The ultimate measure of a man, according to America’s famed civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr, is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
And President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga seem to have just given meaning to this famous quote.
According to the statement released at the end of their surprise meeting, the two were concerned that ethnic antagonism and divisive political competition have become a way of life and that negative politics, violence and corruption are now the main characteristics by which Kenyans are defined by the international community.
That, said Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, was why they agreed to momentarily bury their political hatchet and rebuild the nation.
The entire deal was surrounded by high-level secrecy with which the meeting between the two leaders was planned and bitter reactions thereafter by some of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s supporters.
Backers of the latter were particularly irked, with lawyer Miguna Miguna, who administered the oath to Mr Odinga in January as the “people’s president”, talking of betrayal.
The ODM leader’s colleagues within the National Super Alliance (Nasa) – Mr Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Mr Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Mr Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya) – did not hide their displeasure.
They quickly sent a press statement disassociating themselves from the Kenyatta-Odinga pact and indicated the principals would meet Monday.
But a close ally to Mr Odinga, who is privy to the goings on around Nasa’s flag-bearer in last year’s presidential polls, confided to Sunday Nation that Mr Odinga had opted to shake off his three allies and instead move on to shape his own political destiny.
“While they are busy jostling for the position of flag-bearer and trying to elbow Raila from the 2022 equation, Jakom (Mr Odinga) is engrossed in the issue of electoral justice and his legacy,” an ally of Mr Odinga, who requested anonymity, said.
Terming Mr Odinga as pragmatic and more practical about the political realities at the moment, the politician claims the Nasa leader is tired of being bogged down by endless meetings whose outcomes are more scholarly than political.
“Isn’t it wearisome, for instance, that as late on the morning of January 30, the day of the Raila-Kalonzo swearing-in, some people were still demanding for meetings and more meetings instead of showing up at Uhuru Park?”
The Musyoka-Mudavadi-Wetang’ula trio has separately, through proxies, claimed they were tricked by Mr Odinga into skipping the “swearing-in”.
Dr Boni Khalwale, ANC deputy party leader, maintains the event has no constitutional bearing whatsoever and was only meant to bolster an individual’s “selfish political goals”.
The former Kakamega senator may well be right, because the latest move by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga is partly about personal interests of the two leaders.
With both leaders concerned about their legacy upon exiting elective politics — the President, by virtue of completing his second term in office and Mr Odinga courtesy of a private pledge to his Nasa co-principals but which does not stop him from vying for presidency for a fifth time – have their focus on the bigger picture.
While the President wants to leave behind a united Kenya when he exits from office in 2022, Mr Odinga wants to live up to his famed credentials as champion of people’s rights and crusader for democratic reforms.
Perhaps Mr Odinga also hopes to fix his latest obsession with electoral injustice by teaming up with Mr Kenyatta on his last leg as head of government.
So ideally, the Kenyatta-Odinga pact is partly about individuals’ drives and interests of the two leaders.
And this explains why at Harambee House on Friday they opted to operate outside the rigid institutional protocol.
Conspicuously absent was Deputy President William Ruto and Mr Odinga’s Nasa colleagues.
But a broader look at the statement also means the pact goes beyond personal interest with indications that their move is driven by the desire to restore harmony among the Kenyan people and project a better image of the country.
And that has mellowed even the harshest critics of Mr Odinga. National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale describes the former Prime Minister as a senior patriot.
“Although he is a persistent and ruthless political campaigner for the country’s top seat, the Raila I know is one who puts the interests of his country ahead of his personal pursuits.”
Unlike Mr Odinga, who continues to receive brickbats from some of his backers, the President has roundly been hailed by his Jubilee Party, including Mr Ruto.
But Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga are not entirely enemies.
In fact, the sons of Kenya’s founding fathers, first President Jomo Kenyatta and first Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, are family friends.
According to their press statement released on Friday, “the two leaders have been competitors and even used hard language at times but they have always been friends and respected one another as individuals and leaders.”
Nonetheless, the relations between the younger Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, who in public occasionally refer to one another as “my brother”, have been punctuated by episodes of love and hate.
Since the Supreme Court affirmed his victory in last year’s October 26 repeat poll, for instance, the President has come down heavy on his “brother’s” lieutenants and supporters.
The height of this State assault was on November 17 last year, upon Mr Odinga’s return from a 10-day visit in the US when the police used excessive force against opposition supporters, killing a number of them.
And although Mr Odinga was “allowed” to proceed with his "swearing-in" ceremony on January 30, the state moved swiftly to harass, arrest and charge, some of Mr Odinga’s lieutenants who participated in the exercise they deemed “unlawful”.
Mr Miguna was held incommunicado for a week before being finally deported to Canada.
Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s love and hate political affair kicked off in earnest in 2001, when retired President Daniel arap Moi brought them under the same roof of the independence party, Kanu.
That is the year Moi nominated Mr Kenyatta to Parliament and engineered a merger of Kanu and Mr Odinga’s National Development Party (NDP).
Appointed to Moi’s Cabinet, Mr Odinga (Energy) and Mr Kenyatta (Local Government) worked closely.
All went smoothly until Moi identified Mr Kenyatta as his preferred successor.
Mr Odinga, who was the secretary-general, bolted out of the party alongside scores of seasoned politicians, including the late George Saitoti.
Mr Odinga’s move jolted Mr Kenyatta’s chances of ascending to the presidency in 2002.
Mr Odinga instead supported Mr Mwai Kibaki who won the poll under the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) umbrella.
But four years later, the two “brothers” re-united under ODM. Then it was a movement lobbying against the proposed Constitution in the referendum.
Mr Odinga had apparently fallen out with President Kibaki, and found solace in Mr Kenyatta, whose opposition Kanu party equally sought to frustrate Kibaki’s move.
For most of 2006, Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta shared a podium leading an electrifying referendum campaign against the proposed Constitution.
They triumphed against Mr Kibaki, but the political marriage was short-lived when Mr Kenyatta similarly bolted out of Mr Odinga’s corner, when ODM was transformed into a political party.
But the two were compelled to work together in the Grand Coalition Government following the highly disputed presidential elections of 2007.
Mr Odinga was appointed Prime Minister with Mr Kenyatta serving under him as Deputy Prime Minister.
But their relationship was not cordial, with the PM preferring to delegate more assignments to Mr Mudavadi, another deputy PM then.
The exit of Kibaki from power in 2013 presented the two gentlemen with opportunity for full-scale political battle and animosity.
Mr Kenyatta emerged the better of the two and now the President serving his last term in office, political love between the two is in the air again.