KTN's Point Blank: Raila on 2022 politics, poor family backgrounds and referendum

KTN's Point Blank Host Tony Gachoka interviewing AU Envoy Raila Odinga on referendum push and 2022 politics. [Photos by: Killiad Msafiri/Standard]
In an interview on the country’s hot political issues, ranging from the emotive 2022 succession politics, alleged scheme by dynasties to block Deputy President William Ruto’s presidential bid, push to amend the Constitution and renewed war on corruption, African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Development Raila Odinga opened up to KTN’s “Point Blank” host Tony Gachoka (TG). Here are excerpts.

TG: Your political opponents have said the constitutional reforms being fronted by the Building Bridges Initiative is a way of stopping others from assuming office, and securing a seat for you?

Raila: First let’s go to the genesis of the Building Bridges. It is a result of lengthy discussions between me and Uhuru Kenyatta. Both of us had been sworn in as presidents, and when we sat down to talk, we said we cannot have two presidents in a country. But what could enable one of us to step down was by looking into how we wanted to bring change to the country. We said, “What are the issues?” We put them on the table and it was on that basis that we agreed that I step aside on condition that we do all these things together. This is not about 2022. It is about changing Kenya, because we said without addressing 2017 there would be no 2022. Nobody or a few people will go to the ballot in 2022 if there are no substantive changes to what happened in 2017.

TG: Are you assuring Kenyans that the referendum push is to improve the Executive and the Legislative arm of Government?

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Raila: No constitution is perfect. The American constitution was amended within months of its promulgation. We have implemented this Constitution for nine years, it is time to revisit to see what works and what does not.

TG: Would you prefer a longer term for the President because some people are saying the President should serve a single seven-year term. You are also talking about a Parliamentary system, where the Prime Minister is picked from a majority party?

Raila: That is the discussion we need to have as a country. We need to come up with a solution that is Kenyan. We can look at what is happening in other countries, but not copy. I was a strong supporter of the Bomas draft. At Bomas, we came up with the hybrid system very close to the French system; where you have a President elected by the people then a Prime Minister who is the leader of the majority party. The PM appoints the ministers in consultation with the President.

TG: There has been a major argument by reformists about not electing President with MPs at the same time. Are you in favour of staggering the elections?

Raila: Certainly, we need to revisit our electoral system. What we have been through is a torture to the electorate. Six in one is just too much to the people, particularly the semi-illiterate.

We need to change this so that – like they are doing in Nigeria – we have the senatorial, parliamentary and local government elections separate from the gubernatorial and presidential.

TG: If the presidential term is a long one like seven years, that would be a very attractive position for one to serve the country as Head of State. Is that a seat you would look at if the Constitution was amended?

Raila: We said with Uhuru when we signed the MoU that we are not going to talk about 2022.

TG: The governors are going to be probably your Achilles heels, and you and Uhuru will face a major political battle from them because they don’t want the number of counties to be reduced. They will realign themselves with others to oppose the changes?

Raila: First, a number of governors are serving their final terms. Secondly, we are not killing the counties; they will still remain like in Nigeria, where they have a county, a State and a federal. The counties will still remain as unit of administration but have something above the counties. You can see the counties themselves are forming regional blocks. The governors have realised the counties, as currently constituted, are small economic units.

TG: Your worthy opponent, Deputy President Willia Ruto, went to Chatham House and the question about corruption emerged during a television interview. The issue of corruption seems, to allies of Ruto, to be a behind-the-scene scheme between you and Uhuru to tie his hands and paint him and his supporters as the most corrupt. Is the feeling justified?

Raila: (Laughs) our war on corruption does not target any particular individual. It is a war that aims to reduce the impact of the vice. We are basically looking at the entire society. It has become untenable. No country in the world has managed to eradicate corruption completely, but it is what is being done when it is discovered.

It does not matter who is involved. We should not try to regionalise it and say so and so is targeted or that so and so is also corrupt. Two wrongs don’t make a right. If Raila is corrupt, he will also carry his cross some day. But that does not stop you from carrying yours now because he (Raila) is not carrying one today. Some of these are tired arguments that have been tried elsewhere. We have reached a stage where corruption cannot allow for further development. There is a level of corruption that still allows growth, but in our case, nothing is left.

TG: Let me get to the most important question. The Odinga dynasty, the Kenyatta dynasty, the Moi dynasty that your opponents are always alluding to. They say they come from the hustler nation and Odinga comes from the dynasty...

Raila: That is the biggest myth… (laughs). Dynasties used to exist in medieval Europe and the Middle East, but never existed in Africa. If you take, for example, Kenyatta, Jomo Kenyatta was from a very humble background. Mungai was not known. Kenyatta himself was a metre reader in Nairobi before he left for the United Kingdom. He died in the office when Uhuru was about 17 years. If it was a dynasty, at that age he would have been crowned the prince. Jaramogi came from a very poor background. He was a teacher, resigned from teaching and became a businessman then became a freedom fighter. He became a vice president for a short period of time, then went to the opposition.

All these years he was taken to prison, and when he was reelected he served for only one year then died, and left Raila. How is Raila a beneficiary of the dynasty? Where does the dynasty come from?  If anything else, the Odingas have given more than what they have gotten from the society. It is a very tired subject.

TG: So the hustler should look for another subject?

Raila: Mmmmm… that is a very tired subject.

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2022 succession politicsTony GachokaRaila OdingaKTN’s “Point Blank”Building BridgesUhuruRutoHandshake