This man Raila: What next out of Raila’s bag of political tricks after oath?

NASA leader Raila Odinga takes oath of office as the peoples president at Uhuru Park on 30/1/18-[Photo by Beverlyne Musili/Standard]

Today, Raila Odinga will wake up at his Karen home as one of two persons - hero or villain - having long cemented his persona into a version of either of these two extremes, never a hybrid of both.

The 73-year-old has always stood at the cusp of history, only time will tell whether he was on the right side of it, or the wrong one.

It is no secret that even prior to today, Raila had earned his stripes in the Kenyan political sphere. He has been there and done that. He has earned his political stripes and wears them proudly on his sleeve. He has sparred with the best, often delivering a killer jab. But the ultimate prize has always been so near yet so far for the son of Jaramogi.

After yesterday though, Kenya holds its breath waiting to see whether once again, like on so many occasions in his career, he will pull yet another rabbit out of his bottomless hat in the newest chapter in the Raila Agitation manual.

Although the swearing-in gives him impetus, he will have to mount perhaps his biggest campaign yet, to sustain this current high beyond today and towards the next possible election, a feat that may look impossible.

Political life

Those who know Raila agree his long political life has been littered by a strew of impossibilities turned into possibilities converted to campaigns, movements and on some occasions, mistakes.

One Monday afternoon in March 2002, with just months to one of the most definitive elections in Kenya’s history, Raila landed perhaps his cleanest and deadliest blow to the establishment. He agreed to merge with Kanu in what, on the surface, seemed like a guarantee to power for the independence party.

Unknown to Moi, Raila had something up his sleeve. He cannibalised Kanu internally and when he left, he took with him an entourage of former Kanu diehards including Kalonzo Musyoka, leaving the party for dead. He later established a coalition that would form the next government.

Former Vice President Michael Kijana Wamalwa once described Raila’s supporters as suffering from “Railamania” and those who hated him as suffering from “Railaphobia”.

Railamaniacs say without him, Kibaki stood no chance. That Kibaki’s ambitions would have petered out were it not for him. Railaphobes say he was an opportunist and a good student of history, who saw Narc’s strength and decided, rather late in the day, to jump on the anti-Moi bandwagon.

The Kibaki-led Narc coalition needed him for his avid campaigning and ability to move crowds using parables, song and football commentary that tugged at the hearts of his core support base.

Post-Moi years started with great promise for Raila. His greatest nemesis, who had him detained twice (from 1982 to 1988 and 1989 to 1991), making him Kenya’s longest-serving detainee, had been vanquished.

The Narc wave didn’t last long though, and Raila only rode it for a few years. Soon, Raila, an agitator per excellence, found the Kibaki government inhospitable and left, once again attempting to chart his own path, setting the country up for one of the most bruising political battles.

When the Raila-Kibaki duel ended, 1,300 people had died. Over 600,000 others had been left homeless. Although it is widely believed the election was rigged in favour of the incumbent, whom five years ago he had endorsed, the 2007 polls were the closest he had ever got to absolute power.

Overly punctuated

Kibaki’s second term was not Raila’s finest. As Prime Minister, his tenure was remarkable in many ways. But, through a wicked twist of fate, this period is overly punctuated by complaints from him of being locked out of major government decisions in what he infamously called a ‘nusu mkate’ government.

Many regarded the swearing-in as the last arrow in Raila’s crowded quiver. He has shot his shot, yet his arm is still reaching backwards and no one knows what it will emerge with. The only certainty, it seems, is that.

To do so though, the astute politician must wage the political battle of his life. If not, the biggest victory of them all will for the fifth time, slip through his fingers again and forever remain out of grasp.