As predicted in these columns, we are still discussing the so-called ‘Golden Handshake’ between former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta. The terms of the agreement between the two men remain vague and secretive, and the only thing we have been told is that it is neither about the next elections nor about creating accommodations in the current national executive for the former Prime Minister or a future one for President Kenyatta. The two have emphasised that the agreement is about exorcising the ghosts spawned by their own parents, ghosts that continue to haunt this country at every decision point.
Despite promising that details of the deal would be released quickly, two months later we are no wiser as to the programme of activities aimed at implementing the deal. Our own suspicion is that there was no comprehensive plan beyond forgiving each other and promising to work together for Kenya’s prosperity. It appears that beyond the declarations of contrition and promises to do better, everything else remains as it was before the handshake.
Ever the optimist, I will look on the bright side today and examine the one impact the handshake can have, and which has the potential to prevent further decline in our morals and values, and perhaps assure a more stable and law-abiding country for future generations. In examining this impact, it is obviously necessary to interrogate the effect that a Raila involvement in government ought to have on our governance structures and mechanisms. We have already seen the wishes and plans of the government over the past five years, and would therefore expect more of the same under the same regime left to its own devices.
Raila Odinga has created a profile for himself as a statesman beyond the usual narrow ethnic considerations of successive post-independence governments. He has been tagged a reformer, and remains a touchstone in the anti-corruption crusade. His stature in this country ensures that every step he takes will excite many and trigger similar actions across the republic.
In stark contrast, the current government has distinguished itself in the pursuit of opacity and the appearance to be hankering after the ‘good old days’ that were not very good for this country in the final analysis. The government has really struggled to operate in the current environment governed by a liberal constitution that demands open government and a people-centred approach to the management of public affairs. Legislation has been proposed and even passed that attempted to gag the media and the public, and attempts to escape oversight have become a hallmark of this regime.
It is in this regime that we keep hearing that there’s such a thing as ‘too much democracy and freedom’, and that the people need to be controlled more closely than the constitution allows. The judiciary has been pillaged and hounded for simply doing its most important job, which is to protect the citizen from the powers that be, and to ensure that justice is not only done, but is also seen to be done. Despite the few unenlightened rotten apples in its midst, the judiciary under the new constitution has really gone out of its way to fulfill its mandate, much to the chagrin of many in the establishment.
It follows therefore that the perennial optimist that I am will see a role for Raila in protecting the constitutional institutions that maintain our civil liberties and hold those in power accountable. Raila must use his influence to check the baser instincts of those that cluster around the seat of power. He must not allow the rapacious operators to keep their stranglehold on the public purse, and he must remain the voice that reminds the president and his crew of their constitutional obligations. Whether or not he anticipates a role in a post-2022 government, Mr Odinga must help strengthen the institutions that will keep us safe and free for generations to come. This, in my view, will constitute his lasting legacy, and the greatest gift to the common citizen of this country.
Atwoli is an associate professor and dean of Moi University School of Medicine. [email protected]