A surprise handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga has stirred up Kenyan politics as the long-time rivals set their sights on the 2022 elections.
Less than a year since Kenyatta was re-elected to a second and final term in a vote that Odinga called a farce, the two shook hands on March 9 after weeks of secret talks. A warm embrace at a golf tournament followed later.
They said their rapprochement would mean an end to the violence, bitterness and political instability that followed last year’s elections.
But observers say the handshake signaled that Kenyatta and Odinga, who is also in the sunset of his political career, want to join forces so they can influence what happens next.
They say that it may show that Kenyatta intends to ditch a deal to appoint William Ruto, who is his deputy president but comes from a different ethnic group, as his successor. Kenyatta has said he still backs Ruto.
For Odinga, it shows he feels he has more bargaining power for himself and his Luo ethnic group as Kenyatta’s partner.
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“Everybody has had to go back to their drawing board and decide how they are going to run in 2022,” said Ngunjiri Wambugu, a lawmaker from Kenyatta’s Jubilee party, a political alliance between his Kikuyu ethnic group and Ruto’s Kalenjin.
“This pact between Kenyatta and Odinga has redefined the race.”
Political victory in a country of 45 million with 44 ethnic groups is usually forged through ethnic alliances. Since independence in 1963, Kikuyu and Kalenjin have dominated government.
The two groups clashed after disputed elections in 2007, in violence involving many tribes that left 1,200 Kenyans dead. They were united ahead of the 2013 vote by Kenyatta in his Jubilee alliance.
The Luo and other groups have often felt excluded by central government and made their own NASA alliance, led by Odinga.