President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday appreciated the calm being witnessed in the country following his handshake with Opposition leader Raila Odinga as he presided over Mashujaa Day celebrations.
The two, arch-rivals in last year’s elections and who insulted each other in public, turned a new page in March when they shook hands, and vowed to work together to tackle common problems affecting Kenya.
With the 25,000 seater Bukhungu Stadium, the venue of the event, packed to capacity, the handshake held a special place in his speech as he thanked “his brother” Raila for agreeing with him to unite the country.
The President further castigated those who are against the handshake, accusing them of fanning divisions in the country.
After finishing his speech, he announced to the crowd that Mr Odinga had been appointed the new High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa by the African Union Commission chairman Mahamati Faki.
The African Union said he will be mobilising political support from regional economic bodies, as part of AU’s Agenda 2063 to integrate member states through infrastructure.
The President noted the job was part of the fruits of the handshake.
“If we hadn’t had a handshake and things calmed, do you think they would appoint him?” the President asked the crowd.
“And do you think, when he goes there, he can forget the plight of your roads? These are the good things we all want as a country.”
The handshake story had been restarted by Namibian President Hage Geinghob, who during his speech as the chief guest, invited Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta to the stage. He later held their hands and told the audience that that was his message.
“Inclusivity will bring harmony, exclusivity will spell conflict,” he said.
Mr Odinga himself had relived the story of why his rallying call during last year’s elections to take Kenyans to Canaan had failed.
The electoral body insists he lost to President Kenyatta, but the former premier metaphorically said that the journey to Canaan ended at River Jordan because it was infested with crocodiles and there was no bridge.
“There were dangerous crocodiles in there and we needed to build a bridge,” he said referring to the handshake deal.
Mr Ruto would cheekily respond that the former premier would have made a good Sunday school teacher because of his mastery of imagery.
“Of course the bit about crocs in River Jordan is not in the Bible, but we are happy that the former prime minister accepted to work with the President,” he said.
Mr Ruto, who in line with protocol had been tasked with inviting Mr Odinga to address the gathering, and he only spoke after the former prime minister had finished his speech had reminded President Kenyatta of the many promises he made to the people of western Kenya during last year’s presidential campaigns.
“Mheshimiwa rais, waswahili wanasema ahadi ni deny na dawa ya deny ni kulipa (Mr President, the Swahili say a promise is a debt and the cure for a debt is to pay),” he started before reminding him that he had promised to complete the Kakamega-Webuye Road and donate some facilities, including more beds and a CT scan to the county referral hospital.
He later veered off to the handshake between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, assuring the gathering that he fully supports it.
“I fully support the handshake because it is good for our country,” he stated.
This was the first national celebration in western Kenya, in Kakamega, since the famous handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
During last year’s celebrations, there was low turnout at most celebrations in Opposition zones as people disillusioned with the outcome of elections stayed away. In neighbouring counties of Kisumu and Siaya, county commissioners read speeches to empty benches or cancelled their celebrations altogether.
But a year is long in politics. Yesterday, all the antagonists in last year’s elections were present at Bukhungu. President Kenyatta, Mr Ruto were there. Mr Odinga, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Musalia Mudavadi and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula were there too.
There were also governors Anyang’ Nyong’o of Kisumu and Cornel Rasanga of Siaya, who had stayed away from Mashujaa Day celebrations last year. Yesterday, they were in Bukhungu on time to grab seats.
The President used the occasion to re-issue warnings about corruption and impunity, road safety, exploitation of farmers, security issues, thanked heroes and heroines and promised continued development.
“I am often asked why at every gathering and in every speech I give, I talk about the need to fight corruption and impunity. I do this because the two undermine our unity, prosperity and happiness,” the President said.
He insisted the vetting of public officers he ordered plus other reforms will make the public service more efficient.
“I am aware that every taxpayer’s shilling is hard-earned, and that it must be translated to services that make a positive impact in the lives of our people.”