Today marks one year since President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga agreed on a truce, a watershed moment that has redrawn the country’s political architecture.
Subsequent events have not only seen marked changes in how the two leaders conduct their politics but also confused some of their staunch allies, who have either gone silent or have been forced to reinvent themselves to survive in the new circumstances.
Observers reckon that in the March 9, 2018 handshake, President Kenyatta found an unwavering resolve in the fight against corruption. Previously, part of that energy would be expended in dealing with the Opposition, which has now mellowed into more or less an appendage of the ruling party.
“In the past, it is the Opposition that used to be on the receiving end. Now, it is the corrupt elements in his government. Unlike before, Uhuru can now talk tough about corruption without worrying about those in his government who are beneficiaries of the same. He does not need their services to deal with the Opposition that is now reading from the same script with him,” observed Dr Godwin Siundu of the University of Nairobi.
Since the handshake, both President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga have changed their conduct in public. Mr Odinga, a man defined by his abrasive brand of politics, no longer criticises the government. On the contrary, he has turned out to be the government’s foremost defender on a number of issues, especially the war on corruption and the Big Four agenda.
At the risk of losing his support base last year, he rallied his troops in Parliament to support the VAT Bill, which increased the prices of petroleum products.
Mr Odinga does not comment liberally on topical issues he feels would jeopardise his relationship with the President.
“Let that pass, I think I can get direct audience with the President to raise the issue than execute it in the media,” he once told this writer. It may be termed as the metamorphosis of Mr Odinga.
But it is the frequent visits by Cabinet secretaries to his Capitol Hill private offices that have confounded many.
Before the armistice, no Cabinet minister would appear in public with him.
Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri is the latest to pay him a courtesy call this week. Some like Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa and his Tourism counterpart Najib Balala have also visited.
On Thursday, Mr Odinga explained that he invites them to share experiences on how to achieve efficiency in the running of their dockets.
“I do this as part of the effort to involve the public in government affairs. I am a member of the public. Remember, I have been in government for many years and could help them with a thing or two,” he said in a televised interview.
With much gusto, the former premier has also become one of the leading advocates of the Big Four agenda, President Kenyatta’s flagship projects on health, food security, housing and manufacturing that he hopes to be remembered for once he exits the stage.
In the past, Mr Odinga would be giving Jubilee administration a hard time, perhaps revealing one scandal after another and attracting an equally punitive response from the Head of State and his generals.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time Mr Odinga is going to bed with the government after a bitterly contested election.
Save for 2008, when he ended up as prime minister in the grand coalition government with Mwai Kibaki, Mr Odinga also co-operated with President Daniel Moi in the late 90s before the two parted ways when the retired Head of State anointed Mr Kenyatta as his choice of successor.
President Kenyatta is also a transformed man, thanks to the handshake.
Top Jubilee figures have openly grumbled that the handshake has drawn a wedge between him and Deputy President William Ruto and the Jubilee leadership in Parliament.
“It is unfortunate that the President conducted the reshuffle without consulting leaders from western and notifying them of his intention. We would have requested him to spare us this Cabinet slot because it is the first one for the Wanga community since independence. I will seek his consultation over this matter even though I know the handshake business has hit us again,” Majority Whip Ben Washiali said last week after Mr Rashid Echesa was shown the door.
Perhaps to avoid annoying Dr Ruto’s and Mr Odinga’s camps, Mr Kenyatta has avoided any talk about his succession. In the past, he would readily state his commitment to rally behind his deputy in the next polls.
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen is on record protesting some decisions made by the government, something that was unheard of in the past.
He has, for instance, faulted Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss George Kinoti how he is investigating the controversial dam projects.
Other politicians like Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi charge that the fight against corruption has been weaponised to tame Dr Ruto’s ambition of succeeding Mr Kenyatta.
Mr Murkomen’s counterpart from the National Assembly, Aden Duale, has assumed a guarded stance. A fighter who was always on the offensive defending the President against the Opposition chief, his silence is way too loud to be ignored. Maybe there is no work for him to do. Mr Duale once vowed that he could jump from the top of KICC if asked by the President. But those were the golden Jubilee days.
Before the two leaders agreed to bury the hatchet, many agreed that the DP’s plan to succeed his boss was almost guaranteed. The realignment that has followed has meant that Jubilee’s succession pact may have been thrown out of the window.
It is the former party chairman, Mr David Murathe, who first muddied the waters when he said that there was no written agreement that Mr Kenyatta would support his deputy in 2022. Then came the “stop Ruto movement”, which seems to have cast some doubt in Mount Kenya about Mr Kenyatta’s commitment to the Ruto presidency.
“The handshake has enabled the two politicians to exit pre-election pacts that would have tied their hands ahead of the next polls. Raila is no longer under pressure from his Nasa principals to support their ticket. It is the same case with Uhuru, who can now choose to support Ruto or not without being seen as reneging on an earlier commitment. He is not beholden to him now,” Dr Siundu argues.
DP Ruto has also come under intense pressure in the new order, at times forced to go ballistic to protect his fort. A joke is told in the corridors of power that he is the new Opposition leader.
At some point, he has had to remind competitors that he was the only licensed mtu wa mkono (errand boy) for the President.
Last August, at the 40th memorial service for his father Jomo, the founding President, Mr Kenyatta said his pact with Mr Odinga was not political, what to some analysts implies more co-operation on aspects that may not have been made public so far.
Dr Ruto’s handlers, on their end, took it to mean that the President would not be endorsing Mr Odinga for any political position in future.
“I want you to understand that there is a much, much deeper understanding between myself and Raila Odinga. I appeal to all politicians that, while there can never be an end to politics, they should never misinterpret politics with this deeper understanding,” the President said.
While it has pacified the country, the handshake has also come with loads of dividends for Mr Odinga. He has had his security reinstated. All the police officers attached to him were withdrawn by the State at the height of a bitter exchange with Mr Kenyatta in 2017.
His position as African Union special envoy on infrastructure came as a result of the co-operation. The AU, a club of heads of state, would not reward an opposition leader with such a high-profile slot and Mr Kenyatta has said as much.
RESTIVE R. VALLEY
“If we were still fighting with Raila, do you think he would be AU envoy today?” Mr Kenyatta once posed. Last month in Ethiopia, the ODM party leader freely mingled with heads of state; people would have been forgiven if they thought he was one of them.
Mr Kenyatta can today visit Kisumu, Mr Odinga’s backyard, without having to worry about situational reports by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) warning of a hostile reception.
In fact, allies of Mr Odinga like John Mbadi and Junet Mohamed are today some of his staunchest supporters, with many others also appointed to government courtesy of the new-found relationship.
Mr Kenyatta is, however, forced to contend with a restive Rift Valley, one of his leading support bases in the last three elections. The DP’s backyard feels betrayed.