Why we need a second political handshake - Chap Chap!

Politics and trust seem at extreme ends, but Kenya needs “something” in this department.

In Summary

• A transformational second handshake requires that the president adopt the virtue of moderation.

• If Kenyatta wants to be a good moderate then he will come to understand that he can only hope to achieve a balance that is consistent with the needs of the moment.

Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at a past event.
Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at a past event.
Image: FILE

When leaders get things wrong, those things are greatly amplified. These negative things are amplified way more than all the things they get right. And if there’s one thing our leaders can do right now that is right, is to call a truce. I humbly request that we consider that the time has come for a second political handshake- by one Uhuru Kenyatta, and one William Ruto. You see, human beings are trusting this is why human beings have thrived for so long. We have an overwhelming desire to believe and trust. Politics and trust seem at extreme ends, but Kenya needs “something” in this department.  

It is now some 700 days before the next election, and it seems like an odd time to propose a truce. But this is the exact type of “jolt” that the political system needs. The second handshake does not have to mean the death of politics, but it can harness our collective energies towards some greater good for the country. And also, to reduce the chances for voter apathy that might be inevitable if this atmosphere keeps up. The immediate acceptance of my envisioned reality for some is not likely- this is expected but consider the following and what it would mean. 

For President Uhuru, this means a chance to continue with his legacy of handshaking, unafraid of the political divides. A transformational second handshake requires that the president adopt the virtue of moderation. Now moderation is often misunderstood. According to David Brooks in his book The Road to Character he outlines remarkable lessons. That moderation is not just about finding the midpoint between two opposing issues and planting yourself in the middle. It is about acknowledging that conflict is inevitable.The recognition that not all political goals can be met all at once.

We are told that politics is about competing but legitimate interests, a tradition of conflicts. This means that a good and moderate leader must strive to find a series of balances, knowing that there is no ultimate solution to the various tensions. A good moderate knows – he or she cannot have it all. If Kenyatta wants to be a good moderate then he will come to understand that he can only hope to achieve a balance that is consistent with the needs of the moment.

And what Kenya needs at the moment (aside from surviving a pandemic!) is to learn to crawl again after trying to run. Let me try to explain this, only after having left Kenya and travelled to the rest of Africa, does one realize how much by way of development we have achieved. And we should be proud of this. Development-wise, we are on course, we are getting there. Since 2013, Kenya has become increasingly integrated and connected not only within Kenya (roads, ports, railways, to e-government services among others) but to the rest of Africa. 

But it is in politics that we languish. Whereas we know the deliberate means with which we can achieve true democracy, the means to get there have continually failed us. So, like the famous story- The curious case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald; whereby Benjamin is born with the physical appearance of an 80-year-old man and is already capable of speech. The Button family eventually realizes that Benjamin ages backward, at the end of his life he becomes an infant.

Just like Benjamin - Kenya is going to have to age backwards. Aging backwards means going back to basics. The current adult level of democracy is putting us in constant cycles of political upheaval, unnecessarily so. Every economic and development issue brought to the fore is so highly polarized and politicized, that it creates paralysis. 

This Second handshake will not be as clandestine as the first handshake between Uhuru and Raila. This time it will be an open one, in its purest form – brokering a ceasefire till 2022. Politically, Uhuru will have successfully co-opted all of the opposition. This coupled with his ongoing extensive economic and social regimentation is surely a recipe for legacy success. 

But what’s in it for Ruto? Why would a second handshake serve him well? Seneca said if you have more to lose than to gain, then you are in a state of fragility. Whether the hustler nation wants to hear it or not, by Seneca’s definition Ruto happens to be in that state of fragility. With no political heavyweights as allies, he has based his current campaign on the perceived strength of the electorate- the masses. Instead of focusing on the ‘selectorate’ that is, the ‘the influentials’, those who choose the leaders.

His current campaign is surface deep. A handshake will be the acceptance that he can’t go it alone- whereas he was once a kingmaker, he now needs to search for one. An acceptance that the barriers to political inclusion are pretty high at the moment. So, for Ruto, his handshake can be interpreted as a handshake to pause his campaign but with good reason. Timing is everything in politics.

Finally, the second handshake is not about what we want as Kenyans, it is about what we do not want. And in many ways, a second handshake is a way in which we all get a much-needed re-set. Similar to the collective sigh of relief we all breathed when Handshake One happened and teargas Mondays stopped. The lesson here and my main argument for this second handshake is that - Nothing we do, however virtuous can be accomplished alone. 

A recognition that to take the country forward, Uhuru Kenyatta should elect first to take it ‘backward’. Engaging in the political equivalent of taking a few steps back to build sufficient momentum to make the Great Leap Forward. A second handshake will be part of sailing this great political storm Kenya finds itself in. For a moment, can Ruto put aside his political impulses of today, for the collective good of tomorrow? Can Uhuru successfully shed the responsibility around Kenya’s collective neck – that we cannot just tolerate our problems that we must work to end them? Are we convinced?

Faith is a Development Economist and Consultant, passionate about Political Economy. Engage with her on Twitter @semasana or email her [email protected]