It took a lot of tea, awkward silence and empty stares to broker the tete-a-tete that led to the handshake and later midwifed the Building Bridges Initiative.
While launching the BBI Report yesterday at the Bomas of Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga offered the public a glimpse of how they came together after the contested 2017 General Election and the repeat presidential election.
“By January 2018, this country was on the verge of splitting into two and people swearing in themselves,” revealed Uhuru.
The President also said he just chose to ignore Raila’s controversial swearing-in as the ‘People’s President’ in 2018. Earlier, in an in-house meeting with political leaders from Mt.Kenya region at Sagana Lodge in Nyeri County, Uhuru had made similar remarks.
According to the Head of State, no one between him and Raila wanted to open the conversation. The two just stared at each other, both hesitant to speak.
“I want to thank my brother Raila Odinga because our first meeting was not easy. Just as you were worried, we too were worried. We wondered about what we would tell each other when we met. When we finally met, we took tea for about 45 minutes in an awkward environment. We made small talk about our families. It was difficult talking to each other because of the pent up emotions from the elections,” President Kenyatta said.
This meeting took place before the “handshake” on March 9, 2018.
According to President Kenyatta, after more than one hour of saying nothing substantial to each other, they realised that their aides had left the room and they were just the two of them in there. It is at this point that they started talking.
“When the ice was finally broken, we almost spent the night at the venue of our meeting. As we were wrapping up, we realized that our differences were not as deep as we were making them. It was divisive politics that caused this. That every five years Kenyans have to fight,” he said.
We agreed to put our politics aside and ask ourselves the causes of our divisions and ensure that no more blood will be spilt, no more property will be destroyed and Kenyans will not be worried every election time,” he added.
According to Raila, the tension in the country and suspicion among politicians was too much for them. “It took 19 hours and it was not easy because we had called each other all sorts of names during the elections. After the long deliberations, we agreed that we had something that we can actually put together,” he said.
In putting together their thoughts on the way forward after the divisive elections, Raila revealed that they each invited their lawyers to draft the statement that they issued on March 9, 2018, when they met at Harambee House.
“We told them (the lawyers) what we felt was wrong with our society, what needed to be corrected and gave them the responsibility of putting it together. We then said we would have this conversation just between ourselves first. We were not talking about 2022 but 2017 going backwards — how we can change this country, create a new narrative and bring the country together,” said Raila.
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