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I don’t regret saying Kibaki tosha, says Raila

By Machua Koinange | October 6th 2013
    Raila Odinga addressing a campaign rally in the run-up to the March 4 elections [PHOTOS: FILE/ STANDARD]

Excerpts of the interview with retired Prime Minister Raila Odinga on his new book Raila Odinga: Flame of Freedom and other wide ranging issues. Raila spoke to The Standard’s Associate Editor MACHUA KOINANGE.

Question: In your own assessment, what do you consider to be your autobiography’s most important contribution to democracy in this country?

ANSWER: I think that any struggle requires a record, because memories basically lapse and there is need for future generations to appreciate the historical journey of the society they live in. This is important to shape the culture and thinking of a people. I found it necessary to chronicle the history of the struggle of the people of Kenya.

Why should Kenyans look out for your book?

The book is from my own perspective an account of what we have gone through, but I have also gone beyond that and put it in context. It’s not just my story but some of it is from other material. I have tried to give what I consider a balanced picture. So it is my own experience complimented by records available in other literature and also talking to other people who were involved.

How does your book compare with the previous one (Raila Odinga: An Enigma in Politics) in terms of scope and revelation?

Enigma was written by somebody else who also talked to other people. This is my story, told by me.

How long did it take you to write the book?

Remember I had written part of the book when I was in detention. And then they took the manuscripts away which I never got back. I had written a lot of material that was all confiscated when I was released in my second stint in detention (1988).

They (authorities) were giving me exercise books to write on. When you are leaving they take everything to censor and bring it back to you. I never got any of that material back. So I started the whole book from scratch. It was supposed to be published last year before the elections but I shelved it for strategic reasons.

Then I took my time updating it, particularly the experience in the Grand Coalition Government. 

Did you try to find out where your documents were, even as Prime Minister?

You can’t! Those are police things (laughing).

Did you try?

I tried, but they would just take you round and round like a merry go-round. Nobody knows what is where. I wrote to them, asking them to trace my documents. The people who were involved at that time have retired.  When I was in detention, the man who was in charge of me was Phillip Kilonzo (former Commissioner of Police). He was promoted to become commissioner from PPO Nairobi. And then Mr Kinoti was promoted to be in charge of me, again he also left. But then again, when you are being released they (prisons) have to hand them (materials) to the police. So you don’t know who in the police has them…. those documents probably go to the CID and probably Intelligence and so on. This thing did not start yesterday, they started when I was a child. In Jaramogi’s days they used to come to our house and take things and never brought them back.

In your book, you indicate that Kenyans still don’t enjoy freedom of speech and expression and so you won’t say certain things especially on your role in the 1982 attempted coup. Expound.

I don’t want to expound, just take it as it is.

Do you feel it’s a chapter you don’t want to talk about?

No, you see when the information (on his role in the 1982 coup attempt in the book Raila Odinga: An Enigma in Kenya politics) came out, a lot of comments came out…‘oh! this man should be charged again!’ People forget that I was charged with treason and I was tried and then they realised they did not have any evidence. Nobody can recharge me now, but I am going to write about that chapter some other time.

Do you regret having said Kibaki Tosha?

No. After we had gathered such a momentum in 1991-2 with FORD (Forum for the Restoration of Democracy), it floundered on the rock of ethnicity. That is what divided FORD. The others who had been in Kanu all through tried to form Kanu through DP, which fragmented the opposition. So it is ethnicity that killed the unity that had been created. Because of that, Kanu survived in 1992. Again in 1997 we were not able to come together. In 2002 the same would have happened. In fact this was going to be a new Kanu. So ‘Kibaki Tosha’ had the effect of bringing the opposition together and that brought about change in our country.

If you meet a Tanzanian and ask him what tribe he is, he will most likely say “mimi Mtanzania”. Why are we so different?

If you ask a Tanzanian “wewe ni kabila gani?” he will tell you “wewe ni Mkenya. Hapa Tanzania hatuulizi maswali kama hayo, tunauliza umetoka jimbo gani.” This is because of the way Tanzania has been governed since Independence. Mwalimu Nyerere came up with a unifying ideology which basically funded what they called Utanzania; bringing people together. It is an ideology that created higher values to which people could aspire and conditions for fair competition in society and that killed ethnicity.  The contrast in Kenya, and this has happened in several African countries, the leadership followed the opposite route. The elite organised themselves along ethnic lines. Because of selfishness of leadership, you find that the elite surround themselves with their community. I keep on saying that ethnicity is the disease of the elite. The elite in competition for resources revert to ethnicity as a tool, a weapon to discriminate against fellow countrymen. And, therefore, they surround a leader and tell him “our interests are one, this community wants to deprive our community our share of the national cake”. They see the others as rivals. Kenyatta, for example, surrounded himself with the ethnic elite or the so-called Kiambu Mafia in terms of appointments to the civil service.

Serialisation of your book has revealed things about the events surrounding the PEV and the coalition government. Someone could argue that you have betrayed former President Kibaki by letting out secrets of your private meetings with him. Comment?

Not really. There was I think an attempt to introduce things that are not in the story, they start with their own interpretation but giving factual information. They are talking about Kibaki’s protestations (about Muthaura being included in the Ocampo list) that he was shocked that when he heard Muthaura’s name and he protested. This is what happened, it does not prejudice the cases that are going on, this has nothing to do with the case content. But he (Ocampo) gave us this information in confidence (list of ICC indictees) and we promised to keep it secret until he himself had released the information. We promised we would not reveal the names.

Do you know the names in the Waki Envelope?

No. Ocampo told us there were many more names but that he could not prosecute all of them because it would take too long and it would create a lot of acrimony. But they also did not have the capacity at ICC, so he encouraged us to pursue the route of a local tribunal as had been proposed.

Parliament and Senate have made concerted efforts to have the names revealed. Do you find this politically convenient?

If the AG wrote to ICC, they would forward the names of those who have not been prosecuted. You don’t even need to go through Parliament to disclose this. They think that ICC is refusing to release the names but the names are available…the Waki Commission report has the names.

Former President Jomo Kenyatta and your father Jaramogi fought a fierce battle of political ideologies; which was all about power politics. Do you see your political rivalry with President (Uhuru) Kenyatta as a continuation of that struggle or what exactly defines your battle moving forward?

In terms of change, the issue of the Cold War is no longer there. There is no East or West. China is now a major economic player but still led by the communist party of China. It’s a free market society. So in that sense there is no East as such but I think…locally there is the issue of redistribution versus status quo. In this country we have had the forces of status quo versus the reform forces. The issue of land has not been properly addressed.

We need to redistribute wealth and seek wider public participation in decision-making. We still have issues with healthcare locally, Kibaki rejected to sign a Bill on healthcare. We want to be constructive with our engagement with the government as the opposition. We will give them room to implement their policies but to the extent that it does not hurt the common man. Like the issue of VAT which could affect mwananchi which is why we came up and said no.

Your comments on Westgate. Are you satisfied with the government handling of the attack?

Westgate was a big disaster. It has exposed our soft underbelly.  There are very many unanswered questions about the attack.  I don’t want to be overly critical of the government, I give credit where it is due and also critique when it is called for. I think the response could have been better co-ordinated. It would have minimised the casualty we suffered. And then the command was….there was a clash. I don’t think it was necessary to bring in the military to fight…I mean 15 terrorists. Now it is between four and six, we still don’t know how many they were.

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