Say what you may about Kenya’s opposition leader, Raila Odinga, but one thing you cannot take away from him is the strength he has in the number of loyal supporters and the unreservedly driven spirit he has demonstrated over the years spanning his political career.
Raila wields a unique level of power which, if we are being honest, no politician in Kenya, then or now, has ever enjoyed.
His popularity has earned him titles too many to list here. Names such as the Enigma, the stump remover (a Luo metaphor alluding to how he ended Moi’s regime), The heart of the world, Son of NyaAlego (with respect to Luo custom which reveres the mother), The Tractor, The Hammer, Chuma Liet (hot metal in English, suggesting he is untouchable), Agwambo and the renowned Baba which is a Swahili word meaning Father – and in more ways than one, he is.
What is it about this intrepid post-independence politician that draws millions of people out onto the streets at his slightest command?
What is it about this man that makes new-age politicians who are supposed to be more virile and relevant, quake in their boots every time he expresses dissent?
We can blame it on several things; perhaps it is the unwavering, perennial support of his community, the Luo tribe. Maybe it is the international recognition of his various efforts towards improving African democracy and the freedoms of his people.
Maybe still it is the perceived inheritance of being the son of a political giant, The Late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, which has inadvertently earned him a seat at the dynasty table.
For others it is simple – Raila is the storm that cannot be ignored, the river that will break any bank to find a new and more progressive course, the whirlwind that sweeps up all the litter into nothingness in its wake.
Talk to any political analyst of note at home and abroad and they will tell you without fear of contradiction, that since 2007, there has been no truly free or fair election in Kenya. We simply chose to embrace the now infamous “accept and move on” slogan. Raila has fought tirelessly for his stolen victories, a fact that many misconstrue as selfishness.
Is it though? He has been a statesman, a political martyr and the horseback on which many new-age politicians have ridden to get where they are now.
Many politicians in Kenya hinge on his name to remain relevant. He is looked upon to save the country every time there is a crisis but has never really held the mantle to do everything he can for his beloved nation.
Raila has backed down each time. He has faced ridicule even from his ardent supporters for the times he has caved and called a ceasefire, a case in point in 2007 when post-election violence reached an all-time peak.
He has accepted less than he deserves even when the courts have agreed with him. He, throughout his political travails, has been like the proverbial deep sea diver who holds his breath until he can no more. He is done.
For what is man but a corpse if he will not come up for air? The economy is on its knees. The education system is a sham. The country is famished and oh, we have 50 new CASs. Very simply put, it can no longer wait.
The unlikely options
So while the rest of the world is watching in fascination, the first 3D-printed rocket, Terran 1, take off and well… fail, Kenya’s declared president is busy wondering what to do with the persistent itch in the small of his back that he just cannot seem to reach. Raila Amollo Odinga.
The comparison of the two events might come across as irrelevant but it goes to show just how ridiculous and untimely it is for a fast-developing nation like Kenya to be embroiled in running battles over an ill that was completely avoidable in the first place.
Raila is back again like a bad penny and he has landed squarely in front of Mr William Ruto. He cannot and will not be ignored.
Last Monday’s protests felt like a litmus paper test; seeing what would be in place, who would come out, and what Ruto’s government would do. As the country braces for this coming Monday and Thursday demos all eyes are on the police, Ruto and of course, Raila and Azimio supporters.
Once again, anti-Raila camps are calling the mass protests a “stupid Luo” affair even though the Azimio One Kenya Alliance is literally the entire face of Kenya. The fact that one community, by all appearances, is crying out the loudest, makes it neither foolish nor a Luo affair.
If anything, prudence would dictate that one examines what it is that irks said tribe so after every election since independence. In a previous article, I talked about the Luo marginalization issue and recent events only go to shore up the motivation behind my thoughts in that piece.
Unfortunately, empathy went on a journey and never returned in our country and the norm has become that all demonstrations are called Luo riots. They are then quickly tossed in the bin of ‘do forget me’. Lawyer Steven Ogolla, even though he is not Raila Odinga’s biggest champion, tweeted;
Ogolla, Steve(@steveogollaw). “THE ARGUMENT that Raila Odinga’s fanatical following in Luo Nyanza is the reason Luos are steeped in poverty is a convenient political lie concocted to marginalize Luos and relegate them to the periphery of economic growth. Equitable development is core business of elected Gov’t.” Twitter, Apr 10, 2020, URL.
So, what options are on the table? Well, whether they have made it to the table at all in the first place is a matter for a different article but here is what analysts are floating as possibilities, while the two not-so-equal opponents maintain a dyed-in-the-wool approach to their demands.
Arrest and prosecute
This I feel the need to address only because it is one of the options that anti-Raila camps are talking about. Otherwise, I would not. Why?
It is an extremely injudicious utterance that could see us rapidly joining the long list of failed states on the continent. For clarity’s sake, my opinion regarding this callous option would remain the same if seats were switched and it was the arrest of Ruto being proposed, at least at this point in time.
No citizen in Kenya is above the law but arresting Raila would be a misstep of such tremendous proportions that it would take Kenya aeons to get her glory back.
Think of a lovers’ tiff. Or the alarmingly commonplace scuffles in marriages. When one spouse feels hurt or betrayed, they will often go off on a drinking spree or find some other distraction to help them ignore the real problem.
The only issue is the problem never goes away. Not until it is handled conclusively through, preferably, a sit-down. Ignoring the issues being raised not just by Raila but also by citizens is ill-advised.
Also, it would mean that the protests go on sine die and perhaps turn up in frequency from two days to 7 days a week. In the end, a collapse would be imminent.
Ruto has made it clear that he does not want to talk. In his opinion, there is nothing to talk about. He, in fact, has encouraged the protestors to “protest until they are tired”.
While this may give him some momentary relief from his current bitter reality, he is woefully failing to see the bigger picture. There is a huge elephant in the room and it seems to be getting bigger the more it is ignored.
Raila on his part has also ruled out dialogue, at least not until his ultimatums are met. Key among them is the server issue and the high cost of living in the country.
Unfortunately for Mr Ruto, Raila’s fighter jet has just received fuel injection in the form of a hungry and poverty-stricken citizenry who cannot afford basics.
The only thing keeping Ruto’s jet up is his status as head of state and the ability to puppeteer the armed forces.
Political experts say Raila may in the end soften up and agree to dialogue but this currently seems extremely unlikely.
Open the servers
Raila loves wordplay and metaphors. He is a born orator, often exciting his audiences with analogies that are pregnant with hidden messages. He is the kind of speaker you can listen to all day and not tire.
One of his analogies about where we find ourselves, loosely translated, says, “The sinner runs even when no one is chasing him”.
Note: the sinner is Ruto in this case.
The best, final and most severe blow to Raila which would see him retreat in silence would be for Mr Ruto to open the server and prove that he won with zero shenanigans. Like Raila says, “what is he scared of? He won, right? Let him open the servers.”
We all know this will not happen and your guess is as good as mine as to why.
If none of the above is feasible, the only gloomy option left is for anarchy to reign until we press reboot. Several religious bodies including the KCCB are now offering to mediate between the two leaders.
Isn’t this a little too late and a bit pretentious though? There was a lot of time to arrest developments before they spiralled out of control but it seems at the time it was more important to be politically correct and correctly placed politically.
It is a tough mouthful to chew but the church and other religious bodies must stop spewing pious nonsense especially after turning spectators when their voices were most needed.
They have been able to stand up to the courts over certain, even recent, controversial rulings. How different was the election petition ruling?
Kenyan politics is adopting a style of soft bigotry that if not checked will lead to levels of intolerance never seen before.
Tribes and individual leaders regardless of ethnic affiliation, leadership styles and cultural inclinations must fast become conversations when discussing the different regimes we have had.
The government of the day is busy nursing the wounds of ballot rejects by handing out positions at the expense of the taxpayer. The ‘mama mboga’ and ‘bodaboda’ riders who were the fulcrum of Ruto’s campaign are incensed.
Ruto’s bid to stay in power come what may is clearly clouding his judgment. He is attempting to solve 2027 equations now without knowing what the variables are/will be yet. It is a more pressing matter to douse the flames of Raila’s call for a revolution. The 50, for instance, could’ve waited with less dire repercussions to the nation.
In the odd battle between hunger and bullets, hunger seems to be winning.
Kaluma, Peter(@gpdkaluma). “The cost of living has become insufferable for our people. No government should let its citizens reach this level where they suffer so much that they fear no more pain. Let our leaders talk.” Twitter, Mar 21, 2023, URL.
Ayatollah, Biden and Malaysia’s former PM who had to be recalled to rescue his country from crisis should all inform those who keep saying that Raila is too old. Too old to steer the country right? Sometimes experience and statesmanship beat vigour and blind ambition.
The sooner government realizes that it is weaker than the people, the better for us all. When leaders refuse to talk, the result is war. The hope is that one side caves in this historic arm wrestling match where none of the contestants is blinking.
Cover Photo: Pool/Raila Odinga