Today marks the fourth anniversary of the political truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga, which ended the acrimony that followed the 2017 presidential election.
The March 9, 2018 deal has become a key campaign issue pitting the President against his deputy, Dr William Ruto.
The DP has been discrediting the ‘Handshake’, blaming it for the divisions that have rocked the ruling Jubilee Party in its second term in office.
For his part, President Kenyatta has portrayed his deputy as dishonest, insisting he had briefed him about the negotiations.
The President has further accused the DP of launching premature presidential campaigns, which he said distracted the Jubilee administration from its development agenda. The Head of State argues that working with the opposition has helped stabilise his government.
Endorsed by Uhuru
Mr Odinga, who is the DP’s main opponent in the August presidential elections has since been endorsed by the outgoing President.
The President’s allies have in the recent past been marketing the former Prime Minister’s State House candidacy across the country, and most notable in Mr Kenyatta’s Mt Kenya backyard.
To Dr Ruto’s camp, Mr Odinga’s endorsement vindicated their long-held position that the ‘Handshake’ was about power transfer from Mr Kenyatta to Mr Odinga, despite the President’s oft-repeated assertion that it was all about restoring peace.
Just a month after the Handshake, at the funeral service of Kenneth Matiba at General Ihura Stadium in Murang’a, the President and the former PM said their truce had nothing to do with the 2022 succession politics.
“We cannot continue differing at the expense of our country… I know there are many who were not happy when we came together, because they thrive on commotion,” said President Kenyatta in reference to some in Jubilee and the then National Super Alliance (Nasa).
Mr Odinga said: “We are not thinking about 2022. That will come and go. We agreed that divisions that have prevented Kenya from achieving its dreams will end with us so that we have a better country.”
No elaborate events
Apparently there are no elaborate events lined up to mark the fourth anniversary of the ‘Handshake’, with reports indicating that Mr Odinga will be taking his State House campaigns to Wajir County.
The deal between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto has split Jubilee Party into the Tangatanga faction that is associated with Dr Ruto on the one hand and Kieleweke grouping, which is loyal to President Kenyatta and supportive of the ‘Handshake’.
It has also greatly changed Mr Odinga’s fortunes. For a man the President and his deputy had vowed to send to political oblivion the 2017 General Election, Mr Odinga’s fortunes have really changed, especially in the Mt Kenya region, courtesy of the Handshake.
Utterances like “we’ll send Mr Odinga to Bondo” have all but disappeared and today he is described in Mr Kenyatta’s inner circle as ‘the fifth’.
Critics now supporters
The ODM leader’s fiercest critics of yesterday are now drumming up support for his fifth stab at the country’s top seat. Those who seem to have warmed up to Raila in Uhuru’s corner include Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.
Others, such as Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula have dumped Mr Odinga, with Wiper boss Kalonzo Musyoka and the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) issuing tough demands for reuniting with the former Prime Minister.
The March 9, 2018 Handshake, which took place on the steps of Harambee House in Nairobi, have also seen some accuse the former PM of forgetting ordinary Kenyans, who have stood with him throughout his struggles in the opposition ranks.
Abandoned abrasive politics
After the Handshake, Mr Odinga seems to have abandoned his abrasive brand of politics. The erstwhile gadfly of the establishment is today the government’s foremost defender on a number of issues, especially the war on corruption and the Big Four agenda.
The Uhuru-Raila truce also paved the way for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Bill, which comprised a raft of proposed constitutional amendments whose fate now lies in the hands of Supreme Court judges.
The Handshake also gave rise to Azimio la Umoja coalition, which is expected to slug it out with Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance in the August 9 presidential election.
To clear obstacles in the BBI path, the ruling party cracked down on dissent in its leadership of the two Houses of Parliament.
The axing of majority leaders Kipchumba Murkomen (Senate) and Aden Duale (National Assembly), majority whips Susan Kihika (Senate) and Benjamin Washiali (National Assembly), as well as various parliamentary committee heads allied to the country’s second in command, was interpreted as a way of silencing the critics of the handshake and BBI.
Kicked out rebels
Given the vital role the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) was expected to play in the BBI process, Jubilee kicked out rebels from the House team.
Jubilee at the time picked Kangema MP Muturi Kigano to replace Baringo North MP William Cheptumo at the helm of the JLAC.
For its part, ODM settled on Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo to replace Kandara MP Alice Wahome as vice-chairperson of JLAC. Mr Otiende was, however, later replaced by Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang.
The famous “my 10 and Ruto’s 10”, in reference to the President’s earlier promise to back Dr Ruto to succeed him, was abandoned.
“I am a Jubilee member but from now, my blood is Azimio, the ideals in my head are Azimio and my whole body is Azimio,” said President Kenyatta during the ODM National Delegates Convention (NDC) at the Moi Sports Centre Gymnasium in Kasarani, Nairobi.
Political commentator and governance expert Javas Bigambo argues that ‘Handshake remodelled the country’s politics.
“It created a new political world of possibilities for Raila, and created altogether a different political world and journey for DP Ruto. The new paths have made Raila and Ruto the greatest enemies imaginable. In essence, it is now clear that the handshake was about Uhuru's succession,” said Mr Bigambo.
Prof XN Iraki of the University of Nairobi argues that the ‘Handshake’ might have brought peace, but its economic dividends might not have been enjoyed by ordinary citizens.
“The ‘Handshake’ led to a political armistice as former enemies became friends. The country has enjoyed relative political peace but it is another question if Wanjiku has enjoyed the economic dividends from it. It is also time we made public the contents of the ‘Handshake’,” said Prof Iraki.
On Tuesday, ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna said the truce gave the Jubilee administration ample time to deliver on its pledges.
“The Handshake is celebrated worldwide because it demonstrates that leaders can actually put country before self. It has been a tough four years for both parties, with enemies bent on scuttling the newfound peace. We are grateful as ODM that we protected the Handshake to see it transform into a lasting partnership with our Jubilee friends,” said Mr Sifuna.
Mr Sifuna adds that to safeguard what the armistice has achieved, it had to be translated into the August 9 game plan.
“The Handshake and elections are two different things. We needed a stable country so that the President could deliver on his mandate. That has already happened. The elections are about securing the gains of the Handshake and guarantee some level of continuity,” argued Mr Sifuna.
‘Exposed Ruto’s hypocrisy’
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu told the Nation that the ‘Handshake’ exposed DP Ruto’s hypocrisy.
“The ‘Handshake’ has delivered what it promised four years ago. The promise then was that Kenyans – from across the political divide - would come together and work together until the next election, for the peace and prosperity of the nation. This has happened,” said Mr Wambugu.
He went ahead: “In the past four years we have not only learnt why the ‘Handshake’ happened, we have also learnt why it was resisted by some, especially in Jubilee. We now know that the anti-handshake team within Jubilee emerged because Ruto was trying to protect his selfish political ambitions after he suspected the unity between ODM and Jubilee would adversely affect his 2022 aspiration to be president.”
However, Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, an ardent defender of DP Ruto, said although the ‘Handshake’ restored peace after the divisive 2017 elections, it swallowed the opposition as well, as it was a scheme to elbow the DP out of government.
“The positive of the ‘Handshake’ was to bring peace and make those bent on causing havoc and blackmail the elected government to lay down stones. The negative was to negate opposition and make ODM stop its role. It was used as a decoy to practically remove the DP from the government. It made the government insular to the needs of the people,” Dr Kang’ata elucidated.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech said the ‘Handshake’ had cost Kenyans everything that is dear to them, including democracy.
“The ‘Handshake’ has undermined Kenya’s status as a multiparty democracy. We have lost the ruling party and lost the opposition. To quote the Deputy President, it is no longer possible to tell ‘whether it is the government that is in opposition or the opposition is in government’,” he said.
“Worse still, the leader of Opposition has abdicated his station to become the political project of the President and the President has reduced himself to acting as the master of ceremonies in the Opposition, to the detriment of his constitutional responsibility as a symbol of national unity,” he added.
Ruto on falling-out
The DP, while on a tour of the United States last week, cited the ‘Handshake’ as the reason he fell out with his boss, accusing his boss of lying to him on the details of the truce.
The DP also cited attempts to change the Constitution through the BBI and the purge of rebels from House leadership as some of the reasons he fell out with the President.
“The things we had agreed on as forming part of the ‘Handshake’ mutated into something else. We did not discuss, for example, that it would be an exercise to kill the opposition and oversight. We did not discuss that members of the ruling party would be jettisoned so that members of the Opposition could occupy committees in Parliament,” he said.
But President Kenyatta recently said Mr Odinga did not ask him for anything in the lead-up to the ‘Handshake’.
He said the ODM chief agreed to support him in uniting the country after the DP attempted to sabotage the Jubilee administration through his ambitions.
“Ambition must be controlled. It must not be unbridled. Uncontrolled ambition is like having an unguided missile. At the end of the day, your personal ambition cannot supersede the well-being of 50 million Kenyans,” President Kenyatta said.
“They have been saying that the government has not worked since 2018. But let me ask you, what position did I give Raila Odinga that took away the benefits of those who were in government?” the President wondered.