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Why history is cruel to Raila

By | January 20th 2010

Andrew Kipkemboi

When he mentioned his alleged role in the helping former President Moi keep his Kabarnet Gardens home, Raila Odinga, then Minister for Roads and Housing, drew wild cheers from the seething crowds in the Rift Valley. Down with the Government of President Kibaki, the crowds would roar back as Raila campaigned for the NO (Orange) side of the Constitution Draft in the Rift Valley.

Three years later as Prime Minister, Raila is leading the drive to repossess and replant trees in the huge tracts of land excised from the Mau Forest Complex that is denuded of trees. The crowds, least of all the politicians, are seething with rage. Considering the way he has thrown himself into efforts to reclaim the forest, it is a do-or-die battle for the Lang’ata MP.

Pincer attack

On the face of it, Raila is fighting a post-Kibaki succession equation. Deeper, history has thrust him into the ring with the men he helped put to rout in 2002. Ironically, the man he levered into the seat of power with Kibaki tosha is said to be backing this band. It is a pincer attack from his allies and foes.

Yet that is not all. The maelstrom that Prime Minister finds himself is tinged with the feeling that he is getting a taste of his own medicine. Those in President Kibaki’s circle are grinning as the man who to them "obstructed" swift justice stews in the soup of impunity that he let to fester under his feet.

Perhaps, if Raila had let the police get on with the evictions in 2005, things would different. Or if he had not persuaded, as he claims, the new Cabinet to look the other way, perhaps things would be different.

Lionised by his followers and detested by his detractors in equal measure, Raila is back to the past and with that he has to correct the ills that the Rainbow Coalition set out to do in 2003 after Kanu, which was blamed for misrule and corruption, was felled.

Raila is paying for the false dawn that the people were promised in 2002.

Apparently, that is when the opportunity to cure corruption and fix the system was squandered.

The nation has witnessed Kibaki’s Rainbow Coalition bottle out of the anti-corruption drive, the main plank of its campaign platform in 2002.

So as Kibaki’s first government half-heartedly fought the graft crusade, old corruption met new corruption. In fact, the stealth that Kibaki embodied at his inauguration day at Uhuru Park in December 2003, gradually dissolved into a nauseas laissez faire as looting and plunder took centre stage. So Raila seems to be in the deep waters because where they split ways in the original Narc is ironically, where his old and new political foes meet.

And as State House pulled the plug on the tree-planting at the Mau Forest last week, the incident exposed the cold calculation of the mandarins at State House (and PNU) and most importantly, the rashness and the naivety of the Prime Minister’s handlers and thirdly the callous misjudgment of Rift Valley MPs.

Quick fix

Always, Raila has looked like a man in a hurry to fix things. That grates on the hardliners ringing Kibaki who now laugh up their sleeves that the Prime Minister was given enough rope.

Think about Raila’s dalliance with Kanu in the lead up to the 2005 Referendum on the Constitution with whom many in Government then (including himself) had fought many bruising battles to dislodge.

For most of his political life, Raila has had to battle against a tide of ill-talk and perception about his past. He was the rabble-rouser, the party breaker who walked out of parties if they did not accommodate his firebrand politics. Yet despite that, Raila repackaged himself and warmed the cockles of the people’s hearts giving Kibaki a run for his money in the disputed 2007 presidential elections.

Actually, Raila’s travails with the Kanu government, a will-breaking detention and the long and arduous career has won him over and proved his mettle. Sometimes Raila has looked like someone who lacks organisation and a clear strategy.

Taken for a ride

A son of privilege, Raila has pitched himself at a high level and many feel that he could as well drop far unless he manages to wrestle history, which unfortunately is littered with errors of omission and commission.

Though Raila has played defender-in-chief of the Coalition government, there are many who feel his frustration and fear that he may have been taken for a ride out of his refusal to learn from history.

Because Kibaki’s is a litany of betrayals, vacillation and desertion at the hour of need. And that had he appreciate that what goes round comes around, history would have been more kinder to him. Think of the discarded 2002 MoU.

Yet Raila could be on the right side of history as he steps up the war on impunity because the public is increasingly finding him more stately and focused than before. In the end, however, the baby and the bathwater could be thrown out.

The writer is The Standard’s Foreign News Editor.

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