By Samuel Ouma*
“If there had been no handshake, this country would have been brought to its knees by perilous forces—the reckless aggressiveness of some and the triumphant chest-thumping and stone-walling by others,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta while reflecting on the ungovernable state of the country after the 2017 presidential polls.
Kenyans turned against each other following the disputed polls that pitted President Uhuru Kenyatta against his former political nemesis Raila Odinga. Their supporters engaged each other in battle as well as name callings splitting the nation down the middle. As a result of the disputes, innocent lives were lost, the property of untold value devastated, and the economy declined as businesses remained closed and investors were shutting down their operations in the East African nation.
To save the country from plunging further into chaos, Kenyatta and Odinga reached a consensus famously known as a handshake to work together. Their main objective was to build a nation responsive to the urgent need for prosperity, fairness, and dignity for all Kenyans.
“That is why we saw it fit towards the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, after seeing what was happening in various parts of the country—Kenyans fighting among themselves. We decided, together with Raila, that we need, as leaders, not to sit back and watch as Kenyans shed blood because of us and because of politics,” reiterated the Head of the State.
After the handshake, stability was achieved, normalcy resumed, and the economy started to pick up well until early this year when the coronavirus pandemic led to an economic downturn though it is a global challenge. The handshake provided the President with a conducive environment to deliver his promises to the electorates during his second and final term in office. Kenyatta’s administration has made some significant progress thanks to unity and peace the East African nation has enjoyed since 2018. Some of the achievements are:
Launching the Kenya Coast Guard Service
In November 2018, President Kenyatta signed into law the Coast Guard Service Bill to allow Kenya’s coastline to be guarded by a special force. The Kenya Coast Guard Service has been tasked to enforce maritime security and safety, pollution control and sanitation measures, and prosecuting offenders. Reports state that Kenya loses about $100 million annually to scrupulous traders engaging in illegal commercial activities.
“For too long, we have experienced multiple problems with marine security including illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing by foreign trawlers, smuggling of contraband goods, degradation of marine ecosystems through discharge of oil, toxic waste dumping, and the destruction of coral reefs and coastal forests.”
“It will enforce security, safety, and protection of Kenya’s maritime resources,” he said, noting that apart from illegal fishing, Kenya faces other security concerns such as drug and human trafficking and trans-shipment of illicit arms which come through the sea because of lack of proper surveillance mechanisms,” said Kenyatta during the launch.
The government has stepped up its effort to fight against corruption. So far, several former and current leaders have been arraigned in court and charged with corruption-related offenses. Some like Governors Mike Sonko and his colleague Okoth Obado have been denied access to their offices until their cases are heard and determined.
President Kenyatta had signed deals with Switzerland and the UK’s governments to help Kenya recover stolen funds stashed in Swiss and UK banks. During the signing of the agreement, Swiss President Alain Berset promised to return assets to Kenya.
“We have a history and a policy of freezing and returning stolen assets, and we need partners like Kenya in all those two duties. It is also through a partnership that an agreement can be reached on how to return assets in a way that benefits the people of the country concerned,” he said.
Deal with the US
Kenyatta entered into a deal with the US government that saw two companies invest $23 million in Kenya. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and Kipeto Wind Energy agreed to construct and operate a 100-megawatt grid-connected wind power plant in Kenya’s capital.
China Trade Deal
Kenya and China had also reached an agreement to allow Kenya’s fresh produce such as avocado, mangoes, and cashew nuts to be exported to the Chinese market.
The handshake gave birth to Building Bridges Initiatives (BBI), an initiative to unite Kenya through inclusivity. The document has proposed numerous changes in the political arena and other areas to achieve a united nation. On November 25, 2020, Kenyatta and his handshake brother unveiled the collection of at least one million signatures to back the Constitution’s amendment.
The BBI secretariat noted that they intend to collect the signatures within seven days. Those supporting the document would be required to state their name, ID number, county, constituency, county assembly ward, polling station, phone number, and email addresses. The signatures will be subjected to a verification process by the electoral commission to ascertain their validity.
“To enable the voter verification process and to ensure completeness of the supporters’ records, all the fields in the said approved format/template should be duly filled,” said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chair Wafula Chebukati.
The document is expected to address the gender disparity which the country has struggled with for decades and do away with the ‘winner takes it all’ policy that has promoted political animosity since independence. BBI will also address rampant corruption, devolution, and negative politics. It will also ensure Kenyans’ human and civil rights are respected, and those affected by human-made and natural disasters are secure.
Once the IEBC verifies signatures, the document would be tabled in all of the 47 county assemblies, and 24 county assemblies are required to endorse the document to move to the next stage, the National Assembly and the Senate. When the document sails through in both the houses, it would be taken to people to decide.
However, the document is expected to face stiff opposition from a political faction led by Deputy President William Ruto. The group has been calling for the review of the report so that everyone’s view is accommodated. The second in command wants the proposal to create the position of a judiciary Ombudsman appointed by the President amended. The draft proposes the nomination and appointment of the ombudsman for a five-year term by the President with the National Assembly’s approval. Ruto termed the proposal a derogation of Judiciary independence, a claim that has been rubbished by Odinga.
“We must be careful about the independence of institutions. We are coming from a history where judges received phone calls after meetings were held at night. We do not want to go back there,” the DP asserted.
Ruto and his allies are also against increasing the number of lawmakers and the executive’s expansion as proposed by the draft. Some have described the report as the real tower of Babel, while others call on President to deal with urgent matters such as the Covid-19 pandemic, insecurity, loss of jobs, evictions, and failed Universal Health Care (UHC), graft impunity, and political thuggery.
“Since greed, the myopia of BBI fraud overrides common sense and logic; since #BBI is a desperate do-or-die conspiracy for 2022 Cartel that’s ignoring all the cries and all advisories for a reason, let them bring it, they’ll know majority Kenyans are fed-up. BBI deception must fall,” said ex-MP Kabando wa Kabando.
The electoral commission will have 30 days from December 2 to verify the signatures before submitting the bill to county assemblies between January 11-18. The Assemblies will deliberate on it from January 19 to February 19. Parliament will have to discuss the bill between February 20 and April 5 before taking back to IEBC to prepare for a referendum set to be held latest June 6, 2021.