On the afternoon of March 9, 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga walked down the steps at the entrance of Harambee House in Nairobi, looked each other in the eye, embraced and smiled.
They then turned and faced dozens of cameras in front of them as journalists and an eager nation following the event live on TV waited to hear what the two hitherto political antagonists had for them.
“ … as we fight ostensibly to save ourselves from each other the reality is we need to save our children from ourselves. My brother and myself have, therefore, come together today, to say this descend stops here. We refuse to allow our diversity to kill our nation, we refuse to be the leaders under whose watch Kenya slid into a failed nation,” said Mr Odinga while ushering President Kenyatta to address the nation.
“I and my brother have agreed that starting today we will begin a process of bringing our people together, that we will begin a process of discussing what ails us and what creates divisions among our people. We look forward to the support of every single leader, every single Kenyan so that we can build together a united, harmonious, stable nation where no individual feels left out or behind. To me, this marks a new beginning for our country, a beginning in which we hope we shall march together as Kenyans,” said the President.
With those key statements, the President and Mr Odinga ushered the ‘Handshake Nation’ to a tense country still reeling from the deadly 2017 post-election period where both bitterly contested for the top seat.
After the ‘handshake’, they formed a team named Building Bridges Initiative. The group has been moving around the country collecting views on the best way to unite the country.
The ‘handshake’ was cautiously welcomed by most leaders including Deputy President William Ruto and Mr Odinga’s National Super Alliance co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi who it later emerged did not have prior knowledge of the plan.
With the historic ‘handshake’, the President and Mr Odinga fomented divisions and suspicions in their camps.
The ruling Jubilee Party has taken the heaviest brunt of these suspicions. Although the DP appeared to embrace the deal, what has followed has clearly pointed to an individual unease with the deal.
He has, up to last week Friday, expressed loyalty to the President but used every other opportunity to question the sincerity of Mr Odinga.
From his countrywide ‘development tours’, Dr Ruto has not shied to tell the former prime minister to stop taking advantage of his friendship with the President to rock the ruling outfit in a bid to scuttle his presidential chances in 2022.
As Dr Ruto became louder over his suspicions he, at first, attracted scolding from opposition figures. When they were joined by Mr David Murathe, the Jubilee Party vice-Chairman and a close friend of the President, and other senior party figures including nominated MP Maina Kamanda, it became apparent that the ruling outfit was no longer at ease.
The two have since been joined by pro-handshake lawmakers who have often accused the DP of undermining the President.
The group has been branded Kieleweke. Another pro-Ruto group, calling itself Tanga Tanga, has vowed to defend Dr Ruto’s status in government and to promote his presidential bid.
The pro-Ruto group appears to have bigger support in the President’s Central region, irking his close handlers who are keen to turn the tables in his favour.
The President has been critical of the Tangatanga team although he has avoided directly calling out his DP for not toeing the line.
However, a week ago, he came close to publicly admonishing the DP during the Akorino conference at Kasarani Stadium.
He instead directed his anger at Tangatanga from central Kenya, who he addressed in Kikuyu. It was interpreted to have been directed at the DP.