Kenya

Awkward meeting between Uhuru and Raila that set stage for BBI

Awkward meeting between Uhuru and Raila that set stage for BBI

It took long hours, and many cups of tea, to broker the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), the two principals at the centre of the ‘handshake’ revealed Wednesday.

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.

“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 realised 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.

According to the President, that was the beginning of BBI.

“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 Mr Odinga, 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, Mr Odinga 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 Mr Odinga.

Before the revelations yesterday, there had been reports of clandestine meetings between the two and their trusted aides, including one that was hosted by a top judiciary officer, as efforts to bring the two together assumed a new urgency at the beginning of 2018.