Kenya: Facts you need to know about Uhuru and Raila’s reconciliation

This Friday 09 March 2018, Kenyans surprised us again, and this time it was with wonderful news! Who could have guessed that the two key political figures struggling to control power for two generations now, would manage to settle their conflict and avoid violence?

Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta: Image Credit: GoK

Kenyans will probably never stop surprising us! When the supreme court of the country made a courageous and hard decision to annul the results of the presidential elections held in August 2017, many people were caught off guard. The media around the globe quickly hailed an unprecedented decision in the history of justice across the continent, describing the event as a major milestone for the African democracy.

However, the hopes raised by the gesture of the supreme court were quickly shattered by the strange decision of Raila Odinga to boycott the repeated elections, thus increasing fears of a possible outbreak of violence. These fears were founded when one takes into account the sad memory of the 2007 electoral violence.

It was almost unbelievable to see President Uhuru Kenyatta and the opposition leader Raila Amolo Odinga shaking hands in front of State House, after a meeting from which they announced their decision to stop rivalries for the best interest of Kenya.

They informed the public that they have decided to put aside their differences in order to reconcile Kenyans. The announcement came as yet another surprise. Just a month ago, on the 30 January 2018, Mr Raila Odinga posed an important act of defiance against Kenyatta by swearing himself in as the People’s President. The act was met with criticism inside and outside Kenya.

Even Odinga’s electoral running mate Kalonzo Musyoka refused to attend the ceremony. Nevertheless, the gesture seemed to be aimed at galvanizing Odinga’s supporters, as a way of consolidating the resistance movement he launched in the aftermath of the elections.

Many people are still wondering about what happened and what convinced the two leaders to change the course of events. The answer cannot be straightforward but there is a number of factors that may possibly explain the new dynamic.

The two leaders were confronted with the imperative of reviving the economy

The first factor is probably linked to economic pressure the two leaders came under. Kenya is one of the economic giants in the East African part of the continent. Contrary to many African countries, the Kenyan economy is relatively diversified with many ethnic groups playing a role in different sectors such as tourism, banking, petrol, media, telecommunications, retailers etc.

The tense political climate does not help their businesses to evolve

The political instability has led to the economic slowdown and this has had a negative impact on the business community and on the Kenyan society as a whole. The business community constitutes the electorate and a support base for political leaders. Therefore, the two leaders were confronted with the imperative of reviving the economy by stopping their rivalries and creating conditions for a thriving business which in return maintains the political support.

But, apart from the outside pressure, the two families of Kenyatta and Odinga have heavily invested in various businesses across the country such as banking, telecoms, petrol, agribusiness etc. The tense political climate does not help their businesses to evolve and this may also explain their rational choice.

Kenyan politicians have shown a certain level of political maturity

The second factor is linked to the absence of one strong ethnic group which could be in a position to dominate the political sphere. Despite the decades of ethnic cleavages which have badly damaged the image of Kenya, there has been always a need to create coalitions that transcend ethnic affiliations, in order to have a strong position.

For instance, Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto come from different ethnic groups – the Kikuyu and Kalenjin respectively. The political advantage of their Jubilee Alliance relied heavily on the support of their communities coalescing around them. The Nasa Coalition with Odinga, Kalonzo, Mudavadi and other political actors is also a result of ethnic groups around their community leaders.

The rivalry between Kenyatta and Odinga made other communities uncomfortable. This could have been another push for a peaceful settlement. It is important to also point out that Kenyan politicians have shown a certain level of political maturity. One can simply rejoice to see the two men accepting to leave behind their problems which hijacked the stability of the whole nation.

The decision of Kenyatta and Raila gives an image of two leaders who accepted to put the country’s interests before their personal ambitions. This is a positive image and a great legacy to leave behind.

Could this action inspire other political leaders across the continent? I really wish to see such a development in other African countries where people are paying a heavy price as a result of political instability.

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