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Is ‘handshake’ turning into a political storm?

Saturday March 23 2019

Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga

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

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The March 9, 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga instantly quelled the country’s spiralling tension. Apart from Musalia Mudavadi announcing himself as the remnant opposition and Moses Wetang’ula having fallen out with Odinga, the rapprochement between the two foremost country’s leaders ushered in, by and large, a dominant Jubilee–Nasa alliance.


The handshake was a two-man affair. The negotiations were shielded so as to ensure that the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) was not stifled at birth.

After the initial disaffection, Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Party declared support for the handshake. Deputy President William Ruto, on the other hand, initially oscillated between embracing and rejecting the handshake. Currently, he has clearly come out in opposition. He argues that the handshake negates an earlier public MoU between him and Kenyatta regarding the presidency in 2022.

Clearly, Ruto sees Odinga as his competitor as they both hail from the country’s western axis. For him, the handshake has given Odinga an opportunity to destroy the Jubilee party from within. Ruto maintains Jubilee should remain united to achieve the Big Four Agenda.

Ruto and his political supporters view the handshake and the graft war as weapons to consign them into political Siberia.


The charge that Odinga will split Jubilee is another way of asking President Kenyatta to decide who he will have on his side: Odinga or Ruto?

What is it that can be done to protect the handshake, the Big Four Agenda, secure electoral justice and vigorously and legally prosecute the anti-sleaze war?


There is a looming danger that Ruto could pull out his Jubilee troops from government at an appropriate time and create a Jubilee B. In such an event, the handshake side would consist of Kenyatta’s Jubilee A, ODM, Wiper party as well as other collaborating communities.

Ruto has been wooing Ford-Kenya, the Coast, the religious sector (both Christian and Muslim), the pastoral communities and North-Eastern Kenya. He also has not given up on the Mt Kenya communities.

The danger is that that would split the country as happened in the pre-handshake era. Ethnic communities will once more be sharply divided as we move toward 2022. The gains of the handshake would be reversed.

After the handshake, the electoral justice agenda seems to have been abandoned. Currently, there is a raging debate about the disbandment of IEBC. However, a new IEBC is likely to still suffer the same fate as previous electoral bodies. When politicians mess up elections, they predictably blame the electoral referees. Increasingly, Ruto’s Jubilee B is acting oppositionist and raring to partner with those who oppose mainstream Jubilee.

The new American Ambassador to Kenya, Kyle McCarter, recently made the observation that if Kenya’s corruption war was won, enough money would be released to implement the Big Four Agenda. A bishop friend of mine once told me that corruption is the last nail on Kenya’s coffin.

The corruption war must be won. However, the trial must not necessarily be conducted in the public court with politicians acting as prosecutors. The legal institutions charged with the mandate to confront corruption must be conceded space to independently discharge their mandate.


Significant public education is necessary to enlist all Kenyans in the anti-corruption army. When besieged corruption fights back, citizens are the best soldiers to confront the lords of graft.

The heightened Raila-Ruto political feud could endanger a future constitutional change initiative. Ruto does not favour an expanded executive, but Odinga does. MCAs believe a new regional structure will potentially emasculate devolution. Any referendum opposed by county assemblies is likely to falter.

Barely hidden in the current political maneuvres is a fierce struggle for the country’s 2022 leadership and its soul. Kenyatta is serving his last term as president. Ruto seems to prefer the constitution remaining as it is, whereas the handshake family believes expanding the executive will unite the country as several communities are able to win together.

In 2001, Macharia Munene, writing about political coalitions in Kenya’s history, observed that they tend “to serve particular short-term interests of the key players involved. The coalition is often aimed at strengthening the executive by co-opting selected individuals or groups of people by making them feel as if they are part of the administration.”

Raila Odinga has been a master of coalition-making with Moi, Kibaki and now Kenyatta. To aid his electoral campaigns, he has in the past made political partnerships with, among others, Ruto, Kalonzo, Musalia and Wetangula.


So, can the handshake produce a government of national unity, with a credible opposition instead of a political storm? The answer depends two questions. Can Kenyatta stand in between Odinga and Ruto and call for a principled truce? Second: Will the current direct attacks by Ruto’s supporters on the person of the President be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

The perception that Ruto is challenging the war against corruption will work against him. He must also not appear to resist constitutional changes that promote devolution.

Odinga, being the grand political strategist of yesteryears, must be careful not to appear to be fighting an underdog, otherwise he will unwittingly animate the birth of a hustler’s coalition. Odinga must also at the appropriate time declare whether or not he will be a candidate in 2022. But for now it would appear the astute politician is focusing on strengthening ODM. If a split were to occur in Jubilee, ODM could be the party with majority MPs in the national assembly come 2022.

On his part, President Kenyatta should relentlessly pursue the fight against corruption. That is where his true legacy lies. That is the route to worm his way into the hearts of Kenyans for generations to come.

The writer is Governor of Makueni County.