Dinah Ondari @dinahondari
President Uhuru Kenyatta took the conciliatory tone set by his handshake deal with Opposition leader Raila Odinga a notch higher by offering an apology to Kenyans for any role he may have played in the divisive politics that characterised last year’s elections.
It was an unexpected humble juncture in the State of the Nation Address, Uhuru’s first of his second term, but which was interpreted variously in relation to his developing camaraderies with Raila.
Before asking Kenyans to forgive him for any part he may have played in the tensions of last year, President Uhuru fired a stinging indictment at politicians for turning the elections into a clash of political enemies thereby polarising the country.
Seeing as he went into the joint sitting of both Houses while pressure has been mounting on him and Raila to reveal the details of the handshake, the apology by Uhuru was seen as another step to unlock scepticism that may have lingered especially in Raila’s strongholds.
Following the handshake on March 9, some Opposition diehards had demanded that Uhuru apologise to Raila’s strongholds for damage they claimed suffered in the election tensions, including deaths during protests.
With Uhuru and Raila said to be preparing to go on countrywide reconciliation forays, the apology was seen as a deliberate effort to prepare the ground, especially in Raila’s political zones.
Uhuru yesterday rallied the joint session of the Senate and the National Assembly and other political leaders to embrace national unity, telling them to apologise for dividing Kenyans for political expediency.
“In the heat of the campaign, words of anger, malice, and hatred were spoken. Politics was no longer a debate between opponents on issues; it was a clash of irreconcilable enemies.
All of us, and in particular we leaders here, will have to admit that last year, we failed in our duty to preserve the unity of this country,” he said. “We must make amends.
If there was anything I said last year that hurt or wounded you, if I damaged the unity of this country in any way, I ask you to forgive me, and to join me in repairing that harm.”
And as if to underline the weight of the step taken by Uhuru, Deputy President William Ruto as well issued an apology to Kenyans that he may have either hurt or offended in any way.
“In keeping with the President’s statement, I unreservedly apologise to anyone offended or hurt in anyway by what I have said or done at any time. Find it in your heart to forgive me. I have forgiven all those who wronged me. Let’s embark on building the bridges of friendship and unity,” Ruto said on his Twitter handle.
Shaking hands The President urged the legislators to take a leading role in uniting the nation: “I pray that all of us will spend the days and weeks after this address repairing the bonds that frayed last year. Let us apologise for our words, and for the anger and malice that Kenyans heard.”
And to turn his statement into reality Uhuru said Kenyans needed to unite and called on the MPs to make peace by shaking hands. It was at this juncture that Embakasi East ODM MP Babu Owino, a sharp critic of the President, moved forward and enthusiastically shook Uhuru’s hand as a sign of reconciliation.
Uhuru also paid tribute to Nasa leader Raila Odinga saying: “I am not the only leader who deeply felt the need to restore unity. Raila did so too. So let me praise the statesmanship he showed when, on March 9 this year, he and I publicly committed to reconciliation, with the Kenyan people as our witnesses,” said the President.
The Head of State was quick to explain that their handshake was not a sign that they agreed on everything but the beginning of a process to reconcile the country. “We did not immediately solve all Kenya’s most pressing problems, nor did we see eye-to-eye on every proposed answer.
It is important to emphasise that unity doesn’t mean unanimity. Rt. Hon. Raila and I stood together not because we agreed on every item of politics or policy, but because we agreed that Kenya belongs to all of us,” said Uhuru.”
Yesterday’s sitting was a full House attended by Jubilee and Nasa legislators into which Uhuru was escorted to Chamber by both the leadership of the majority and minority.
Amidst the speech, members took a moment to exchange handshakes, with Babu Owino taking the opportunity to shake the latter’s hand. The President also used yesterday’s occasion to seek Parliament’s cooperation in implementing his Big Four agenda.
“I will rely on you to pass the legislation upon which it depends…join me as agents of the desired change,” he said. Uhuru also paid tribute to the 11th Parliament for helping to mid-wife Devolution which, he noted, is changing the lives of millions of Kenyans.
The president however avoided the subject of a proposal for a referendum which has dominated public debate in recent weeks.