Did the ‘handshake’ breed political intolerance and unreasonableness?

Monday September 23 2019

President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga announce the end of their political rivalry after having a meeting at Harambee House in Nairobi on March 9, 2019. After the rapprochement, have core economic indicators — GDP, saving rate, trade, FDI inflows — meaningfully improved? PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Political stability is a key determinant of economic growth and poverty alleviation.

Sustained stability supports local business, savings and investment even as it attracts foreign capital.

But political instability — the likelihood of a government to collapse due to conflicts or rampant competition between the various political parties — is deemed bad for everyone.

It is for this reason that many view favourably the surprise March 2018 rapprochement between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Premier Raila Odinga.

Eighteen months later, hard-nosed evidence seekers should, perhaps, tell us if the ‘handshake’-induced calm has been beneficial.

Have core economic indicators — GDP, saving rate, trade, FDI inflows — meaningfully improved?



While it’s good the political temperature has been lowered, it would be better to show, even as we await the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, how this is helping to address known weaknesses in governance.

Paradoxically, stability is not always a good thing; it can create complacency, stymie change, impede innovation and eliminate competition.

Some regimes have used stability to erect barriers to freedom of expression and association. They have curtailed press and religious freedoms and restricted access to social media and to the internet.

Indeed, political stability that is driven by narrow self-interests, such as political expediency, often leads to the rise of corrupt regimes.

Such governments ultimately become intolerant to criticism, abuse their powers and soon replace vibrant democratic discourse with political sycophancy.


Since the ‘handshake’, President Kenyatta has received endorsement and support from every known stakeholder group that often challenges the State.

The labour movement, under the likes of Wilson Sossion and Francis Atwoli, advance political and state interests more than workers’ rights.

The diplomatic corps no longer point out questionable and corrupt government projects. Journalists and the entire ‘Fourth Estate’ are extra-careful with their reportage.

The faiths, long regarded as the legitimate voice of the voiceless, are silent, as is civil society.

Mr Odinga and team are the animated supporters of the President — perhaps more than his ruling Jubilee Party and those who voted for him. And that’s a problem.

It’s good that Mr Odinga knocked off his tough talk, yet the stability may also be negating some of our hard-fought democratic gains.


Sycophancy has become deeply embedded, even pervasive, in our body politic, especially when respected lawyers and opposition legislators like James Orengo and Amollo Otiende speak.

Following the President’s endorsement of McDonald Mariga as the Jubilee candidate for the Kibra by-election, Otiende attempted to explain on TV its ramification on the Uhuru-Raila truce.

He said Jubilee should not have fielded a candidate given Raila’s interest and history in Kibra.

He was of the opinion that the President should not campaign for Mariga since doing so would have serious consequences.

This is strange reasoning, especially coming from a lawyer and a member of the so-called democratic movement.

The President, as party leader, has the right to campaign for Mariga. But there is yet another basic truth that Otiende knows but yet failed to acknowledge — Kibra does not belong to Raila.


During the County Revenue Allocation Bill debate in Kitui, Senators Orengo and Moses Wetang’ula lamented that the President was acting with impunity these days.

The Senate has constitutional powers and mechanisms to preserve its interests, yet the two venerated lawyers seemed powerless and defeated.

But reading between the lines, the two may have said something without saying it: the political stability is compromising the independence of our institutions.

The ‘handshake’ made the President powerful and supreme. To some, like Moses Kuria, the President is so supreme that no one should dare question his decisions.

Is the political stability making some folks intolerant, unreasonable sycophants?

Mr Chesoli is a New York-based development economist and global policy expert. [email protected] @kenchesoli