Uhuru-Raila deal: Stage set for referendum

President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga when they met at Harambee house on March 9, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • In June, the two leaders are expected to suggest the way forward, despite the divisions in the political class brought about by the ''handshake''.
  • Political analyst Herman Manyora says President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga should also ‘make peace’ with Deputy President William Ruto.
  • ODM national chairman John Mbadi says the ''handshake'' saved the country from “going to the dogs”.

The building bridges team wraps up its public sessions Tuesday to compile the final report.

As envisaged in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) spirit, the report is expected to state what needs to be changed, enhanced or expunged for the nation to achieve its development goals and political unity.
Coincidentally, the end of the sessions marks two years since President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga shook hands outside Harambee House and embraced peace on March 9, 2018.

In June, the two leaders are expected to suggest the way forward, despite the divisions in the political class brought about by the ''handshake''.


Before the political pact, Kenya had just witnessed one of the fiercest elections in history on August 8, 2017. The opposition coalition National Super Alliance (Nasa) successfully contested the outcome, which led to the nullification of President Kenyatta’s victory by the Supreme Court.

However, Nasa boycotted the repeat poll on October 26, 2017.

Calls for secession were advanced by the opposition as the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga, who was the Nasa presidential candidate, formed the National Resistance Movement (NRM) to rival the government. He also announced a national boycott of certain products.

The tension culminated in a historic moment on January 30, 2018, when Mr Odinga, in an act of defiance, was ''sworn'' in as the ''People’s President'' at Uhuru Park in Nairobi.

The country was in a crisis with calls for Mr Odinga’s arrest over alleged treason. Until the historic handshake calmed nerves, Kenyans were caught in a state of uncertainty.

The ODM Director of Elections, Mr Junet Mohamed, said the nine-point agenda contained in the joint communiqué by the two leaders, including a referendum, will be concluded in June.

“We’ve achieved many things because of the peace and cohesion that prevails in the country. All communities are now part and parcel of Kenya, unlike before when only two regions were running the show,” Mr Mohamed told the Nation on Monday.

“There is now a government in place, for the people and by the people and it will shape the future of the country,” he said.
However, not everyone is happy with the handshake. There are those who feel the nation is more polarised than ever before.

Political analyst Herman Manyora said President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga should also ''make peace'' with Deputy President William Ruto.

“The handshake, being a monumental development, has also injured some people. Uhuru and Raila should work on a handshake with Ruto,” he said.

But ODM national chairman John Mbadi said the handshake saved the country from “going to the dogs”.

“Unless you have short memory, this country was on the brink of collapse. The deal saved the nation. Each side was recognising its own system of government,” he said.
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei and Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, allies of the DP, insist the deal has only served to polarise the country.

“There is a reggae song by Morgan Heritage — Look pon di gully side … do you see anything to smile about?

“This (handshake) is one of a political conmanship. Just look at the divisions in the country over the last two years. It’s just about political selfishness and convenience,” he said.


To unite the country, leaders must ensure “Kenyans are economically empowered, youth opportunities spelt out and the Big Four agenda addressed,” he added.

A governance expert, Mr Javas Bigambo, described the handshake as “a strategic act of political genius between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga”.

“It literally turned Kenya’s politics on its head. It brought with it a calm political atmosphere that Kenyatta badly needed, and so much political relevance for Raila, who had reached the end of his wits after the mock swearing-in,” Mr Bigambo said.

Regrettably, the handshake also robbed Mr Odinga “of his voice as a fierce critic of the government”, he added.

“All the criticism against the government has died a natural death and, effectively, the opposition has lost its soft power,” Mr Bigambo said.

The handshake, he added, has won national and international acclaim, citing the recent trip to the United States by the President and the ODM leader.

“It has reinvigorated the war on graft, but the efforts are yet to make sense due to no known convictions yet. It has also brought disquiet in Jubilee as Ruto is no longer at ease, and cannot be certain of total support from Kenyatta at the end of his term.”

Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, who is also the Mt Kenya region’s BBI team leader, said: “Recently and through the BBI process, the handshake has enabled Kenyans to have an honest, though sometimes uncomfortable, national conversation on what ails the country and propose ways of resolving the problems.”

“Some leaders claim the country is polarised, but it’s just politicians who are divided. Kenyans want change.

“Going forward, it will be critical to implement recommendations of the BBI to enable us to move towards a more inclusive and united country, with gender and economic equity,” she added.
Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi argued that the handshake “has clearly confirmed Raila Odinga as a serious political tactician, who can successfully handle the role of an opposition leader and still work with the government”.

“This has exposed his Nasa co-principals as incapable of leading the opposition. They have failed in their individual ambitions to take up the role of opposition leader,” Mr Osotsi said.

ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi had declared that since Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta were working together, he would steer the opposition.

Wiper Party vice-chairman Mutula Kilonzo Jnr and Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri said the handshake had restored peace.

“The handshake was a stroke of genius. You can only equate it to the North Korea and South Korea truce.

‘‘It is a model that must be the norm rather than an epiphany,” said Mr Kilonzo.

“Like all good things, such agreements left a few people disgruntled.

''The political feud between the two was fuel to many political careers. A lot of politicians who take extreme positions on either side found themselves in [the] abyss.”

Mr Ngunjiri said: “We must support this initiative. We had weekly demos, some county governments were threatening to secede, some people wanted to stop paying taxes, we had some leaders saying they did not recognise Uhuru as the President and Nasa MPs and senators were boycotting Parliament.”

“The handshake birthed the BBI process, which is meant to ensure peace to avoid a recurrence of what happened after the 2017 elections,” he added.