Raila Odinga may stumble like all men, but he'll always remain our icon

Azimio-OKA team led by Raila Odinga addressing Peoples Baraza in Kitale, Town square grounds on February 26, 2023. [Dennis Kavisu, Standard]

Raila Odinga has for a long time remained the symbol of bravery and stoicism in the face of debilitating adversity and authoritarianism. Growing up in rural Luo Nyanza, he was on the lips of our parents.

They called him endearing names. Every prized bull in every family was called Raila, Tinga, Agwambo, Amollo, or Baba's little-known moniker only known by native speakers of the Luo language "chuma liet" - hot metal.

After a long stint in detention, Raila came out ready to continue the fight for democracy where he left it. After a brief exile in Norway, the son of Adonija vied for the Langata parliamentary seat and floored the monied and well-networked Philip Leakey. The enigmatic Raila captured the imagination of many with his boldness both in parliament and outside in how he took on the dictatorial Kanu.

However, was the announcement of cooperation with his hitherto tormenter in 1998 that took many by surprise. It also revealed a streak that was not very evident in the young Raila but which would eventually earn him great respect and admiration - willingness to embrace perceived enemies.

Baba then managed to join Nyayo in the Cabinet as Minister for Energy. He subsequently disbanded the National Development Party that he had formed and used to run for Presidency in 1997.

He then became the man of the moment in 2002, first with the Kibaki Tosha declaration, and secondly by stepping in to lead the campaigns when both Kibaki and Wamalwa were hospitalised. It must, therefore, be remembered that the NARC government of 2003 was delivered on the back of Raila.

After the defeat of Kanu, emerged a Raila who was both realistic and idealistic. He vigorously campaigned for the success of the Bomas draft but the forces around President Kibaki were determined to preserve the benefits of an imperial presidency that had been enjoyed first by Kenyatta and then Moi.

It took Raila to cobble a coalition that taught Kibaki that sovereign power belongs to the people.

He eventually helped deliver the 2010 Constitution, which to-date remains the single biggest leap in moving from an extractive state to an inclusive state, persistence of other governance challenges notwithstanding.

While the enduring legacy of Jakom is his constant attempt to put the interest of the country above self, we must also appreciate that in Raila, God gave us a mortal man; of flesh and blood, who may stumble like all mortal men; who may have personal contradictions as we all do and who may have blindspots.

Take the case of Nelson Mandela, who was married to the struggle for change that he could not father his family. Further afield, Thomas Jefferson who authored the Declaration of Independence and spoke so eloquently against slavery, but owned hundreds of slaves.

As we are still absorbing the news that we will be witnessing mass action, led by Raila, it must be understood that mass action is protected in the Constitution and, at the very least, the State must facilitate them by providing security, although this is always such a dicey situation that can easily degenerate into chaos and then undermine the integrity of the forces that Baba is engaged in.

For it may be tantamount to repudiating the constitutional order. Certainly, not the legacy we want to imagine of the man once described as the second Mandela.

One thing that remains true, however, is that whatever happens, Baba remains our national icon, a hero, and a moral force for good while in the same vein and breath, there is a government in place, legally in office led by President William Ruto.

As the battle of big egos rages, they both must remember the old Swahili adage, "Fahali wawili wakipigana, nyasi ndio huumia."

Mr Kidi Mwaga is a Governance and Policy Expert. [email protected]

KPA denies ports privatisation claims as CFSs lay their demands
By Brian Ngugi 5 mins ago
Premium Fuel prices to go up again amid diesel export ban by Russia
Kenya, UK in new pact to strengthen growing trade ties
Leather stakeholders support move to ban imported mitumba shoes