President Kenyatta, left, held a surprise meeting with his political rival Raila Odinga in Nairobi.
Picture: AP
A political truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main rival in last year’s elections, opposition leader Raila Odinga, has given Kenyans reason to be optimistic. The two leaders held talks on Friday and agreed to work together in a move that shocked their foes and allies, a majority who did not expect the rivals to unite after bruising polls.

“Kenyans should overcome negative ethnicity by acting in the understanding that elections on their own are not solution to our challenges,” said Odinga and Kenyatta in a joint statement.

Last year, Kenya held two presidential elections, one on August 8, the result of which was annulled by the Supreme Court after it found Kenyatta was not validly elected. A second one was ordered on October 26, which the opposition boycotted, accusing the government of planning to rig it. Kenyatta was elected with 995 of the votes and later sworn-in, but Odinga declined to recognise him as president.

The lengthy electioneering period saw Kenyans divided along ethnic and political lines. Several people, the majority of them opposition supporters, were killed during confrontations with the police in demonstrations and political rallies.

“I am happy with the move by the president and Odinga. It is a step in the right direction because as citizens, we were suffering a lot,” Joash Mwangi, a Kenyatta supporter, said yesterday. Mwangi, a businessman selling clothes in Nairobi, noted he had lost several customers due to the political crisis.

“My customers, especially those who supported Odinga, had refused to buy my merchandise, accusing me of supporting their oppressors. I called one the other day and he told me that he had moved on, that he would not build a business of someone who was not from his region,” he said.

“I am optimistic that the business environment will be better going forward. My business has never been battered like this before,” said Gilbert Wandera, who runs a computer shop in the Nairobi central business district.

Moses Onyango, a motorbike taxi operator who supported Odinga, noted that divisions in the country had seen riders divide themselves along ethnic lines.

“In our case, Luo, Kamba and Luhya riders waited for customers at one place because we felt we were one since we supported the opposition. On the other hand, Kikuyus who supported the president also had their place and our customers were also aware of the division,” he said, noting he was hopeful that would end.

Leaders at the weekend rallied behind the unity talks between Odinga and Kenyatta, asking Kenyans to embrace them for the sake of the country. Deputy President William Ruto called on opposition leaders criticising Odinga to support the move for the sake of prosperity.

“Elections come and go. We cannot continue fighting and hope that we would have a country. It is time we join hands and build a country our children would love living in,” he said.

On social media, the unity talks have been a hot debate, with a majority of Kenyans supporting them, but others, especially opposition supporters, felt Odinga had betrayed them.

“I'm not pleased with whatever Odinga did. It was not the only alternative. Odinga was better off in opposition. All governments in the world have oppositions,” said Salome on Twitter.

Others questioned the secrecy in which the talks were held, noting just as Odinga called them for his controversial swearing in at Uhuru Park, he should have informed them of his next move. But analysts asked Kenyans to give Odinga and Kenyatta a chance to unite the country and not vilify them. “We should not vilify the leaders and others who claim they were not informed. We are all central to the reconciliation and peace of the country,” said James ole Kiyiapi, a former permanent secretary and a professor of environment. Kiyiapi noted that politics at their finest was first about national interests, everything else was secondary.

“What happened between Odinga and Kenyatta is not about winners and losers, it is about winning as a country,” he noted. However, he added that their coming together should not gloss issues affecting the country including negative ethnicity, lack of inclusivity and corruption, but offer a chance to solve them.

Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi, observed that the business community was one of the top beneficiaries of the talks, as the economy was set to rebound as the political environment stabilised. - Xinhua