President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Deputy William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga’s 2017 running mate Kalonzo Musyoka were on Thursday formally enjoined in the “Building Bridges” pact between their two bosses in a rare show of unity sealed by apologies and warm embraces.
The four leaders also vowed to deal with corruption. In what is the first formal introduction of Mr Ruto and Mr Musyoka, who were both kept out of the March 9 deal, the Head of State personally asked Mr Odinga to pardon him for what he said were hurtful words uttered in the charged elections.
“We have campaigned against one another. We have said nasty things about one another. We have hurt one another. On my behalf, my brother Raila, I ask for your forgiveness and tender my apology,” President Kenyatta said to the applause of the audience at the annual National Prayer Breakfast at Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi.
Started in 2003 with the advent of the Kibaki administration to unite Kenyans in prayers, Thursday’s event was the sixteenth edition.
The theme was “Building Bridges” and was aimed at amplifying the reconciliation message, with Lord Michael Hastings of the UK, the keynote speaker, asking Kenyans to shun divisions.
Right from the start, the newfound “bromance” between Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta was evident.
The March 9 handshake on the steps of Harambee House, and which the two leaders have defended and vowed to protect even at the expense of losing close allies, was quickly escalated to warm embraces.
It also came just a day after President Kenyatta warned his allies against opposing the deal.
It all started with visiting US Senator Jim Inhofe, who called the two leaders on stage to pray for them, after which they sealed it with a hug.
But the best part of the prayer breakfast, the handshakes, the hugs, and the bromance, was to come at the tail end of the annual event.
After making his remarks, President Kenyatta invited Mr Ruto, Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka on stage.
He then apologised to Odinga and handed the microphone to Mr Ruto, who appeared to have been caught off-guard wondering aloud why his boss had not done the whole thing on his behalf.
“As my brother Mr President has said, and maybe I am the one most accused (of saying nasty things to each other, and hurting each other), I say this to my brother Kalonzo Musyoka: For all the things I did say, or do, on behalf of all our teams, I want to ask for forgiveness, and on my behalf, and those behind us, I tender my apology,” Mr Ruto said, extending his hand and arms, like his boss before him, for a hug with a man he fought so hard in the polls.
Thursday was the first time the four leaders met at the same event after the charged 2017 elections – annulled by the Supreme Court in August, and boycotted by a furious Mr Odinga and his team.
The handshake, which altered the political landscape, was organised secretly by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, with their lieutenants getting to know about it long after it had been sealed, and minutes before the famous deal was unveiled.
“We have said never again shall a Kenyan die because of an election. Never again shall a Kenyan deprive a fellow Kenyan of his birthright because of an election. And we will also fight corruption together. This is the meaning of the handshake,” Mr Odinga said before apologising to President Kenyatta.
“He had accused me of having insulted him. I also told him, he had called me kimundu muguruki (a mad man). I apologise.”
Mr Musyoka regretted the absence of opposition principals Moses Wetang’ula and Musalia Mudavadi, saying he would have wished them to be there to share in the moment. The three had jointly termed the handshake alien to them on March 9, and had vowed to forge a different path for national reconciliation.
“When it comes to being angry because of political outcomes, I think I was the culprit Number 1. One of the lessons I have learnt is to never be angry at your political competitor, it does not help,” Mr Musyoka said.
To Mr Ruto, he said: “You are hustler Number One. I forgive you, and may God bless you.”
In his brief remarks before he called the three leaders, President Kenyatta called for a ceasefire of hurtful words in politics, while warning that in a democracy, Kenyans should resign to the fact that they will not always agree.
Mr Odinga, on the other hand, likened his handshake with President Kenyatta to that between former South African President Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk – the face of the oppressive apartheid regime – that sent the former to jail for 27 years.
“In the comparison, Raila has made, I know he was referring to the fact that I am Mandela, and he is de Klerk,” President Kenyatta jokingly said.