Uhuru Kenyatta, left, shaking hands with Raila Odinga, right, on Friday, March 9, after they met and agreed to a joint statement on working together for the benefit of all Kenyans.
Mt. Elgon Peace Center: To respond to the recent killings and rapes on Mt. Elgon, Transforming Community for Social Change has posted a three month fundraising project on Global Giving, Healing Wounds of Deadly Conflict, Mt Elgon, Kenya. To see the details and support this project, go to http://goto.gg/32883. Please consider a contribution – TCSC has completed two HROC workshops with the rape survivors and would like to continue working with the men, the families of the deceased, and others affected by the violence.
I have to admit that I don’t understand what is happening with the politics in Kenya. I don’t feel too bad about this since no one else in Kenya, except perhaps President Uhuru Kenyatta and self-proclaimed People’s President, Raila Odinga, does either. Everything has become topsy-turvy and all the politicians are scrambling to readjust.
As I previously reported on January 30 Raila Odinga proclaimed himself as the People’s President at a large gathering in Uhuru Park in Nairobi. The government quickly responded with a large number of repressive actions against the opposition politicians and the media that covered the event. While the Jubilee Party soundly attacked Raila and his supporters for this action, I did note that President Uhuru Kenyatta more or less stayed above the outrage at this action.
Therefore I and everyone else in Kenya were astounded on Friday, March 9, when President Uhuru Kenyatta and challenger Raila Odinga met at the state house, shook hands in cooperative dialogue, and issued a long statement on working together. When I read about this my immediate reaction was relief. The cloud of tension that has hung over the country for at least a year was immediately lifted. The reaction led to re-energizing business, increases in stock prices on the Nairobi stock exchange, and the strengthening of the Kenyan shilling against the US dollar.
While people in Kenya were taken by surprise by this hand shake of cooperation, many Kenyans, the human rights community, various religious and political organizations, and the international community under the leadership of the US ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec, have been pushing for dialogue since the October 26 repeat election. It has come out that Uhuru and Raila had been talking about this for the last few months, mostly by phone and sometimes through a few trusted confidents. Since the official announcement that became public after their two and a half hour meeting at State House was quite long and detailed, it is clear that it had been agreed upon beforehand.
This agreement implies that Raila now accepts Uhuru’s election as president in return for as a yet undetermined role in the government to be fleshed out by a small committee that was part of the agreement. The initial response was that most of the court cases against Raila’s supporters were dropped, and the Jubilee attackers quickly changed their tune and started praising Raila and the hand-shake agreement. Raila was sent to South Africa to represent Kenya at the funeral of Winnie Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela. He also was invited to give a speech at the annual devolution conference this week in Kakamega. Nonetheless a month and a half later it is still unclear what this action means, in other words, how will it work in practice. Is Raila no longer the leader of the opposition? Is there even now an opposition? Is President Uhuru the main beneficiary of the agreement? Or has clever politician Raila pulled an quick one?
This announcement has completely upset the political calculations of the various politicians on both the Jubilee (Uhuru) and NASA (Raila) sides of the political divide. Deputy President William Ruto, the Uhuru’s political heir who is the leading candidate for president in the next election in 2002, nor any of the other three principals of the NASA coalition were part of the negotiations as they were kept completely in the dark. Political alignments are now in chaos and it is unclear at this time how this will work out.
Then on April 12 Raila went for “shake hands” with former president Daniel arap Moi. In attendance was his son, Gideon Moi, who also has aspirations to become president of Kenya. Then the following week on April 20 Raila went to “shake hands” with former president Mwai Kibaki under whom he had been prime minister from 2008 to 2013. Raila is clearly mending his political fences. Is he positioning himself for another run at the presidency in 2022 with the support of some Kikuyu and Kalenjins?
In sense this rapprochement is not too surprising. One listing of the richest people in Kenya has the Moi family with a net worth of $3 billion with Uhuru’s wealth as the fourth wealthiest Kenyan at around $500 million. Raila is in sixth place at $400 million. A calm, prosperous political climate will be to the financial benefit of all of these politicians/businessmen – and also their many well-healed financiers. In other words this is an agreement of the top elite. This makes me wonder if all of the politicking that is the daily fare of Kenyans, its media, and religious/non-government organizations, the insistent calls to tribalism are nothing more than a diversion, a distraction for the masses from what the political/business elite are really doing in Kenya.
Time will tell how all this works out, but at the moment everything is speculation by Kenyans and scrambling by all politicians to adjust to these “hand-shakes.”
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region. He is an analyst on eastern Africa issues for TVC News in Lagos, Nigeria.
Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)
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Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/