PRESIDENT Uhuru Kenyatta met opposition leader Raila Odinga in public on March 9 for the first time since last year’s hotly disputed elections, with the pair promising to heal the country’s divisions.
The surprise meeting at Kenyatta’s office ended with the symbolic appearance of the two men standing side by side to deliver a joint statement.
Calling one another ‘brother’ they announced a plan for ‘a programme’ to overcome deep and long-standing ethnic and political divides, although they provided few details of what it might involve.
‘We have come to a common understanding, an understanding that this country of Kenya is greater than any one individual, and that for this country to come together leaders must come together,’ Kenyatta said.
Odinga expressed similar sentiments, speaking first.
‘Throughout our independence history, we have had doubts on how we have conducted our affairs in the face of growing divide along ethnic, religious and political lines. Regrettably, we have responded to our challenges by mostly running away from them. The time has come for us to confront and resolve our differences.’
Last year’s fraught election season saw one presidential poll annulled by the courts and the re-run boycotted by the opposition. While political violence did not come close to that which followed the 2007 vote — when more than 1,100 died — the disputed elections led to the deaths of more than 100 people, most of them shot by police.
The meeting came hours before the arrival of US secretary of state Rex Tillerson as part of his first Africa tour. The US has been urging direct talks between Kenyatta and Odinga to resolve the political strife.