ODM’s Raila Odinga has been at the centre of every significant political development in Kenya in the last three decades. Some may even say longer.
There’s no denying the irrefutable fact Raila is the centre of gravity of Kenyan politics. One may be tempted to argue this is a mantle Raila inherited from his father – Jaramogi Oginga Odinga – the first doyen of Kenyan opposition politics. But that wouldn’t be entirely correct.
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While it’s true Raila has benefited from his legacy, it’s his political genius and strategic mind that have enabled him bestride Kenya like a colossus. He has no equal in our political history. He’s a Kenyan who’s a pan Africanist and a global statesman.
There’s more. Raila is a man of destiny. His life recalls one of William Shakespeare’s greatest quotes. In the Twelfth Night, the English scribe wrote that “[B]e not afraid of greatness.
Some [men and women] are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” The first is partially true – he was born of Jaramogi. But that’s not the sole source of his political prowess. The second is the kernel of the man – he’s achieved greatness.
The last is spurious as applied to him – no one has thrust greatness upon him. If anything, the state has toiled mightily to deny him greatness. There are others with his pedigree who didn’t – couldn’t – rise to the challenge.
Let’s walk down memory lane. No person should’ve survived the torment Raila and his family have endured. He was detained for nearly a decade for fighting for political liberalisation.
He’s one of Kenya’s longest serving detainees. He endured torture and maltreatment in detention not to mention the psychological trauma of being away from his young family. His spouse Ida – and their kids – were persecuted endlessly by the state.
She was even fired from her job as a teacher for being his spouse – and a champion of rights herself. That would’ve been enough to send most people to an insane asylum. Or break their political will and turn them into state sycophants. It didn’t work on Raila.
Upon his release, Raila picked up the baton where he left it. When his father passed away, there was a civil war in the opposition about who would succeed Jaramogi.
It wasn’t obvious that Raila was the chosen one. In fact, a battle royale ensued where the late Michael Kijana Wamalwa challenged Raila for opposition supremacy. Paul Muite, then an ascendant politician with a presidential mien, also staked his claim to the pinnacle of opposition politics.
James Orengo, then a political wunderkind, looked poised to become top dog. Kenneth Matiba was briefly in the picture. There were many second-tier candidates who could’ve scaled the mountaintop. But none did – leaving Raila to soldier to the top.
The pinnacle of Kenyan opposition politics is like a thin ice rink. You are always skating on thin ice given our toxic and tribal politics and the proclivity of the state to buy and sell elites, often with taxpayer money and public property.
That’s why Kanu ruled for so long – by dividing and conquering the opposition using skullduggery, corruption, and tribal manipulation. But it was Raila who pulled off one of the most stunning chess moves in Kenya’s political history. He joined Kanu by merging his NDP with the cockerel.
Many thought he had sold out. How do you become Kanu Secretary General without trading in your battle fatigues for cheap ugali at State House? He didn’t – shockingly.
Raila joined Kanu and dismantled it from within. No one saw that one coming. Kenyans have Raila to thank for killing the party that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi built.
It’s remarkable that he did so in spite of former President Moi’s considerable political skills. That’s where he earned the name Tinga – the tractor that was swallowed by the cockerel only to cause its demise.
The rest is history as they say. Then in 2002, Raila teamed up with NAK’s Mwai Kibaki to bury Kanu and deny Uhuru Kenyatta, Moi’s chosen successor, keys to State House. He then broke with Kibaki and challenged him 2007. Raila won that election but was rigged out.
There’s every indication Raila probably won the 2013 and 2017 contests against Mr Kenyatta but was burned again.
This is an absolutely enviable record. The man from Bondo has been the key factor in our presidential politics for eons.
Now, he’s changed tack again. He’s left everyone – in opposition and government, except Kenyatta – gasping for air with the “handshake.” The country now waits with baited breath to see what he does next. He’s truly an enigma.