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Ruto and Raila to give Uhuru much headache

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By OTIENO OTIENO
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Barring a political earthquake in Kenya in the next eight days, the biggest political event of the year in the country has to be the March 9 ‘Handshake’ between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

The truce symbolically called from the grounds of Harambee House — where Kofi Annan announced a similar breakthrough in the mediation talks involving then President Mwai Kibaki and Mr Odinga 10 years ago — has been credited with having pulled Kenya from the brink of yet another election-related turmoil.

The effect of relative political stability has been particularly felt in the economy, which though remains weighed down by a heavy public debt, has at least been spared the disruptions of businesses by street protests and product boycotts called by the opposition.

Whenever they are reminded about the amount of blood dripping from their newfound friends’ hands, Mr Odinga’s people also love to say that the handshake helped end the mass killing of his supporters by police.

But that is not the only reason critics of the ‘Handshake’ find it problematic for Kenya’s democracy. The extension of the ‘Handshake’ politics to Parliament, where Mr Odinga’s party retains leadership of key National Assembly and Senate committees but largely votes with government, has left citizens perilously exposed to the excesses of Executive policy decisions.

If you are still looking for danger signs, you only need to look back to September when the ODM party leader sought to whip his MPs to support the unpopular Finance Bill with which the government pushed a raft of taxes down our throats.

The signs get even more ominous if you consider the fact that the ‘Handshake’ has since morphed from the national unity initiative it was touted to be nine months ago into a platform for power games ahead of the 2022 elections.

A divisive narrative developing around it suggests that the end game will see Mr Kenyatta endorse Mr Odinga, his bitter rival in the past two elections, to succeed him as part of some conspiracy to block Deputy President William Ruto’s path to State House.

Of course, Mr Kenyatta hasn’t named his preferred successor since the truce with the opposition leader. And it won’t be up to him to decide who becomes the next president anyway.

But the President’s recent statement that his choice would surprise people has only helped fuel the speculation of a conspiracy. Whoever it is he ends up supporting though, the stage appears already set in 2018 for a section of Kenyans to blame him for betrayal in 2022.

If he backs Mr Odinga, he will definitely upset Mr Ruto’s people, the ruling party’s presumptive presidential candidate who has campaigned for him in the last two elections.

Stick with Mr Ruto, and Mr Odinga’s followers, among whom the idea of a pending endorsement by the President is being hyped up, will be up in arms.

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