Political confusion reigns in Kenya after Odinga, Kenyatta deal | Africa | DW | 13.03.2018
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Political confusion reigns in Kenya after Odinga, Kenyatta deal

It's unclear what the new deal between opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta means for the country after months of political turmoil.

Kenyans are still digesting the news of the unity deal between President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and his staunch opponent, Raila Odinga (right), who for months had vehemently refused to recognize Kenyatta as the winner of the October 2017 elections.

But on Friday, in a surprise appearance together, Odinga and Kenyatta said they would work together to unite the country. Kenya has been rocked by political turmoil following disputes about elections first held in August 2017 and rerun in October.

The announcement of the unity deal has sparked mixed reactions in Kenya. Many opposition supporters felt that their sacrifice has been in vain, after brutal crackdowns on the opposition left dozens dead and injured.

Augustine Onyango, who was shot and wounded during an opposition demonstration, told DW of braving tear gas and police bullets to protest. Speaking on street of the capital, Nairobi, he said he was "very much disappointed" with Odinga for now appearing to recognize Kenyatta as the president.

Odinga had boycotted the October rerun and in January, he held a mock inauguration in which he was sworn in as the "people's president" in protest at Kenyatta's win.

Opposition supporter Jack Omondi told DW he felt "[Odinga] has betrayed his integrity. He has betrayed us and we are not happy."

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Potential peace for Kenya

But others were relieved that the country might finally come to peace. The deal between Odinga and Kenyatta "was the best thing that happened to the entire Kenya," said Juma Ayako in Nairobi. "We are telling Kenyans: let us be united."

Addressing the press together on Friday, Odinga and Kenyatta pledged to work together. "The time has come for us to confront and resolve our differences," said Odinga, after the talks. "We refuse to allow our diversity to kill our nation."

Kenyatta called Odinga "his brother" and the two had reached an understanding "that this country of Kenya is greater than any one individual. And for this country to come together, leaders must come together."

The fathers of Odinga and Kenyatta were allies in the struggle to free Kenya from British colonial rule but fell out shortly after independence. The sons became political adversaries, running against each other in 2013 elections, which Kenyatta narrowly won amid widespread allegations of fraud, and in 2017.

According to Kenya's Nation newspaper, the secret talks leading to Friday's press conference had been ongoing since late 2017.

Election boxes in Kenya

The original election in August was annulled because of the potential for election fraud

A joint statement said the two had agreed to set up an office with advisers staffed by both the ruling Jubilee party and Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement. The office would address issues from the election system failings to corruption and ethnic divisions.

Speaking on Friday, the newly reconciled politicians didn't expand on this statement or respond any questions, making it difficult to know exactly how the two, and their parties, will work together in the future.

"I am still a bit confused because we don't know what is really going to happen now," Jan Cernicky, the Director of KAS Kenya, a German foundation that works to promote democracy and good governance, told DW on the phone from Nairobi.

The beginning of the end of the opposition's national alliance, NASA

Odinga's allies from his National Super Alliance, known by the abbreviation NASA, were conspicuously absent from Friday's meeting and the leaders of the three principal parties held an emergency meeting on Monday.

The future of the alliance, which already looked rocky since the leaders of the other parties skipped Odinga's mock inauguration in January, is now up in the air.

"There was already a lot of friction," said Cernicky. And after Odinga's mock inauguration, NASA seemed "on the out." Although NASA was still formally operating, he added, the activities of the principle NASA politicians in the past month were mainly individual rather than for the alliance. 

"Now that [Odinga] shook hands with Kenyatta, I don't see any reason for NASA to exist because there is no rationale for an opposition movement that has lost its most important party," Cernicky said.

Return of Odinga

With Kenyatta limited by the constitution to running again for president when his term expires in 2022, Odinga's move puts him back in the political spotlight.

The reinvention of Raila Odinga is "amazing", Kenyan political commentator Mark Bichachi told DW.

"He has rejuvenated himself as a statesman, as someone who is willing to abandon political ambition for the sake of the nation. Now what he can do with that political capital is pretty much everything. He can possibly run again in 2022."

Additional reporting by Andrew Wasike in Nairobi

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