The begging questions at the event were: will the Handshake really address the systemic political and electoral injustices bedeviling the country and ensure that Kenyans can realize and enjoy their constitutional and democratic rights? What should be the minimum tangible outcomes that the Handshake should deliver to the people of Kenya? Or will it simply end up prolonging the rule of Impunity and largesse in Government?
More specifically does the Raila-Uhuru handshake portend any hope for the many victims of last year’s violence; the parents who lost their young sons and daughters to police violence; the parents of 8 year old Stephany Moraa who was shot while playing on the balcony of their rented premises in Mathare; the parents of Silas Lebo an 18-year old form Four student at Barding High School in Alego Siaya County who was shot dead as he visited his brother in Nairobi for the holidays. The small scale traders who lost their kiosks to demonstrating youth; the mama mbogas whose KES. 1,000 worth of vegetable business spread out on the pavement was trampled over by police vehicles and wananchi running helter-skelter in the raging battles in the heat of the elections; the tenants who lost the only roof over their heads when they were kicked out by their landlords for ‘riding’ the ‘wrong’ political horse; the landlords who lost their premises to arsonists because they were in the ‘wrong’ political party; the neighbours who fell out during the elections and their children can no longer play together in the narrow alleys of their slums.
As the speakers took their turn at the weaving table, turning one thread over the other, the clear message was ‘hiyo ni handshake ya majuu, handshake zetu hazijafanyika’ (that is an elite handshake, our handshakes have not happened yet)! As the tears flowed from the relatives of the deceased young men, and words of inspiration were uttered amid shouts of ‘viva social justice’, the reverberating message was one of disconnect between the people’s aspirations and the political games going at the top political leadership level.
And there were dilemmas and contradictions too, starkly articulated by the story of the brother of the late Silas Lebo, who despite being a police officer, was at sea regarding the handshake just like the raia (ordinary Kenyan). After his brother was killed he went to the nearby police station to record a complaint to no avail, being moved from one office and rank to the other. Up until last month, the family have not been contacted on the progress of investigations into this death nor has any government official visited to condole them. In his own words, he wants Uhuru and Raila to explain to him how ‘their’ handshake was going to alleviate his pain and that of his parents’ for the loss of his once promising kid bro.
And as the participants chanted, Viva, viva! Forward with social justice forward. Down with the handshake, down! towards the end of the event, one thing was clear. There is a great need to animate conversations at the community level to listen to the people and walk them through the process of healing, a healing not based on the need to maintain peace, but one founded on justice, accountability and reparations for the wrongs of the past, and a guarantee of non-repetition, for the perennial victims of police brutality. A healing based not merely on the absence of war, nor one reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor brought about by dictatorship. Instead, rightly and appropriately ‘an enterprise of Justice (Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II)’.
There were hard punches too - what grassroot activists refer to as ‘kiti moto’ (hot seat) with Professor Yash Pal Ghai challenging the participants not to abandon the Constitution, like many others had done, but to keep the hope and the promise it holds alive. Most encouraging was the energy, sense of comradeship and the resolve to take their destiny in their hands and to cease being vulnerable to manipulation by the political leadership every five years.
Like Rabindranath Tagore said, you can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water, you must plunge in. And for this group the time has come to stop staring, to stop being bystanders, to being weavers of the thread to liberation and social justice.