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Raila, the weakest link in NASA

By Mohamed Guleid | Published Mon, March 20th 2017 at 00:00, Updated March 19th 2017 at 23:20 GMT +3

“There are times,” said former British Prime Minister James Callaghan, “perhaps every 30 years when there is a sea change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do.”

A political giant, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s charisma, agility and confidence are enigmatic.

Lionised by his supporters and loathed by his detractors, self-doubt has never stalked him; he is the quintessential rabble-rouser, the gate-crusher.

Some say he is strategic, I don’t think so. In 2007, however, he proved that a politician could overcome cultural biases by warming the cockles of the conservative Kalenjins and communities in Northern Kenya, thereby causing a seismic shift in the country’s politics.

His contention that the presidential vote was stolen is left to history to judge, but honestly, he is no ordinary politician.

Yet it is this success that might spell the end-game for Mr Odinga. The Standard recently reported, though not directly, that the Raila factor was the glue holding together NASA and that still, it could be what separates them.

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Raila’s inherent weakness, students of political science will agree, is his knack to amass a following and then not know what to do with it. That he will rouse communities then disappoint them almost immediately. Others imagine that his belief in only himself (forget about the 2002 Kibaki Tosha declaration) is another of his Achilles heels.

This is what perhaps has made him not accept that it might be time for him to back somebody else, perhaps Musalia Mudavadi or Kalonzo Musyoka in the August elections.

Another is his legion of blindly loyal lieutenants, for whom it can only be Raila and nobody else. The grassroots support that he so painstakingly nurtured in the Rift Valley unexpectedly drifted away in 2013. In its place was utter contempt and ridicule for ‘an ungrateful suitor’.

But then was it that bad as to force a whole community to walk away from him?

And have lessons been learnt?

Senator James Orengo’s Friday pronouncement that the NASA candidate is Raila Odinga has thrown one of the many spanners in the works. Not that it was unexpected.

It will surely upset the other members of this organisation who think Raila’s time is up.

From far, Raila looks like someone who lacks organisation and a clear strategy and may be finding it hard to handle the energy, speed and even the recklessness of some of his coterie of advisers and hangers-on.

The reality is that in Kenyan politics, tribal chiefs switch sides at will to stay in power. The NASA scenario is different.

NASA’s gift to a hugely discredited Jubilee that is running out of options, is Raila’s candidature. Anybody else is a headache to Jubilee’s political juggernaut.

Don’t take me wrong. Raila might mean well for Kenya. His belief of effective politics as a synthesis of the practical and the visionary is grinding against the forces of status quo and the bitter, tribalised politics of Kenya.

Raila is a dreamer. He saw himself as the clean man going into the slimy corrupt world of government to smoke out the bad guys. He wants to fix the engine while the car is running, as they say.

And therein lies the rub. The stain of him as an also-ran seriously ruins his chances to be the NASA flag bearer, worse, NASA’s Presidential candidate and Kenya’s 5th president. Hasn’t he been the Prime Minister?

Hasn’t he served in the Cabinet? The choruses go. What is it that he will do different this time round? For he remains hostage to many competing interests. His lieutenants expect nothing else from him.

They want him to run for president. Period. That way I guess, their vote base in mostly the constituencies, is reactivated and assured. He doesn’t run and their currency depreciates.

Enter the NASA dilemma: Should he, or should he not run? Unfortunately, all indications are that the milk is spilt and it is no longer a matter of if they split, but when they will split.

Orengo made that clear on Friday. Orengo, who is part of the 12-member committee that is tasked with resolving the NASA presidential candidate puzzle, said ODM will work tirelessly to ensure Raila is endorsed.

But there are those who think otherwise and they are many.

“Why should he run and then lose again... his running will provide a known outcome; another loss,” said one of those dissatisfied.

That should alarm the siren voices in ODM who might, like the proverbial Nigerian goat, realise that they are not dirtying the owner’s wall but its coat is peeling.

Fairly speaking, were Mr Odinga to seriously consider running, he will be confronted once again by a passive Western Kenya, a bewildered Coast Province and a rather nonchalant Nyanza.

Who will save Raila Odinga from dancing himself into irrelevance? Only himself.