Hugs and apologies between Kenyan political rivals

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, opposition leader Raila Odinga and their deputies on Thursday exchanged hugs and apologies, cementing their pledge to promote unity after a fractious and bloody election.

The unusual scene unfolded at the country's annual national prayer meeting.

It came eight months after Kenyatta's re-election in a drawn-out poll that divided the nation and left at least 92 dead, according to rights groups.

Longtime rivals Kenyatta and Odinga in March shook hands and pledged reconciliation in a move that stunned the nation, as well as members of Odinga's opposition alliance who said they had not been consulted.

What is now known as "The Handshake" had spurred endless speculation but little concrete action.

But on Thursday, the two men shook off any scepticism by repeatedly hugging each other and calling each other "my brother" at the prayer breakfast.

Vice President William Ruto and Odinga's running mate Kalonzo Musyoka also apologised to each other for any election rancour, and hugged.

"We have campaigned against each other, we have said nasty things against each other, and today, I ask forgiveness and I would like to apologise," said Kenyatta.

"Never again shall a Kenyan die because of an election. On my own behalf and that of all those behind me, I tender my apology," said Odinga, who had claimed the election was stolen from him, and whose supporters were the vast majority of those killed by police during protests.

Also present at the event was Supreme Court Chief Justice David Maraga, who rose to international fame as the man who annulled Kenyatta's victory in a first August election and ordered the poll held a second time.

The rapprochement between Kenyatta and Odinga has left the opposition in disarray, and headlines have swung straight onto the 2022 election race and its potential alliances.

Despite the display of unity, numerous questions remain about the concrete implementation of the reconciliation deal known as the "Building Bridges" initiative.

The event co-incided with a protest by several hundred people in Nairobi after a series of fresh corruption scandals in recent weeks showing tens of millions of dollars stolen from various state agencies.

"There is not much to write home about with regards to concrete plans by the 'Building Bridges' initiative to address this matter," civil society organisers said in a statement, on the endemic graft in Kenya.

"This, together with the lacklustre response from the executive on the various scams, has furthered furore among the citizenry and reduced their faith in this initiative."

So far a joint committee has been established to work on a "national dialogue" to foster greater unity and reduce tribalism.

Politics in Kenya is largely a matter of ethnicity, with people backing leaders from their own community and their potential allies from the five main ethnic groups -- which leads to dangerous and often deadly divisions.