Handover to Ruto was proud moment for me, Kenya – Uhuru
In the years following the passage of the new Constitution, the underlying issues around ethnic inclusion at the national level did not fade away and the situation came to a head in 2017, almost 10 years to the month after the post-election violence of 2007.
I was determined not let history repeat itself. I had spent the last two years of my first term trying to make up for the lost time that had been wasted running back and forth from the Hague, my administration was working double time to try and fulfill our election pledges to allow us the option to seek a fresh mandate in 2017.
The 2017 election proved to be yet another milestone moment in my political life, for the first time in Kenya’s history the outcome a general election had been overturned by the courts. Whether on account of judicial activism or plain ignorance, the decision of Kenya’s Supreme Court to overturn my August victory and order fresh elections was all that was needed to put the country on an extremely dangerous footing.
The constitutional lacuna surrounding the lack of defined or codified rules of engagement for the operations of Government in the event of a repeat election, exacerbated the situation even further. As the country prepared to go back to the polls for the second time on October 26, 2017, the main opposition parties made the decision to boycott the polls.
Whereas the victory of my party, the Jubilee Coalition was all but assured, the victory came at a price. The Kikuyu and Kalenjin had gotten their way, yet again and the much- touted tyranny of numbers had delivered another victory with staggering efficiency.
The intelligence reports in the days and weeks after the election and my subsequent inauguration pointed towards growing inter-communal and interethnic unrest, more so in some hot spot areas, particularly in the mass urban settlements of Nairobi and in the Lake side region of the country.
The security services adopted a containment posture and did their best in preventing the situation from escalating. As I would get my daily updates, I was reassured that normalcy would be restored and indeed it was. However, as has often been said by leaders across the world “Peace is not informed purely by the absence of conflict ”.
By the time Christmas of 2017 was approaching it became clear to me that the calm that had returned to the country had been replaced by an inexplicable sadness and a tangible despondency that had seeped into the hearts and minds of large sections of our population.
There were communities that felt defeated, that they had nothing more to lose and that they no longer wanted to associate with the country known as Kenya because they felt that they had no stake in it. I was not the only one who sensed that there was more that belied this uneasy calm and that something serious and possibly more sinister was slowly brewing.
The economy hadn’t bounced back at the pace that we had anticipated, investors had adopted a wait and see attitude and even though my coalition had an overwhelming majority in both Houses of Parliament, the politics seemed to be all wrong.
All this happening at a time when I was reconstituting my Cabinet and putting into place the organisation needed to deliver on the remainder of our pledges to the people of Kenya. It was then that I was reminded about the inverse correlation between our election cycle and the country’s economic performance.
Whenever political temperatures went up, real GDP growth came down. The facts do not lie. In 1992, after the first multi-party elections since the lifting of the ban on political pluralism, real GDP contracted to –0.80 per cent from 1.44 per cent the previous year.
In 1997, it dropped to 0.47 per cent down from the previous year’s 4.15 per cent. The same thing happened in 2008 when the economy ground to a standstill. The long and short of it was that after every election from 1992 our economy would take a hit for up to 2 years.
Things would then settle and shortly thereafter we would be back in campaign mode again and the vicious cycle would be ready to repeat itself. This meant that during every election cycle, thousands of jobs would be lost, private sector investment would shrink and revenues to government would be strained with adverse effects on the national development agenda.
It was then that I made possibly one of the most difficult decisions of my presidency. I resolved two things; firstly that I would deliver on my development promises no matter what and secondly that I would not be the President that took Kenya back into any form of civil strife. It was not weakness that led me to seek out the leader of the opposition, the Rt. Hon Raila Odinga; it was the appreciation that it was not about him, but rather the people whom he represented.
The millions who felt excluded and marginalised by our brand of politics and the imperfections of our democracy. The things we discussed in the days that followed and which culminated on March 9, 2018 in what we Kenyans now call the “Handshake” are the subject of another lecture.
Suffice to say, that on that day, the country exhaled. The dialogue that began was about what we needed to do to make all Kenyans feel included in the affairs of their Nation. It was about how we could strengthen devolution to deliver on what the framers of the constitution had intended, it was about how to make every Kenyan from a large or small tribe feel like the Government was theirs.
We recognised that when stripped down to its most rudimentary form, Kenya was simply an amalgamation of tribes trying to coexist peacefully within the borders that we found ourselves.
We recognised that for Kenya to endure as an indivisible Nation, a winner takes all situation was not sustainable over the long term and that the structures and organisation of government would need a rethink to accommodate the realities of who we really were deep down. We concluded that ethnic bigotry was a convenient cover for the vice of corruption, because it was always easy to say that it is our turn to eat and whatever we are doing we are doing for our people.
Handshake sigh of relief
Even as the country sighed in relief after the handshake, the weight did not lift from my shoulders. I now had the arduous task of taking and carrying along with me on this journey those who had benefitted from the previous status quo. That was easier said than done. Many of those from my political backyard could not comprehend why any political concessions needed to be made to those from other communities, more so because many of the proposals meant that the tyranny of numbers wielded by the larger communities would no longer be an assured path to absolute power.
They would have to contend with a seat at a much bigger table alongside many more people. The hardliners in my camp would remain skeptical and would take any bump along the way as an excuse to tell me to initiate a course correction. I would ask them, where do you want us to go? Do you want our brothers and sisters to get back on the streets? Do you want teargas and rubber bullets to be our only tools of persuasion? I flatly rejected these offerings and took pleasure in reading intelligence reports that talked about other issues and not simmering ethnic tension.
Contrary to the general expectation at the time, I did not dissolve my government, I did not initiate the formation of a government of national unity or what Kenyans call Nusu Mkate or a half loafgovernment. Both Raila and I knew that the issues we were discussing were too deeply rooted in our people’s psyche to be resolved by some simplistic cosmetic touchups.
After all a pig with lipstick would still remain a pig. To some on both sides of the divide, the Handshake was as inconvenient occurrence in the succession arithmetic. For me, it was the beginning of righting many wrongs that had been committed since our independence. Wrongs that had led to lopsided development and a concentration of power, wealth and opportunity in the hands a few at the expense of development for the many.
My decision to pursue an agenda of inclusivity bore fruit in many ways. In the period from 2018 up to 2022, Kenya recorded some of its fastest developmental gains. It was the togetherness of the Kenyan people that allowed my administration to steer the country through the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic that ravaged both lives and livelihoods. It was this unity of purpose that allowed Kenya to play its rightful role on the international stage, by securing a non-permanent seat at the UNSC and playing host to a multitude of international events.
Peaceful General Elections
In 2022, it was this unity and sense of inclusion that allowed us to experience one of Kenya’s most peaceful general elections whilst closing the year strong economically at real GDP growth rate of 4.8 per cent. On September 6, 2022, I handed over the reigns of leadership to my successor, President William Ruto, in a colourful and peaceful ceremony. It was a proud moment for me and for Kenya. No matter what was felt about the outcome of the elections, we stayed true to our Constitution.
Although I completed my term in office having not realised to my full satisfaction the agenda of de-risking Kenya’s governance structures for the benefit of future generations, I remain committed to the cause, because I feel that when we embrace inclusion, consultation and consensus-building in our politics, it only serves to improve the lives our citizens. It is said that a day in politics is a very long time and that politics remains the art of the possible.
As I settle into my retirement and shift my focus, time and energy towards the peaceful resolution of conflicts on our continent, I remain alive to the fact that I must continue to play a part in fostering peace in my home country of Kenya. I use my voice and my platform to persuade those in power that a dialogue with those in opposition to their victory is not a weakness nor is it a denial of their victory but rather a much-needed tool that creates a more inclusive Kenya and that sets a forward development trajectory that meets the expectations of all in our society and that the mentality of winner takes it all can only result in division and a retardation of our national development agenda.
Therefore, dear friends, as you celebrate victory of an election and prepare to inaugurate a new president, remember that your victory is not just about numbers as western democracy would have us believe, but the real victory will be how you will reach out to all voices in Nigeria and how every Nigerian from Katsina in the north to Port Harcourt in the South; from Babana in the West to Madiguri in the East will feel included in your victory and see your government as their government and your agenda as their agenda. One Nigeria, One Government for all.
The author is the Fourth President of Kenya . He made the speech during the Nigerian Presidential inauguration Lecture in Abuja, Nigeria last weekend.