Odinga shows no signs of slowing down. Having made four attempts at the presidency
“The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge
” : Jeremiah 31:29
Every so often Kenyans are riveted by succession disputes. These are caused by selfish old patriarchs who die intestate because they couldn’t imagine sharing their ‘hard-earned’ wealth with their progeny.
Where resolution is elusive, matters end up in court for years on end. And where heirs agree to amicably share an estate, the inheritance is often squandered in record time as if to prove that wealth created by one generation can seldom be transferred to the next.
It seems politics in Kenya mirrors society. Senior citizens well past their prime are still in positions of leadership. Former prime minister Raila Odinga is the archetype of the old order that fought for multi-party politics in Kenya. Cementing his credentials as a proponent of democratic rule, he has been in national limelight for close to four decades.
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Odinga shows no signs of slowing down. Having made four attempts at the presidency, there are indications that he may yet take another stab. It cannot be gainsaid that he holds the entire Luo community in the thrall of his leadership; that without his acquiescence, few can make it in any elective position in Nyanza.
He also holds significant influence over close to half of the voter population in the country. This may be what informed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision to sue for peace after the contentious elections of 2017.
Recognising that Mr Odinga held considerable sway over a disenfranchised electorate, the president initiated a process popularly known as the handshake. This process has ushered in a season of relatively stability.
But Mr Odinga does not appear to have heirs to his political kingdom. Unlike his father, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who mentored politicians like Kijana Wamalwa, Raila seems to have no natural successor.
It is said that he rules his ODM political party by fiat. Party representatives are hand-picked and there is little room for internal dissent. A charitable view of Raila is that he is a benevolent dictator, a necessary attribute in divisive politics where decision making is hampered by many voices pulling in various directions. But it is not a view that will hold much longer. Going by ODM’s losses in two recent by-elections, there is a groundswell of opinion among the youth that the old must now make room for the next generation.
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But it is Raila’s recent trip to China that threatens to erode the brand equity he has cultivated over the years. Accompanying President Kenyatta, the trip was meant to convince Chinese lenders to release money for an extension of a new Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Naivasha in the Rift Valley, to Malaba at the border of Kenya and Uganda. Because the SGR has been vastly unpopular, some school of thought has posited that Raila was only thrust in it to make the whole deal kosher.
They have argued that his sense of judgment has atrophied with age. This is because barely two years ago, he had a public remonstration against the Jubilee administration of Uhuru, decrying the SGR as a senseless and extravagant expenditure. Others still, argue that the Jubilee administration intends to make Raila complicit in the country’s debt burden by linking him to mendacious spending over the SGR.
For some reason, the Chinese lenders are reluctant to finance the next phase of the SGR. A Statehouse functionary has attempted to pass off the Naivasha-Kisumu section as an expendable adjunct to the whole line. But it is Raila who is left with egg on the face.
Having promised to bring the SGR to Kisumu, and with it, a new port, he has yet to come up with a face-saving narrative to counter the caprice of those who took him to China.
His detractors now call to question his commitment to them. They silently upbraid him for the lives of the more than 300 people who died on his behalf in the last presidential elections.
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They are stroppy over the nefarious details of the handshake that didn’t benefit Raila’s allies in the NASA political party. They have argued that Raila seems to have eaten bitter grapes, but it is their teeth that are on edge.
Mr Odinga holds a large portion of Kenya’s institutional memory. But his continued stay in politics should now be tempered with reality: that he can no longer keep up with the artifice of those who would use him to serve their own selfish purposes. This is certainly no country for old men!
Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council