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Raila will be judged more by what he didn’t say at Kasarani

By Andrew Kipkemboi | Dec 13th 2021 | 5 min read

Many expected Raila Odinga to use his declaration to challenge the cynicism that he struck consensus with Uhuru for self-preservation. [Courtesy]

“Kibaki Tosha!” declared Raila Odinga in October 2002 at Uhuru Park in Nairobi before the watershed elections in December.

There are different accounts of the import of that statement made at the height of fierce jostling in the Moi succession.

There are those who think the proclamation portrayed a selfless Raila, always willing to sacrifice for others; others think his was an act of self-preservation since he knew the path to the top - at least for him and Simeon Nyachae with whom he had crafted a coalition - looked impossible.

Whatever the interpretation, that statement (and time spent in the Second Liberation trenches) has ensured that to date, Mr Odinga remains a consequential leader in modern-day Kenya.

After Friday’s declaration that he plans a fifth stab to be the 5th President, the man’s mission and vision will come into sharp focus much less the journey he has travelled as a politician after the March 2018 handshake.

For long, Mr Odinga has derided capitalist ideology and projected the image of a social capitalist – whom liberty, equality and justice are articles of faith.

And while he has been perceived as a stubborn hardliner, always grandstanding, he has readily exercised Peter Hennessy’s “emotional geography of power”. Hennessy, a professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary University of London, argues that a leader should not just be decisive. A leader should also be ready to bend backwards and cut a deal if it is for the common good; that a leader must be willing to co-opt an opponent to one’s side.

With the handshakes (with President Moi, President Kibaki and President Uhuru Kenyatta) he has shown a willingness to compromise, seek consensus and embrace horse-trading which largely defines democracy.

Calculated risk

What many would consider as reckless, to him that amounts to a calculated risk. And obviously, the higher the risk, the higher the reward.

While his past campaigns rode on an anti-establishment ideology, his recent choices (spoken or unspoken) have estranged him from some of his supporters.

There was no question that with the handshake, he would be measured in his criticism of government. In fact, a better relationship between him and Uhuru should have led to a better running of government since many consider him to reflexively vouch for better, responsive governance underpinned by transparency, meritocracy, respect for the Constitution, rule of law and such like good sounding stuff. That he would nudge his newfound “brother” to overhaul the inefficient, corrupt and outdated bureaucracy.

Nobody expected he and his lieutenants would genuflect and venerate at the establishment that for long he lambasted for incompetence, looting the state and abusing the people.

In fact, he has been accused of helping the looters launder their reputations while some of his lieutenants have been rumoured to have plunged deep into the eating spree.

Many expected him to at least use his declaration at Kasarani to challenge the cynicism that he struck a political consensus with Uhuru for self-preservation and as a proxy for Uhuru’s scheme to stay relevant beyond August 2022 even though the BBI misadventure earned him epithets from the civil society who dismiss him as a sell-out.

It is what he didn’t say that ought to worry us more. Because the Raila of 2021 comes across as a product of backroom dealing rather than the self-made politician and a champion of the common good of years before.

In his 10-point agenda, he didn’t speak strongly against the huge budget deficit (9 per cent of GDP) and the mountain of debt (68 per cent debt to GDP ratio) that have undermined investment and risk creating instability and stagnation. Neither did he list he would curb graft, improve services and create jobs. His socialist proposals like the Sh6,000 handouts have done little to disabuse what many think is a disjointed policy formulation.

He has not spoken out against the brutal and systematic crackdown on the civil society and other proponents of freedom and human rights. Most egregiously, he has been silent about Jubilee’s policy on media. For example, he has not outlined how he will ensure media - a lynchpin for a thriving democracy - will thrive. 

When it got into office in 2013, the Jubilee administration went about with a wrecking ball to dismantle and cripple, which by and large, were thriving business enterprises supporting the democratic process and the dispersal of information and the creation of a robust value chain across many sectors. Would he for example, restructure the GAA - which successive ICT ministers starting with Fred Matiang’i (the creator), have used to bait and bully media houses to toe the line - or abolish it altogether?

Good talent

Last but not least, he ought to lay down the foundation of a post-Raila ODM and by extension, country too. All great leaders - and no doubt his claim to that is unquestioned - set up systems that outlive them. That there is no obvious candidate to replace him is a sign of the poor job he has done of propping up good talent.

Yet, he has the knack to attract fiercely loyal followers as well as great political talent. Raila has operated in an orbit of seasoned, loyal advisors. The constellation he cobbled up in the lead to the 2007 elections continue to play in national politics 15 years later. Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka (though he broke off to found ODM-K the precursor to the Wiper Party), William Ruto, Najib Balala, Charity Ngilu all hold sway in the country’s national politics.

Yet, looking at Raila’s inner circle now and in the past, it would seem as though those who shared in his vision and values of a free, stable, peaceful and prosperous Kenya have been outrun. If nothing else, that imperils his legacy.

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