Of Uhuru, Raila and the sins of their fathers

President Uhuru Kenyatta, African Union Envoy Raila Odinga, Kisumu deputy governor Mathews Owili at the burial of former chairman of Youth Enterprise Bruce Odhiambo at Koru in Kisumu county on January 19th 2019. (Collins Oduor, Standard)

Mr Raila Odinga looked at me and said; “Uhuru cannot jail me, he just can’t. He is my younger brother”. We were at his home in Karen’s Kerarapon area and the clock was ticking towards his second electoral showdown with Uhuru-Ruto.

“He calls me, he comes to this house, he likes that seat (points at a single-sofa set in the elegantly furnished and expansive patio),’’ said Raila. As he spoke, images from his sister Ruth’s account that Raila used to carry her and Uhuru at the back of the car as children of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga rolled in my mind. I asked myself how different Kenya would be had the fathers of these two, who shaped her history only to fall out over ideological differences and modus operandi for wealth accumulation, stuck together.

As Raila spoke, I wondered if he was living in denial or was being deceitful to deflect attention from the humiliation Uhuru had handed him, including police cudgels, water cannons and teargas as he and his team demonstrated against the discredited IEBC.

In 2012, Uhuru, having teamed up with Raila’s former kingpin William Ruto under the banner of what was cynically called by the Westerners ‘coalition of the accused’, (because of their ICC cases), won in what many still doubt whether they attained the 50+1 percent mark.

In the last election, there was a tie in round one, which the court annulled, and Raila kept off round two. Uhuru and Ruto took the mantle and unleashed the State’s apparatus of coercion and violence against Raila and his team.

Fast forward to that day one-year ago tomorrow  when Kenyans were surprised by news of Uhuru-Raila handshake and photo session on the steps of Harambee House.

The two found a common ground, probably from the bitter and crushing rivalry their fathers’ fought, took to the grave and left their scions fighting to upstage each other. Probably this is a fight they too decided they should not chaperon to their own graves unfinished. But history could also again be playing a trick on us because if you recall, when Mzee Kenyatta died in 1978, Moi took over and tried to rehabilitate Jaramogi.

He would soon regret come investigations into the 1982 attempted coup; Jaramogi and Raila were spiritual leaders of the disgruntled soldiers and the rituals they engaged in are documented in personal statement Private Hezekiah Ochuka signed before he was hanged. But in trying to crush the father and son, Moi inadvertently planted the seeds for the 1990s pro-reform push that had him in a corner. As the Opposition gained ground, Moi gave in and opened the door for return of multipartism.

When Mzee Moi, who had got the Vice Presidency because of the Jomo-Jaramogi fall-out and the laid-back nature of next VP Joseph Murumbi, was about to exit, he lured Raila to his side under the cover of ‘Kanu-NDP’ cooperation’.

Moi sidestepped Tinga, the late George Saitoti (whose position in the current scheme of things seem to have been taken by Ruto) and even the sycophantic Kalonzo Musyoka. Moi backed the greenhorn Uhuru Kenyatta. Raila switched back to his rebellious mode, said Kibaki Tosha, and defeated Moi’s scheme of Uhuru-Mudavadi-Ruto line-up.

Today, Uhuru has done more or less the same thing, re-embraced Raila and is pushing Ruto to the wall over claims that he is some form of a corruption deity with a big following. His allies claim this is not just a ruse, but that both sides are equally corrupt each with its own exalted high-priest.

Today as we interrogate Uhuru-Raila political rapprochement, we need to ask why Uhuru has turned back to Raila. Is he reading from Moi’s political book against the man and would it work? Will Ruto bounce back like Raila either by taking the fight directly or endorsing someone else?

Is Uhuru looking for a way to remain in power albeit with a different ‘title’, and is this what will give Ruto the power to fight back and turn the tables on his opponents? Or is Uhuru out, like Moi did, to crush Raila by bringing him closer, more like you fatten a ram before slaughter?

Whichever way, Raila’s high trust levels may in the end be the missing line in his political epitaph, especially the fact that he enjoys proximity to power, and that is when the evil geniuses work best against someone. Even in the old, they used to say that when the gods want to destroy you, they first raise you so high.

Mr Tanui is Deputy Editorial Director and Managing Editor, The Standard