In the wake of the 2007 electoral conflict, international actors intervened to restore peace in Kenya. The African Union (AU)-mandated, Kofi Annan-led Panel of African Eminent Personalities, comprising of Graça Machel (former first-lady) of Mozambique and Benjamin Mkapa (former president) of Tanzania among others, mediated the conflict culminating in the signing of the National Accord on February 28, 2008. The Accord paved the way for peace and laid the groundwork for resolving the humanitarian and political crises that occasioned the death of an estimated 1,133 people and the displacement of 350,000 others.1Commission of Inquiry to Post-Election Violence. 2008. Report on Commission of Inquiry to Post-Election Violence. Nairobi: Government Printer, pp. 305, 351.

After the mediation, initiatives of the state led by the National Steering Committee on Peacebuilding and Conflict Management strengthened Kenya’s infrastructure for peace. The promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya (2010) also laid the framework for devolution of political and economic resources. In addition, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission established critical peace programs for instance the Uwiano Platform for Peace that sought to facilitate reconciliation and national cohesion.

Besides these state-led initiatives, the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund-Kenya, United Nations Development Programme-Kenya, and the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) initiated programs towards consolidating peace and peaceful electoral transitions in the country. The USAID in particular initiated the conflict mitigation activism program and also supported the Amani Mashinani (peace at the grassroots) peace dividends projects implemented in the Rift Valley in partnership with the Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret that was under the leadership of Bishop Cornelius Korir. In addition, BBC Media Action’s Sema Kenya (Kenya Speaks) program enhanced dialogue on peace and governance while Internews’ land and conflict sensitive journalism program strengthened the capacity for media practitioners in peace and conflict-sensitive reporting. Other initiatives including Kenya Private Sector Alliance’s Mkenya Daima (Forever Kenyan) program also advanced the country’s peacebuilding agenda.

However, the quest for transitional justice before the 2013 elections threatened reconciliation efforts in Kenya. The need to serve retribution to the perpetrators of the killings and internal displacement of persons, as well as restitution to the victims of the 2007 conflict, was highlighted by the Annan-led mediation as critical to peacebuilding. The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) that was initiated in 2009 as well as the ICC’s Pre-Trial II Chamber’s authorization of the Office of the Prosecutor to launch investigations in Kenya proprio motu in March 2010 renewed ethno-political tensions, especially in the perceived perpetrator-victim communities. The presentation of the TJRC report to the president in May 2013, and the eventual withdrawal and vacation of the two cases against certain Kenyan leaders before the ICC in March 2015 and April 2016, respectively, over claims of alleged non-cooperation marked the end of the two transitional justice interventions.

The relapse into conflict in Kenya in August 2017 following the disputed presidential election that saw the re-election of the incumbent and Jubilee Party’s leader, Uhuru Kenyatta, however, attracted renewed antagonisms that led to a repeat of atrocities similar to those committed in 2007. The opposition’s boycotting of the fresh elections held on October 26, and the subsequent ‘swearing-in’ of the party leader of the Orange Democratic Movement and flagbearer of the National Super Alliance, Raila Odinga, on January 30, 2018, in protest of the contested presidential election outcome threatened the stability of the country. In addition, the killing by security agencies of at least 37 people in Nairobi, Migori, Busia, and Kisumu after the August 8 general elections and at least 25 others after the October 26 fresh presidential election as well as renewed hate speech on social media, heightened ethnic tensions. 2Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. 2017. Mirage at Dusk: A Human Rights Account of the 2017 General Election. Nairobi: Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, p.16; Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. 2018. Still a Mirage: A Human Rights Account of the Fresh Presidential Poll for the period September and November 2017, p.19. This led to calls for Kenyans to embrace peace amidst demands for peaceful resolution of the political stalemate by regional agencies for instance the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development’s call for peaceful fresh election.

It was against this background that the pre-emptive Handshake between President Kenyatta and National Super Alliance’s flagbearer Raila Odinga on March 9, 2018, symbolically ended the six-month long political stalemate. This signified a declaration of peace between the two political leaders. It also averted the political crisis that was characterized by calls for regional secession, economic boycotts, and mobilization for civil resistance. The launch of the Building Bridges to a New Kenyan Nation Initiative (BBI) thereof in May 2018 by Kenyatta and Odinga was a significant step in the pursuit of peace and unity in Kenya.

The Handshake and the BBI have significantly impacted the country’s political environment. Since its inception, the BBI task force has engaged different stakeholders – both state and non-state – at the national and county levels in discourses on how to build lasting unity. While the task force is mandated to outline policy and administrative reform proposals and implementation modalities for a united nation, its activities have instead attracted political discontent especially between factions of the Jubilee Party on the one hand and the Orange Democratic Movement Party ally of the National Super Alliance on the other.

Key concerns raised by commentators on the operationalization of the BBI include the constitutionality of the mandate and process, and the implementation of the report of the task force. While the National Accord framework was enshrined in the constitution through the National Reconciliation and Amendment Act, 2008, the Handshake and the BBI processes are not enshrined within any formal legal framework apart from the gazette that notified of the establishment of the task force. As a result, the initiative has been defined by commentators as a gentleman’s agreement or more of a memorandum of understanding.

The Handshake has, however, generated scholarly and policy interest on the role of third-party mediators in covert Track Two pre-emptive interventions in peacebuilding. In the case of the 2007 electoral conflict, international, regional, and local actors expressly implored the conflicting parties to resolve the political stalemate. Track One diplomacy was for instance applied in building consensus between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, and their allies, by actors including the AU, United Nations, European Union, and the Development Cooperation Group of states. In addition, Track Two interventions, for instance, the ‘peace proposal’ offered by the Inter-Religious Forum and the ‘seven point-point plan for negotiations’ proposed by the Ambassador Kiplagat-led Concerned Citizens for Peace’s informed the pre-negotiation diplomacy.

Similar prescriptive interventions were noted after the relapse in 2017. On October 22, 2017, Track One actors, including the AU and the UN, issued a statement urging the political leaders to exercise restraint and create a conducive environment for peace. On August 12, 2017, Kofi Annan also issued a statement urging political leaders to exercise restraint in their rhetoric and actions, and further called on Kenyans to embrace peace. In addition, foreign ambassadors in Nairobi led by the Ambassador of the United States, Robert F. Godec, issued a statement that warned political leaders to refrain from the use of violence and renew the national dialogue on uniting the country, perhaps a precursor to the Handshake and the BBI.

Although Track Two diplomatic interventions have on occasions yielded peace declarations, like the Kenyatta-Odinga Handshake and further fast-tracked formal dialogues for peace and unity, BBI, scholars, and practitioners alike argue that such informal strategies face two key challenges. First, due to the secrecy involved in bringing the conflicting parties to an agreement, in this case the Handshake, there are perceived or real issues of suspicion, fear, or rejection that might affect the process and outcomes of such approaches, in this case the BBI report.3Jones, P. 2015. The Future of Track Two Diplomacy. Global Brief. Fall. Second, such Track Two peace declarations and dialogue frameworks are constrained by the question of legitimacy. Since the structure of the BBI was not initially debated by the Parliament, the Executive, or the wananchi (citizens) at large but was purely an agreement between the two parties to the Handshake – Kenyatta and Odinga, the legitimacy of the process including the appointment of the task-force members and the format of the nation-wide consultative hearings has been put into question by aggrieved political leaders opposed to the peace deal.

Apart from these challenges, the Handshake significantly averted the political stalemate that had destabilized the nation. Since the Handshake in March 2018, there has been relative peace in the country. Scholars and practitioners argue that such Track Two interventions that lead to peace declarations may with the necessary political buy-in enhance policy change and transfer of dialogue from covert peace declarations into structured peace negotiations that are capable of transforming underlying structures that trigger conflict.4Dayton, B. 2012. Track Two Diplomacy and the Transfer of Peacebuilding Capacity. In Brown, (Ed.). Transnational Transfers and Global Development (167-181). London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.167-168. The apparent lack of political buy-in from some political factions may however derail BBI’s efforts to unite the nation and break away from the electoral conflict trap that has constrained the quest for sustainable peace in Kenya since the return to multi-party democratic politics in 1991.


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