‘Handshake’ is doomed unless we recall spirit of Ufungamano

Tuesday May 15 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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Most reasonable people would agree that this is as good a time as any to try and iron out the few chinks in the ‘new’ Constitution.

Deputy President William Ruto and others who opposed the transition to a progressive democratic constitutional order did, during the 2010 referendum point, out some flaws in the proposed document. The problem at the time was that they were more interested in sabotaging moves towards a clean break with the old totalitarian past.

Under such circumstances, an important constitutional moment could not be halted. The new document had to be passed, warts and all, on the same principle that the reactionary forces who wanted to delay Independence in 1963 could not have been allowed to have their way.

There was the implicit understanding, however, that after a reasonable period when the new Constitution had settled in, the document would be revisited. That time is now.

PROMULGATION

It’s going to eight years since the promulgation of the Constitution. Two general elections have been held under the new dispensation, devolution has been firmly entrenched and a raft of laws passed and institutions created to breathe life into the new order.

In the process, we have been able to clearly identify aspects of the brave new world that have not worked as expected — either because of weaknesses in the new Constitution or the familiar Kenyan refusal to do things by the book.

What we have gone through, particularly the unresolved contradictions in society that turn electoral contests into ethnic conflict, make it imperative that we conduct a sober self-introspection and move with haste to plug the leaks.

NATIONAL DIALOGUE

It is particularly important that this national dialogue and any desired constitutional amendments be concluded well before the 2022 General Election, for the obvious reason that a failure to correct things now will only leave us at risk of another orgy of electoral bloodletting that could make the 2007-2008 meltdown look like a kindergarten romp.

The truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga presents the perfect opportunity for Kenyans to embark on a national conversation. However, we are seeing also that expected dividends from the ‘handshake’ could turn out to be a mirage if the brave initiative is reduced to just a stage for premature jostling around the 2022 elections.

Mr Ruto, with an eye only on succeeding President Kenyatta, is clearly suspicious that the handshake may be used to craft a deal that undermines his State House prospects.

GROUNDLESS

His fears may be groundless and selfish but the reality is that his potent political base is being mobilised, and has the capacity, to sabotage any arrangement that does not meet his approval.

The irony is that it is Mr Odinga who seems to be doing everything within his powers to stoke the Deputy President’s fears, and thus provoke the counter-reaction that would derail the expected national dialogue.

Mr Odinga’s undisguised push for an overhaul of the governance system to bring back the office of Prime Minister may be well-intentioned but it is like waving a red flag in front of Mr Ruto. It also lends credence to suspicion that, rather than being moved by altruistic intentions, Mr Odinga’s enthusiasm for the handshake is motivated by selfish pursuit of high political office through the back door.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

His campaign for far-reaching constitutional amendments is clearly premature, just like Mr Ruto’s early campaign for 2022.

The push for constitutional amendments at this stage also makes nonsense of Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta’s appointment of a team to lead their Building Bridges initiative: Desired changes can be identified and negotiated through the consultative process and not unilaterally pushed by one side even before talks have begun.

Our recent history shows that no reform process pushed by political players pursuing self-interest has ever worked. The Uhuru-Raila initiative is at risk of abject failure unless political interests are put aside and the national interests promoted to the front.

BUILDING BRIDGES

But this will only happen if the two principals relinquish their direct control of the Building Bridges initiative and reconstruct it into an inclusive people-driven initiative led by those without a personal stake in the outcome.

We need the spirit of Ufungamano, or the Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Change (CCCC), that from the mid-1990s took up the cause of reform while the predator political classes sat pretty in their comfort zones.   

 [email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho