After handshake, have dialogue, not beeline for the feeding trough

Tuesday April 17 2018

Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga

President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition chief Raila Odinga at Harambee House on March 9, 2018. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MACHARIA GAITHO
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We are hearing a lot of referendum talk. The message seems to be that that should be the natural outcome of the handshake diplomacy featuring President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition chief Raila Odinga.

The problem is that nobody is exactly stating what the referendum question will be. We cannot have a referendum campaign when Kenyans have no idea what they are being asked to vote for.

The latest woolly talk was heard over the weekend when a group of Orange Democratic Movement officials and legislators — including Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna and MPs Anthony Oluoch, Florence Mutua and George Aladwa — declared that Kenya would have a referendum whether Deputy President William Ruto likes it or not.

REFERENDUM

The fellows from Mr Odinga’s party, by the way, were not addressing a referendum campaign rally; they were at a fundraiser in aid of Nairobi’s Mariakani Christian Centre.

It seems the ODM lot was responding to comments at an earlier function, where Mr Ruto and his allies insisted that there was no deal for a plebiscite in the handshake.

Speaking at a thanksgiving ceremony for Trade Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo in Uasin Gishu County, the DP dismissed talk of constitutional amendments to bring back the position of prime minister. Apparently, the push for a premier and various deputies for the PM and the President was aimed at providing political office for Mr Odinga and his allies.

That actually seems to have been the logic offered by the ODM gathering at Mariakani, where speakers were adamant that Mr Odinga cannot stay in the cold for another five years.

WARPED LOGIC

That is warped logic. We cannot amend the Constitution merely to create space for election losers.

A key tenet of democracy is that the winners take the reins of government and the losers live to fight another day. They don’t have to merely retreat to lick their wounds or start clamouring for inclusion in the government.

Responsible opposition leaders should take seriously their roles as the government-in-waiting. Opposition is, itself, a full and worthwhile docket, acting as the public watchdog, keeping the government on its toes and generally providing a rationale for alternative policy prescriptions.

PERSONAL GAIN

I agree with Mr Ruto that the Uhuru-Raila truce must not be about creating political space for some individuals. It must not be about power-sharing deals or crafting of political alliances for personal gain.

We have had enough of political deals that succeed in only crafting temporary solutions and sweeping under the carpet the very serious problems that lead to ethno-political warfare every electoral cycle. We had Narc with President Mwai Kibaki, Kijana Wamalwa, Charity Ngilu, Raila Odinga, George Saitoti and others that in 2002 that ended Kanu’s 40-year stranglehold on power.

We had the Kibaki-Raila Grand Coalition government in 2008. Today, we have the Uhuru-Ruto power-sharing pact cobbled up for the 2013 elections, and now facing the headache of the impending presidential succession.

CONSTITUTION

Along the way, we have had a new constitution and various inquiries, commissions and task forces that have analysed our deep-seated problems and proposed solutions then ignored.

Akiwumi Report. Kiliku Report. Waki Report. Kriegler Report. TJRC Report. All are gathering dust somewhere instead of being used to get us out of the quagmire of divisive ethnic politics, entrenched corruption, human rights violations, warped development, the rich-poor divide, bad leadership, historical grievances and the ticking time bomb of youth unemployment.

Now, instead of grabbing the opportunity of the handshake to design national dialogue for lasting solutions to our well-documented problems, we are engaging in the short-termism of seeking places at the feeding trough.

REJECT

Mr Ruto, of course, does not come to the table with clean hands. He is threatened by any pact that reduces his political clout and complicates his presidential prospects.

But he is rather hypocritical in demanding that others cease politicking and concentrate on development when he devotes every minute of his time to a premature 2022 election campaign.

The DP’s insecurities around divisions in the Jubilee Party over the succession pact must not hold us hostage. Neither should the clamour for political office from Mr Odinga’s ODM brigade. What we need is an open, honest, inclusive national dialogue.

 [email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho