We Are a Handshake Country

Jim India

Kenya’s history is marked by a series of political agreements, commonly referred to as “handshakes,” that have shaped the country’s political landscape. These agreements have been instrumental in resolving political crises, promoting national unity, and advancing democratic governance. In this article, I will explore some of the most significant political agreements in Kenya’s history, from the independence deal with the British, to the formation of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) in the early 2000s and eventually the promulgation of the 2010 constitution.

Former President Kenyatta and opposition chief Raila Odinga when they met at Harambee house on March 9, 2018.

Independence Deal with the British

Kenya gained independence from British colonial rule in 1963, following a series of negotiations between the British government and Kenyan nationalist leaders. The Lancaster House Conference, held in London in 1960, was a crucial moment in the negotiations that led to Kenya’s independence.

The conference brought together representatives from the British government, the Kenyan government, and various political parties to discuss the terms of Kenya’s independence. One of the key issues discussed at the conference was the future of land ownership in Kenya. The British government had acquired vast tracts of land in Kenya during the colonial period, and there was a growing demand among Kenyan nationalists for the return of this land to its rightful owners. The conference resulted in an agreement that allowed the British government to retain some of the land it had acquired, while also providing for the transfer of land to Kenyan farmers and communities.

Repeal of Section 2A & the Bumpy Road to Multiparty Politics

However, the years that followed independence were marked by power obsession, ethnic tensions, and political violence. The assassination of Tom Mboya in 1969 and the failed coup attempt in 1982 were just some of the events that rocked the country’s political stability.

In 1982, President Daniel Arap Moi amended the constitution to make Kenya a one-party state, effectively banning any opposition parties. This move was widely seen as an attempt by Moi to consolidate his power and suppress any opposition. However, in the early 1990s, the opposition, led by Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia among others, began pushing for multiparty democracy. The opposition faced a lot of resistance from the government, but eventually, Moi relented and allowed for the repeal of section 2A of the constitution, thus paving the way for multiparty democracy.

The repeal of section 2A was a significant victory for the opposition, and it set the stage for the country’s first multiparty elections in 1992. The elections were however, marred by allegations of rigging, with the opposition rejecting the results. The subsequent political violence claimed the lives of over 1,500 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

In 1997, Moi entered a political truce with opposition leader Raila Odinga, which led to the formation of the Inter-Party Parliamentary Group (IPPG). This was a forum for dialogue between the government and the opposition. The IPPG was tasked with negotiating a framework for free and fair elections in Kenya. It led to several constitutional reforms, including the establishment of an independent electoral commission. The circumstances that led to the political truce between Moi and Raila were complex, but they were largely driven by a desire to address the political crisis that had engulfed the country in the aftermath of the 1992 and 1997 elections. 

The Unbwogable Moment

In the early 2000s, the opposition parties in Kenya formed the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) to challenge Moi’s regime. The coalition brought together several political parties, including KANU defectors, to create a united front against Moi. NARC’s main goal was to unseat Moi and install a new government that would implement democratic reforms in the country.

The formation of NARC was a result of political compromises between various opposition leaders, including Raila Odinga, Michael Kijana Wamalwa, Charity Ngilu and Mwai Kibaki among others. Kibaki was eventually settled on as the coalition’s presidential candidate, and he went on to win the 2002 elections.

The formation of NARC and settling on Kibaki as the flag bearer were significant political agreements that paved the way for a new era of democratic governance in Kenya, economic revival, and the end of Moi’s 24-year authoritarian era.

The Struggle for a New Constitution

The process of getting the 2010 constitution in Kenya was a long and complex one that involved a series of political compromises and negotiations. It began with the failed Wako draft, which was named after the then Attorney General Amos Wako. The Wako draft was rejected at the referendum in 2005, largely due to concerns about the powers of the presidency and the lack of devolution of power to the counties. It was not until the formation of the Committee of Experts that the process was back on track.

The rejection of the Wako Draft led to the formation of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in 2005, a political party bringing together all the leaders who had led a charged campaign to reject the proposed constitution.

The 2007 elections were marred by controversy, and the opposition, led by Raila Odinga, claimed that the election had been stolen. The ensuing violence claimed the lives of over 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. Eventually, a political compromise was reached, and Kofi Annan brokered a power-sharing deal between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.

Former President Mwai Kibaki during the promulgation of the new constitution in Nairobi on August 27, 2010

The grand coalition government that was formed after the 2007/2008 post-election violence, was instrumental in getting the new constitution adopted in 2010. The coalition government had to navigate thorny issues, including land reform, devolution, and the creation of a bicameral parliament. The negotiations were often fraught, but eventually, compromises were made, and the new constitution was adopted.


From the Lancaster House Agreement to the adoption of the new constitution in 2010, political compromises have played a crucial role in shaping the country’s political landscape. It is however essential to remember that political agreements or “handshakes” are not a panacea for all political ills. Our political history has also shown us that these agreements are often fragile and can easily break down if the underlying issues are not addressed.

Our history is still marked by ongoing challenges, including ethnic-based political divisions, economic disparity, the land question, interference in key institutions, corruption, and impunity. These challenges pose significant obstacles to Kenya’s democratic consolidation.

Amid the current political stalemate between Kenya Kwanza and Azimio, all parties must be willing to compromise for the sake of the country’s future. As the country moves forward, it is essential to remember the lessons of the past and to prioritize political stability and economic growth for the good of all Kenyans.

Jim India is the Policy, Learning, and Research Officer and ELF-Africa. He is also a political analyst and comments on topical isuses.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *