By BWIRE MUGOLLA
In January 2013, the Jubilee Party, then known as the Jubilee Alliance, was officially formed out of several parties, many of whom had been bitter rivals.
Former political opponents Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were even summoned by the International Criminal Court because of their alleged but subsequently unproven involvement in the post-2007 elections violence.
The first “handshake” became the emblem of the new party which took Tuko Pamoja (We are together) as its slogan and rallying cry.
Some saw this as a marriage of convenience, while others understood that Uhuru Kenyatta was the kind of leader who sought inclusivity and not division. Reaching out and clasping hands with a former opponent would become the quintessential moment at every rally.
The raised hands clenched one to the other with fingers intertwined was an important symbol that convinced a plurality of Kenyans to get behind them and support their unique leadership.
This was an important moment for Kenyan politics, but the country was still pretty divided, and the 2017 elections, rerun and aftermath demonstrated that.
Some thought that the violence and intense political, tribal and ethnic divisions which saw over a thousand dead and hundreds of thousands of Kenyans internally displaced during the aftermath of the 2007 elections could be returning.
Thus, the second “handshake” was no less an earthquake than the first, and arguably more critical.
When Uhuru reached across to an even more long-standing and fierce opponent in Raila Odinga during 2018, mouths were left agape. No one saw this handshake coming, but there would be more.
Smaller “handshakes” have been proffered by Uhuru to and accepted by Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and more recently ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi.
While they might not be in absolute lockstep with Uhuru, they are prepared to listen, engage and support.
These handshakes are now reshaping Kenyan politics.
Nevertheless, there are still those who think in terms of party before country.
Some dissatisfied members of each of these principals’ parties feel that these budding relationships and shared agendas are hurting their succession chances. They rally against the handshakes, not because there is anything inherently wrong with them, but because they stand in opposition to their political rise.
However, the Kenyan people should keep something very important in mind: That these political parties are themselves creations of political expediency, whether NASA, CORD or other acronyms.
The name and the constellation should matter less than the good of the country.
These handshakes have led to less divisions, but more importantly, have led to greater political opportunities and the potential meeting of national challenges.
Not everyone bought in immediately.
The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) was born very much in skepticism, certainly from the average citizen, but a transparent process, innovative outreach and public support have meant that many have been convinced to support it.
Slowly but surely, the handshakes have expanded beyond the political class and onto among wananchi, and the BBI report is the best example of this. Thousands of people from across the country have contributed to this unprecedented initiative and now the country will reap the fruits.
In 2020, we must continue the handshakes. We must continue Uhuru’s example to stand together, with friend and former foe alike.
We must continue to build bridges to each other regardless of history and division.
For six years, Uhuru has shown how to reach out and clasp the hand of others. He hasn’t just done it for effect, but each handshake has had deep practical applications for our society and left an indelible mark.
Never before in Kenya’s long and tumultuous history have so many hands been joined at so many levels.
Nonetheless, there will continue to be those who will seek to push us back into our former positions as adversaries rather than countrymen and women.
It is our responsibility over the next twelve months and beyond to dare not let go of each other.
We should continue these partnerships and engagements, and we will start to solve one of the BBI’s most pressing issues in creating national ethos.
This should be the year where we recognise that what divides us is far less than that which unites us as a people.
Kenya is being built again one handshake at a time, and 2020 should be the year where we grasp tighter and reach further together.
Mr Mugolla comments on topical socio-political issues