Proverbs 13:2 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” A famous preacher once gave a fiery homily to a class of pre-schoolers. He extolled the virtues of heaven, painting a mental picture in stark relief against hell. “Heaven,” he said, “is paved with gold. There is no night there, only endless days of rapturous joy. Hell, on the other hand,” he thundered, “is composed of burning sulphur, brimstone and infinite darkness.”
After the sermon, he asked all the children who wanted to go to heaven to raise their hands. All did save for one little boy who sat arms folded. “Johnny,” the preacher asked, “don’t you want to go to heaven like all the other kids?” Johnny replied, “Yes I do, but my mother told me to go straight home after Sunday school.”
Politics, like religion, thrives on the purveyance of hope. It flourishes even better where there is a confluence of hope and fear. The most successful politician is therefore the one who not only paints a compelling picture of perfection but also provides a road map towards the same. The second most successful politician is the one who conjures a dire picture if his/her opponent is elected to office.
Raila Amolo Odinga is the embodiment of these conflated notions.
He inspires great hope in his followers and unmitigable fear in his detractors. For close to three decades now, Raila has built a formidable brand through his promise to deliver heaven to his followers. In last year’s highly competitive presidential election, he promised to deliver nothing short of Canaan, the biblical land flowing with milk and honey.
That he pulled out of a court-sanctioned repeat poll citing an impartial electoral commission is now water under the bridge. The wisdom of that decision though, is still the subject of debate. Meanwhile, President Uhuru Kenyatta romped over other opponents in the absence of any real competition.
Raila was 'sworn in' as the 'people’s president' on January 30. This was after both the National Super Alliance (NASA) and Uhuru Kenyatta’s government were unable to agree on an agenda for national dialogue. That such an agenda is sorely needed cannot be gainsaid.
What is debatable is the wisdom behind the 'swearing in' and the fact that there is no constitutional provision for such an act. What is particularly baffling to both friend and foe is that Raila has spent most of his life fighting for the rule of law. The January 30 event therefore flies in the face of a lifetime spent creating a brand.
There are those who argue that Raila’s actions are not entirely of his own volition. Rather, there are people who derive political relevance from the brand itself. These are those who occupy national elective offices purely by dint of their proximity to the brand. They are the ones who fight tooth and nail to ensure that the brand remains visible even at the risk of a breach of the law.
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But the brand is tired. And it is evident in Raila’s countenance. No amount of hair dye or jigging to popular tunes at political rallies can belie the fact that Raila is past his prime. Those who goad him on for their own selfish ambitions risk diluting his hard-earned brand equity.
The fear that Raila once evoked is slowly but surely ebbing away so that even junior politicians who could never hold a candle to him are now calling his actions a nullity.
The Government reacted to Raila’s 'swearing-in' admirably. It took the best possible action to forestall what would have been an inevitable and violent confrontation going by past precedent. It did nothing! And it was brilliant! The thunder was stolen from NASA. Whatever victory they thought they won was diluted in the absence of an adversary. Pretty much the same as Uhuru’s one-sided presidential run. Then the Government dropped the ball.
Having succeeded in turning the 'swearing-in' ceremony into a tribal, laughable and forgettable farce, the Government went on to pull the plug on four television broadcasters considered friendly to the Opposition. But they did not do so in strict adherence to the law.
And so, by a violation of Article 34(1) of the Constitution, Raila got a life-line. The Government has now provided him with the notion that it does not follow the law and can therefore be confronted only by unconstitutional means.
Our constitution is the mother of all laws in Kenya. Like little Johnny who wouldn’t go to heaven without his mother’s consent, no promise of utopia that violates the Constitution can be countenanced. The indigent in society must be given real hope, most of all by the Government of the day. That is its sacred duty.
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Similarly, high-handed repressions of media rights and freedoms must cease forthwith. So should the sending of agents provocateurs to create mayhem where people exercise their rights to assemble and demonstrate peacefully against the excesses of the State. These are our inalienable rights as enshrined in our constitution. We are not begging for them.
Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council