The television footage of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his arch-political opponent and former Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, holding hands, and posing for the camera, and calling each other “brother,” would have been considered a fantasy a few weeks ago. Last week, Kenyans, Africans and political observers all over the world were stunned by the fraternal meetings of the two erstwhile sworn political enemies.
They had three encounters since August last year when they both led their political alliances into a general election, which ended with Kenyatta winning, but Odinga suing. The Kenyan Supreme Court took the unprecedented decision of overturning the election result and decreeing a re-run within 60 days as prescribed by the Kenyan Constitution. Soon, however, Odinga developed cold feet about the re-run, citing untenable reasons why he thought the election would not be free and fair, and making impossible demands on the election umpire. In the end, Odinga boycotted the election of October, and Kenyatta was overwhelmingly returned as president and was subsequently sworn-in on November 28, 2017.
We had thought that would be the end of the story until the whole world watched in astonishment as Odinga surrounded by thousands of his supporters enacted a mock “swearing-in” of his own. Political tension in Kenya had risen to fever pitch and occasional flare-ups of violence were inescapable. Between the August general election and the Odinga mock inauguration on January 30 2018, dozens of Kenyans had been killed and the nation seemed to be hanging on the knife edge of ethnic convulsion. The Kenyan government took a few measured actions, calling Odinga’s action treasonous but at the same time, it exercised a great deal of discretion which probably, finally, yielded the amity and reconciliation witnessed last week.
We believe these two antagonistic people eventually realised that they have a duty to serve the interests of Kenya more than their individual interests. We salute their statesmanship and patriotism. It is elementary that the non-partisan approach is the recipe for peace, and peace is a sine qua non for socio-economic development. A situation in which two political titans of the caliber of Kenyatta and Odinga are pitching political fights is both dangerous and backward. The rules of politics are clear. The rule of law means that the laws must be obeyed. When dissatisfied, a party must go to court. No one should declare himself president. The parents of these two men played a pivotal role in the struggle for the independence of Kenya. They must not undermine the achievements for which their fathers sacrificed so much.
We appeal to the supporters, who are still sore from bitter campaigns and a rivalry that has spanned two generations, to now bury the hatchet. They must see the wisdom in what their leaders have done. Most Kenyans still remember the sad events of 2007 and the bloodshed of that year. No African would wish a repeat of that tragedy, anywhere on the continent.
All indications are that the country shares the same predicament with Nigeria, and is therefore in need of restructuring to create an inclusive environment. It is clear that the Luo ethnic group feels left behind without Odinga in power at the centre. President Kenyatta has demonstrated exemplary statesmanship, patience and restraint. He must now follow through and reintegrate the Luo into the economy and, if necessary, set up a national commission to reform all perceived areas of inequity and injustice, and review all social and communal relationships to give every Kenyan a sense of belonging.