Apocryphal narratives say that some of the prominent Kenyans who have recently died had vowed that Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) could only become president “over their dead bodies.”
As happens with such stories, it is not quite clear where, or when, these things were said. Were they indeed said? Yet, narratives of this kind tend to sound convincing. This is especially so when they dominate the social media as they have recently done.
People of goodwill begin believing that they have heard one or the other of these people make such appalling vows.
This narrative speaks to some of the challenges Raila would need to prioritise were he to become Kenya’s fifth president, in the next few weeks. He would have to reckon with the reality that almost half of the electorate did not vote for him.
Pollsters suggest that it is a close race between Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta. The victor could at the very best stay in the range of 55 to 57 per cent. Raila would, accordingly, need to reassure his detractors that he is a good man at heart. He would need to show that he means well for everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or other identities. For, there exists identity-based pathological fear of him.
It has been said in part of the country, that all who belong to that tribe would never wear long trousers under a Raila presidency. Ridiculous as it may sound, they believe that they would be forced to crawl before the president. They would discard shoes for bare feet throughout that regime, scaremongers have told them.
The merchants of fear paint dreadful and vindictive portraits of Raila, as part of the subterfuge against the Nasa presidential candidate.
The bad news for Raila is that there are people adequately naïve to believe this gray propaganda. If he should become president, therefore, Raila would need to urgently address these fears.
President Uhuru took over in not too dissimilar circumstances.
Roughly half of the electorate did not vote for him. A portion of it even believed that it was cheated out of victory. Regrettably, Uhuru has not seemed bothered until fairly recently, when it occurred to him that he would need their votes this time. Uhuru would seem, instead, to have embraced the ideology of “We are eating as you drool.”
A Raila presidency would need to avoid the “We eat, you drool” ideology, to carry everyone along. It would, especially, note that a preponderant portion of Kenya’s business population belongs to the community in which harmful apocryphal seeds have been sown against him. Very early in his presidency, he would need to prove that he was pro-business.
For when he talks about issues like rents and housing, as well as on the cost of living and on historical injustices, there is a sense in which he fuels the hostile propaganda against him.
Internal strife is the other little matter that Raila would have to reckon with. He would need to remember that he got into a pact with four other leaders – people who brought ethnic electoral colleges into the effort to make him president. For he has signed a pact to the effect that he will be a one-term president and a bridge to the future.
If he ever thought that he was only putting down the ink of convenience, he would find things turning out quite differently.
In 2002, retired President Mwai Kibaki thought that he had signed – if he signed – a pact with Raial using the stylus of convenience. His comportment and approach to issues soon ignored the reality that his was a collegiate presidency. It came back to haunt him.
In the lowest moment, the country burned. Hopefully, Raila has taken some useful lessons from this. He would want to avoid the mistakes that those before him have made.
Significantly, the Raila succession would begin as soon as his hand and the Bible part, in the wake of the words, “And so help me God.” When you have agreed with your colleagues that you are only a transitional Joshua, you must know that your team will be fighting against itself.
All political giants in the camp will elbow for room to take over from you. The campaign and strategizing for takeover does not wait. This could make yours a very weak presidency. It risks giving you no legacy to speak about.
Your best focus might, accordingly, be on one or two major sectors and on building and strengthening institutions.
The writer is a commentator on socio-political issues.