When the secret talks between opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta became public on March 9, 2018, Many Kenyans were shocked and amused at the same time. The question that many Kenyans kept asking was how that happened and what were the deeper details of the agreement or even the statements of intent that informed such talks. Friends and foes were caught off guard. On both sides of the political divide, there was a sense of betrayal due to under hand dealings by the two leaders. To NASA supporters, key question was how that could happen granted that key supporters of Raila Odinga, Miguna Miguna was deported to Canada and forcefully exiled there? Why could Raila not reach to him and persuade him to accept strategic talks that he was pursuing behind the scenes? The reality however was that each of the four NASA principles were engaged in secret talks with Jubilee without disclosing to one another that they were secretly engaging Jubilee administration.
To silent majority of Kenyans, the disturbing question is whether the truce between Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta would address the root causes of the political crises in Kenya. Indeed, most of the issues advanced by Raila Odinga could have been addressed during the Serena talks under agenda number four under the national accord to end the post elections violence of 2007/8. Most of the grievances that escaped the attention of the previous regimes have much to do with managing ethnic diversity and other forms of diversities altogether. Others are poverty and inclusiveness. Poverty and social injustice are the key triggers of insecurity in Kenya. To these can be added- grey areas in governance, structure of government, past injustices and gross human rights violations, youth unemployment, democratic deficit, electoral injustice, sustainable management of resources and devolution of power among other factors. Bad governance and corruption have historically undermined development. Yet, all regimes in post independent Kenya have been legitimized through the ideology of development.
The question central to these truce and that has not been paused is what both leaders stand for in terms of policy and ideology. What policies and strategies would they use or employ to address multiple crises confronting the country? Will their statement of intend end political bickering and create a cohesive nation? What is new in their new resolve to work together? Why these new resolve couldn’t be reached before thousands died in 2007/8 and thereafter including 2018 nullified presidential elections? Is Raila Odinga a political leftist or shrewd politician? What does Uhuru Kenyatta stand for and how would be categorized in Europe? Rugged indigenous capitalist or a western interests gate keeper?
Such questions are better answered by focusing on other countries with similar challenges such as South Africa. In South Africa for example, the African National Congress(ANC) under Nelson Mandela entered into secret talks with the National Party under both Botha and De Klerk with the result that a political settlement was reached culminating with the formation of a transitional government of national unity. The difference with Kenya however is that Mandela initiated secret talks from 1985 onwards while still a political prisoner and focused on the primary interests of the ANC not his personal. That is the reason why he rejected conditional release from prison. Furthermore, he refused to be compromised but understood too well the limitations of the movement he was leading. Hence, he argued that you don’t have to like the other party but you nonetheless needed to talk to them as he focused on the bottom lines.
The Raila Uhuru meeting though devoid of details has sharp contradictions. Firstly, such meetings have taken place in the past and same problems persist. For example, class harmony among strategic elites have only led to temporary truce and sharing of power in the short term. The focus has always been what is in it for me solutions. Secondly gross human rights violations have been the hall mark of Kenyan politics leading to impunity, elite manipulation of ethnicity and ultimate failure of the nationalist project throughout post independent history. The peace talks and Serena process after the post elections violence of 2007/8 could not address the root causes of Kenya’s nationalist project. The memorandums of understanding among elites during election period and political alliances formed only advance interests of the strategic elites hence trickster ism and dishonesty in their implementation and execution. Unlike Mandela, Kenya’s elites are never focused on decolonizing the state and reconfiguration of the colonial state. Mandela as a comrade and leader in the struggle against the ANC sought policy shift and change in a manner that took into consideration his political opponents. More often than not, ANC paid attention to what the other party wanted even when they knew they were politically weaker and vulnerable.
In Kenya, the Raila- Uhuru talks are driven by acts of betrayal and personal ambitions of the key political actors across the political divide. Whereas Raila Odinga enjoys popular support across the country and is believed to have won 2018 August presidential elections nullified by the supreme court, his co principals in the NASA coalitions did not support him by implementing agreed upon political programs of actions to remove Jubilee from power, On the contrary, they betrayed him and are seen as cowards in the opposition language. The talks thus are circumstantial and informed by strong arms tactics perpetrated by state security agencies on the opposition civilian supporters. The ideas of building bridges in Kenya require number of formal engagements or talks about talks and a concrete plan of action. However, their success will depend on whether a broad consensus and policy issues inform the talks other than just the idea of strategic elites criss -crossing the country asking the people to unite on the basis that are unclear or unknown to them. In fact they are bound to fail should broader national consensus fail in rallying people on the same fail.
Central to the success of the talks is just to revisit the post independent challenges and understanding why the nationalist project failed and finding out how or whether it can be revived and directed towards nation building and survival. The primary outcomes of the talks, funding and sustainability warrant further engagement. In the meantime, Kenya need to look at striking similarities between Kenya and South Sudan post 2011 peace talks to learn why South Sudan is a failed state but most importantly how selfish elites can ruin their own future and those of generations due to bad leadership.
Finally, political challenges that Kenya is currently undergoing require fundamental and structural changes together with new and innovative ideas. Such ideas warrant examination of both internal and external factors that have historically connived to historically drive the country towards socially, politically and economically conservative ends.
-Article by Kisemei Mutisya