya to counter the Hustler wave. But Uhuru is reluctant.

He and his allies lately urged Central to separate Raila from the BBI and support the initiative. That is one of the main reasons county assemblies in the region endorsed the Bill.

Uhuru has harvested what he wanted from the handshake, namely, legitimacy and a peaceful political environment to complete his second term. He has nothing to lose if he abandons Raila.

After all, Raila has also got his share from the handshake – the AU envoy job, proximity to power, the appointment of his minions to government, state largesse for his Luo Nyanza region.

What complicates the President’s succession plans, though, is that he has so many debts he should be renamed “Uhuru wa Madeni”.

The first is to the Moi family that catapulted him to the national limelight. Moi nominated the political greenhorn to Parliament and appointed him to the Cabinet. He named him his successor in 2002. What will Uhuru do in return for the Moi family?

The second debt is to DP Ruto for supporting him in the 2013 and 2017 elections. He has reneged on the promise to back Ruto for a ten-year term in return.

The third is to Raila for the handshake. But Uhuru’s own Mt Kenya people and the deep state around him don’t want Raila. The handshake has served its purpose.

Some in Raila’s camp are beginning to realise this. ODM would do well to go back to the drawing board and front its own candidate – obviously Raila – without any hope of inheriting Uhuru’s Central backyard and the benefit of the deep state.

Senior civil servants are crafting the Uhuru succession, with their eye on Musalia or Gideon. It is poetic justice that after laughing at Ruto over his frustration by the deep state, Raila’s self-declared cows must now contend with the same ‘madimoni’.