President Uhuru Kenyatta should not be utterly incensed and surprised over the ceaseless criticism of the handshake between him and ODM leader Raila Odinga. The trouble with the handshake is that it has never been properly explained to Kenyans. Information is provided piecemeal and the narrative varies depending on the source and the circumstance.
It is roundly acknowledged that the handshake that took place more than a year ago brought sanity. Since that historic moment on March 9 last year when the two erstwhile bitter political adversaries signed for truce, street protests and violence contests ended. Largely, the country has witnessed remarkable calm and political discourse changed for the better.
However, the concern was and remains: What are the actuals and details of the peace deal? Was it a gentleman’s pact or a national charter? How does it reconcile and harmonise all the competing political interests and remain unshackled by selfish pursuits?
One visible outcome was the setting up of the 14-member Building Bridges Initiative task force, whose mandate was to evaluate national challenges and provide practical recommendations and reform proposals to secure lasting unity. Thus far, the task force has made some notable progress in collecting views from the public and in a way provided a platform for national discourse on vexed issues. But the game plan is unknown. What are the next practical steps for the country?
Due to lack of clarity, a section of politicians has resorted to propaganda and churning out false narratives about the handshake. In particular, some Jubilee politicians among them Deputy President William Ruto have berated the handshake, terming it a ploy to stage-manage President Kenyatta’s transition. That Mr Odinga, a master of political brinkmanship, is out to destroy Jubilee and block Mr Ruto from ascending to the presidency. Others perceive it as a return of the old dynastic politics — Kenyattas and Odingas — and by extension exclusion of the rank and file of Kenyans; spinning off a class struggle.
Matters have not been helped by Mr Odinga’s acolytes who have construed the rapprochement as a ticket to government. That they are no longer in the Opposition and therefore blindly support the government without questioning. The way some of the hitherto harsh critics of the Kenyatta administration have mellowed and become even sycophantic is despicable.
We have said in the past that the success of the handshake depends on inclusiveness, collectiveness and collegiality. Core to this is comprehensive public communication. As long as some people feel excluded or short-changed, it risks sabotage or collapse.