– The two leaders were meeting after a high-octane month-long war of words.
– The overriding desire is that the scions of Kenya’s founding fathers Jomo and Jaramogi work together in an environment of mutual respect.
– Mr Koigi thinks that President Kenyatta’s trips were out of a realisation that he needed Mr Odinga. – For Mr Kenyatta, the Kisumu trip was a contrast to his tour of Migori county.
An elderly woman was moved to tears when President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga shared a cake at a church function in Kisumu on Monday.
A day earlier, a crowd in Bondo roared with laughter when Deputy President William Ruto cracked jokes about how he will be seeking Tinga’s (Odinga) support in the 2022 election.
President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga were attending the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Kisumu Catholic Archdiocese at the invitation of Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth.
The two leaders were meeting after a high-octane month-long war of words over the Jubilee government’s handling of security and corruption with Mr Odinga calling for the suspension of Devolution Cabinet Secretary Ann Waiguru over attempts by officials to siphon Sh860 million from the National Youth Service which falls under her ministry. President Kenyatta’s visit to Mr Odinga’s stronghold and sharing a podium was, therefore, expected to trigger a heated exchange.
On the contrary, the gathering watched in disbelief as the two arch-rivals who sat next to each other shared ear-to-ear pleasantries, cracking jokes and falling over each other with hearty laughs while holding hands.
Sources close to Mr Odinga told the Sunday Nation that he had earlier planned a series of stop overs on his way to the venue at Uzima University College grounds to ask residents to welcome the President but changed his mind on learning that Mr Kenyatta had already landed in Kisumu.
So, he decided to rush to the event ahead of the President to welcome him.
The source also indicated that Mr Odinga was keen to ensure that the President’s trip, which was made public only on Sunday night, ended without incident which would have been blamed on his supporters.
On arrival at the venue, Mr Odinga entered a tent where he shared breakfast with President Kenyatta before walking side-by-side to plant a commemorative tree. They then toured the institution before Mr Odinga escorted the President to the podium amidst applause from the gathering.
The two kept the gathering guessing on the subject of their seemingly lively banter, hearty laughs which occasionally forced them to reach for handkerchiefs to wipe their faces. There was more excitement when Mr Odinga invited President Kenyatta to speak before they teamed up to cut and share a cake.
The teary woman explained that given the hostility between the two, she was surprised and moved to see them share a cake.
A couple of developments are apparent which suggest a paradigm shift and capture the attitude of the Luo Nyanza residents lately.
The overriding desire is that the scions of Kenya’s founding fathers, President Jomo Kenyatta and Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, work together in an environment of mutual respect and co-operation. This was captured in the words of Archbishop Okoth and Anglican Bishop Johannes Angela who hosted Mr Ruto in Bondo, a few kilometres from Mr Odinga’s home. The clergymen preached against the “politics of constant confrontation” which they said fuels enmity between communities.
Archbishop Okoth told Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to “walk together in love”.
“In a multiparty democracy, (the) Opposition is part of government since it provides necessary checks. We must, therefore, not graduate our political differences into enmity among our people,” he said.
The church celebrations were turned into a platform to call for co-operation, discipline, dialogue, mutual respect among the political elite with President Kenyatta and the former Prime Minister expected to provide leadership.
In his emphasis for co-operation, Nyakach MP Aduma Owuor reminded them that they shared a common heritage.
Said Mr Owuor: “You are sons of the founding fathers of this country. Kenyans want you to work together and respect each other.”
Mr Kenyatta struck a conciliatory tone, calling for unity and mutual respect.
“Political competition is not enmity. We must respect and know the reason for coming together in as much as we come from different parties,” he said. “As politicians, we must know that despite our different parties, we are serving the same Kenyans, no section of Kenyans belongs to any individual.”
And Mr Odinga used the occasion to defend himself against allegations that he was fighting Ms Waiguru.
“I am not opposed to the NYS and the slum upgrading. I was the first to start slum upgrading. We are not fighting anybody. We are only asking for transparency in procurement at NYS.”
Significantly, the trips to Nyanza region have considerably reduced the hostility towards President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, who the Bondo crowd advised to “return home in ODM.”
For Mr Kenyatta, the Kisumu trip was a contrast to his tour of Migori county in which youth opposed to Governor Okoth Obado threw shoes at the dais.
In April, Mr Kenyatta received a warm reception when he attended the devolution conference in Kisumu. And on Monday, his motorcade drove deep into Kisumu’s Ubunga slums where he addressed youth engaged in projects under the National Youth Service.
There seems to be an awakening, especially among the pro-Odinga youth that though they do not support President Kenyatta, they don’t have to hate him. But they insist that President Kenyatta should respect their leader, Mr Odinga.
The rivalry between the Kenyattas and Odingas dates back to years after independence when the two founding fathers engaged in a fierce ideological war which culminated in Jaramogi’s expulsion from Kanu.
It also partly revolves around a sense of grievance by the Odingas who believe they deserve better for their contribution to the liberation campaign, expansion of democracy and enactment of the 2010 Constitution.
University of Nairobi political scientist Adams Oloo and former Nakuru North MP Koigi Wamwere rule out the possibility of the two leaders working together due to their ambitions, especially the fact both will be contesting the presidency for the last time in 2017.
Mr Oloo reckons the gap between the Luo and Kikuyu nations is unlikely to be bridged soon.
He said Mr Odinga almost achieved it in 2002 when he rallied Luos to vote for President Mwai Kibaki.
But his “shortchanging” after the elections created mistrust.
“Jaramogi had stepped down in favour of Mzee Kenyatta in 1963. Raila also did it for Kibaki in 2002. The feeling is that Luos have done their part and it is now the turn of others to reciprocate,” said Dr Oloo.
“I don’t think it’s possible for the two to be on the same side because Mr Odinga is unlikely to play second fiddle to President Kenyatta,” he said.
Mr Koigi thinks that President Kenyatta’s trips were out of a realisation that he needed Mr Odinga to make any impact in his stronghold.
Argues Mr Koigi: “What Uhuru has done is to concede that he cannot develop a single constituency in Luo Nyanza without Raila and the latter shows Uhuru’s inadequacy by co-operating to take him to his backyard.”
But Mr Jeremiah Kioni, the former Ndaragua MP, says the Constitution compels the two to work together and that Mr Odinga was preparing ground to campaign in the President’s backyard.
“Raila also knows he needs Central Kenya votes and does not want to be chased away when he goes there.”
It is often pointed out that it was Mr Odinga’s father who insisted that Kenya would not accept independence without Mzee Kenyatta being free.
But in 2002, Mr Odinga jeopardised Uhuru’s State House bid when he led a dramatic walkout from Kanu and endorsed Mr Kibaki, the then National Alliance of Kenya leader, who went ahead to defeat Mr Kenyatta in the presidential election.
In return, Mr Kenyatta in 2007 opted out of the presidential race and teamed up with President Kibaki who was pitted against Mr Odinga in a contest that would lead to a dispute and violence.
And in the 2013 polls, Mr Kenyatta teamed up with Mr Ruto who had defected from Mr Odinga’s party and defeated him in a hotly contested election.
Former US President Bill Clinton has put up a strong case for what he calls “constructive co-operation” in democracies. Citing the case in which his wife, Hillary, worked with President Obama, Mr Clinton reckons that political competition must not be ugly. The two had in 2008 waged an emotive campaign for the Democratic Party ticket but later, President Obama appointed Mrs Clinton Secretary of State.
Mr Clinton might as well have had Kenyan politics in his mind.
In The recently ended Danish election, the prime-minister in charge only hold about 20% of the seats in the parliament, but he is forming the government with this mandate as a minority government.
But as always even if you are in government with other parties and are having the majority, it is a traditions to work across borders between the parties, and with the opposition as it also joins the population and makes them strong and stand together across differences.
We can’t agree with everything, but where we can and are willing to work together things will become better and work out for the better for everybody.