The Golden Handshake

In the history of nation building, setting the history wrong, unlike setting the record straight, is required. Recently, we had a golden hand shake between Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta that went beyond the elbow. After secret talks, both leaders emerged publicly to claim that they had smoked the pipe of peace. Both families have enjoyed power and influence in post independent Kenya. Whereas it’s true that elites from both the Luo and Kikuyu nations are the most influential and active politically, other Kenyans too have emerged but occupy the middle level spaces. Raila Odinga though is the most influential politician with near fanatical and loyal support base across the country. Uhuru Kenya has conservative grip on the state instruments of power as the incumbent president. To be sure, he used brutal force since the nullification of the August 2017 fraudulent elections. He unleashed terror on Kenyans on a scale never witnessed before except during the state of emergency. Uhuru Kenyatta won the controversial rerun or second elections where he got 98% of the vote boycotted by the opposition and marked by a very low voter turnout, deaths and widespread violence. When guns fell silent and Raila Odinga subdued through violence and diplomacy, peace narrative is again in the air. While Odinga argues that the decision he took was the best under the circumstances and for the sake of national unity, positions are stated but interests are discovered as you peel the layers of onion through negotiations. Let me decipher this for you.

When Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta reached a deal, it was an interest based agreement informed by both short and long term political and economic interests. Uhuru Kenyatta understood too well that he lost presidential elections but imposed himself on Kenyans through electoral fraud. Much of what happened from August 2017 to March 2018 remain classified information and a burden to historians to unravel. On the other hand, Raila Odinga realized that he could not remove Uhuru Kenyatta from power through legal means as extreme violence was unleashed. The Best Alternative to a negotiated settlement was to accept Uhuru Kenyatta as the president and explore issues of common interest to both of them. Raila Odinga brings on board political stability, intellect and foresight in 2022 political discourse of change. The point of convergence is that Both leaders don’t need to please supporters as they can take decisions that are in the best interests of the country.

Furthermore, Raila Odinga is one of the few leaders in Africa who has run a highly successful presidential campaign without access to state resources. Resources mobilizations require power elaborate local and international contacts. Political debts have to be paid. Raila Odinga must have placed economic demands on the table in additional to other issues that formed the core of NASA manifesto. It is not very different from how the ANC and National Party found points of convergence within the capitalist framework. Uhuru Kenyatta, an indigenous capitalist accepted Raila economic demands and inclusion into high table in the short term.

The two are capitalists and have enjoyed the support of international capital across the board. However, power gives one diplomatic presence and forums to influence and build a positive image of self but also meet otherwise other powerful actors in the international system. No wonder, the UN secretary General was quick to endorse the deal. Within months, it might be an article of faith. As we dig deeper however, real interests are discovered in the process of negotiations where substantive issues are tackled with clarification of thought. Dialogue is about power to persuade and let others see your concerns, issues, hopes, fears and aspirations. Raila has all the resources to marshal and persuade his supporters to see his point of view through soft power. Kenyatta can rely on both hard and soft power.
Power is not out of the picture. When next elections are held, Both Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga want their own interests and those of their family members protected and secured. It is not be surprising to see Uhuru Kenyatta say, Raila Odinga ‘Tosha.’ If that happens, then William Ruto will be forced to play second fiddle to Odinga or face political gallons. Either way, Kenyatta and Raila will have aligned their long term political interests and Kenya politics will shift from identity politics to class based politics.

The immediate task would be to persuade Kenyans to accept the deal. Many Kenyans are disappointed but would be waiting to see the peace dividends- leaves, fruits and seeds. Thereafter, deal with issues that both of them might have failed to address due to political risks involved. Among them are issues of gross human rights violations, crimes against humanity, historical wrongs, reconfiguration of the state and ethnic manipulation. The flip side to this also is that there might emerge a powerful third force and a counter narrative to throw spanners in to the deal. Time will tell.

By Kisemei Mutisya
Executive Director
Eastern and Southern Africa Policy Research Institute

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