Dinah Ondari @dinahondari
It was a morning of pumped up handshakes, hearty hugs, forgiveness and pledges of reconciliation as this year’s National Prayer Breakfast yesterday turned into conciliatory platform for the two fierce political factions in last year’s presidential elections.
Easy camaraderie that was unthinkable during the acrimonious electioneering, and in recent time between some of the top politicians present, melted into laughter and light talk as President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga prompted a conciliatory tone.
The first handshake on March 9 had been between Uhuru and Raila, but yesterday their running mates William Ruto and Kalonzo Musyoka, respectively, were co-opted into exchanging hugs and apologies.
It was the first time that Ruto and Raila, who had been seen to pull apart on several issues since the first handshake, warmed up to each other in a public function. It was also a historic burying of the hatchet between the Jubilee and Nasa pairs who fought a bitter presidential election last year, which led to speculation that the handshake atmosphere might yield more political deals.
The euphoric moment saw the leaders vow to forge a united front in confronting the challenges facing the country, including corruption and development.
The other two Nasa leaders, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula had been invited but did not turn up, organisers of the event told the People Daily.
Borrowing from the Bible, the President challenged leaders to embrace forgiveness. “The Bible in 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness but great strength.”
While reiterating his apology that he first delivered during his State of the Nation Address to Parliament last month, Uhuru invited the Opposition leaders to join him in building the nation: “We are a democracy.
People will not agree in everything, but those differences should not be allowed to cause misery, bloodshed and destruction of property in our land. On those issues we can agree on, let us work together, surely we can agree on the fact that our people need health services, housing and that we need to work together in fighting corruption.”
He continued: “We have campaigned against each other, said nasty things, let the handshake cascade down to every citizen. We must not use ethnicity for cover up, a thief is a thief, not Kalenjin, Luo or Kikuyu, he has a name.”
Raila, on his part, revealed what happened behind the scenes before him and Uhuru agreed to work together. “Before we shook hands, we had a long discussion on where the rain started beating us. The tension, hatred of all these generations, will end with us. Never again should a Kenyan die because of elections.”
The former prime minister said: “We have to reflect where we have come from, where we are and where we are going. The Lord works in mysterious ways, since we shook hands a lot of good things have happened, the shilling as steadied, the stock market is stable and Kenyans have peace. This is what we needed so that the country can move on.”
He added: “On behalf of all members of Nasa and ODM, in front of this congregation, I tender my apologies, even if he (Uhuru) insulted me and called me mundu muguruki (mad person).”
The Deputy President also apologised: “This prayer breakfast is special, we have graduated the handshake to hugs, we have our own issues but God has a way of bringing us together. As we build bridges, let us resist hate and ethnicity, the power of forgiveness is what keeps a nation together. I ask for forgiveness, I tender my apology.”
“On behalf of all our teams and following in the footsteps of President Kenyatta, I want to apologise for all the things I said and did,” he added.
Kalonzo apologised and sought forgiveness for unfriendly remarks made in the heat of the 2017 presidential election. “My brother William, I forgive you and may God bless you,” he said.
Kalonzo also repented: “I wish our colleagues Mudavadi and Wetang’ula were here, I said very bad things, when it comes to being angry I was the first culprit though I realised that being angry with your political rival does not help.” The leader also agreed to support the government agenda to fight corruption.
The event was witnessed by a cross-section of both international and national leaders, including Somalia president Mohammed Abdulahi Farmajo who called on the leaders present to pray for regional peace in the backdrop of security challenges posed by the Al Shabaab militia.
The annual morning gathering mainly constituted Members of National Assembly and the Senate, Speakers of the bicameral Parliament and their counterparts from the 47 county assemblies, governors, cabinet secretaries, Members of the East African Legislative Assembly, the Judiciary heads led by Chief Justice David Maraga and members of the diplomatic corps.
There were also delegations from several countries including the United States Congress and the Senate as well as the Speaker of the Ugandan parliament and other invited dignitaries.
It was US Senator James Inhofe who set the ball rolling when he offered a short prayer of reconciliation between Uhuru and Raila.
Maraga assured Kenyans of the Judiciary’s support in the fight against graft: “You can count on the Judiciary in fighting corruption. That is the only way God can bless us if we mind preserving our national wealth,” said Maraga.