Ghosts of Uhuru-Raila handshake haunt push for political accord

The handshake

Then President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga shake hands at the steps of Harambee House to mark their political truce dubbed ‘the handshake’ on March 9, 2018. Inset: President Willian Ruto.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

Potential political casualties in the event of a rapprochement between President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga appear to be at the forefront in dampening the quest for dialogue even as the country risks plunging into anarchy.

Their fears seem to arise from the aftermath of Mr Odinga and former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2018 deal that left a trail of casualties in the political scene.

The famous handshake also gave rise to new power brokers while edging out erstwhile close allies of Mr Kenyatta.

Although Mr Odinga has repeatedly indicated that he is not interested in a handshake with Dr Ruto, politicians in Kenya Kwanza believe that the demands by the former premier are just but a decoy by the former prime minister to join government through the backdoor.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and some of his close allies, especially from Mt Kenya, seem to have taken hardline positions against calls by religious leaders and a section of the West to have Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga hold talks to bring to an end the current political grandstanding.

In the 2018 deal, Dr Ruto, who was then serving as deputy president, turned out to be the main casualty. His decision to oppose the truce made him lose favour with his then boss, Mr Kenyatta, before he was tossed out from the core of running of government.

A majority of Jubilee politicians who were allied to him also lost their plum parliamentary leadership positions in a purge staged by Mr Kenyatta in the floor of both the National Assembly and the Senate.

Some of his allies who lost their leadership positions in Parliament include then National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, Kipchumba Murkomen (Senate Majority Leader) and a host of others. The two are currently in the Cabinet.

Dr Ruto was also kicked out of Jubilee Party, where he was the deputy party leader, at the height of his fallout with Mr Kenyatta.

The deal was, however, a win for Mr Kenyatta as he was able to govern in the absence of any political turmoil that had the potential of ruining the economy. In the first round of the ongoing mass action called by Mr Odinga, the government admitted that the economy lost at least Sh2 billion on the day of protest.

Mr Odinga has declared that the protests will be held twice every week until there is a stop to the ongoing “unilateral recruitment” of commissioners at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEBC) as well as have the commission’s servers for the presidential election results opened for forensic audit.

It is on this basis that Mr Gachagua seems to be the face of those opposed to a possible truce between his boss and Mr Odinga.

In a meeting with a United States delegation pushing for dialogue, Mr Rigathi is said to have flatly rejected any overtures to have the former prime minister join the government.

“Raila you have been unfair to the people of Kenya, and we want to invite you for a meeting with President William Ruto to discuss your exit from Kenya's political space. I want to say from Mombasa, there will be no power sharing. Our Constitution has no provision for Raila to join the government through the backdoor,” Mr Gachagua said just hours after meeting the US delegation led by Delaware Senator Chris Coons — credited for playing a part in the Odinga-Kenyatta handshake — and US ambassador Meg Whitman.

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa has also vowed not to allow any dialogue that could see Mr Odinga join Kenya Kwanza administration.

“The election was concluded, and even the international community they said was silent has affirmed that fact. The only server keys we have is to the re-opening of our economy,” said Mr Ichung’wa.

UDA Secretary-General Cleophas Malala told Sunday Nation that they have worked with Mr Odinga long enough to understand his agenda.

“We want to deal with his perennial scheme of blackmailing those in power so that he can be accommodated in every government. We know the cost of living is not the reason for the mass action,” said Mr Malala.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei and MP Zaheer Jhanda (Nyaribari Chache) also shared similar remarks by hitting out at religious leaders behind the push for dialogue.

“The clergy should stop political brokerage; they should restrict themselves to spiritual nourishment, gospel spread, baptism and moral policing. They should let politics be done by politicians. They should not be agents of anarchists in the name of Azimio. Whether Tinga does demos until the second coming of Jesus Christ, there is no handshake,” said Mr Cherargei.

“There is no way we are going to have talks because what they are asking for are unconstitutional. The reason we are against the talks is because Uhuru is behind the demonstrations. He is out to settle scores with Ruto,” claimed Mr Zaheer.

Macharia Munene, a professor of history and international relations, said there is a genuine concern by politicians currently enjoying trappings of power by virtue of being close to the President.

He said a handshake would mean Mr Odinga would wield some influence, thereby edging out some of the individuals seen to be powerful in the current regime.

“There is a reason for concern given the past because Raila is looking for a handshake. That handshake would mean some power to him. He wants power and how he gets it does not matter. In 2018, when he came in, Ruto lost,” said Prof Macharia.

He argued that Mr Odinga has succeeded in making Dr Ruto appear not to be in control despite being the President.

But ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya, Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni and Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi said the handshake narrative was being pushed by selfish leaders who have no interest in addressing the current high cost of living.

“We are not interested in joining the Kenya Kwanza government,” said Mr Oparanya.

Mr Kioni said only incompetent leaders would be worried about a political truce.

“Those who don’t have legitimacy are always unreasonably dismissive. Our position has been that we will listen to everyone who has the interest of this country at heart and is willing to offer objective solutions,” said Mr Kioni.

Mr Osotsi added: “Unless they want to tell people that they are not interested in lowering food prices. The agitation by Azimio is not about Raila. It is about the people. Raila has also made it clear that he is not interested in a handshake.”