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Why we need to believe Raila when he promises Kenyans justice, equity

By Charity Ngilu | November 21st 2021

ODM leader Raila Odinga (right) with kitui governor Charity Ngilu at Manyenyoni area on December 14, 2020. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

However hard one tries, it is impossible to write even the most dishonest political history of Kenya, especially the transformative version, and leave out Raila Odinga.

It is however possible to write such a history and leave out everyone else campaigning against Raila today and many will agree that nothing has been left out, especially with regard to transformation and change in Kenya.

Raila’s opponents have tried to paint a picture of him that make them equal to or better than him. But that portrait is falling flat. The Raila they are trying to paint is not the one all Kenyans know.

The Raila Kenya knows is one who has been the face and symbol of the struggle for justice, fairness and freedom in Kenya. None of the other contenders for the presidency can lay claim to such a record.

The years in detention may have receded into a distant past now. But those who witnessed them know what the country was going through back then and that it took the willingness to die by the likes of Raila for Kenya to change. Real and meaningful change came because Raila stood his ground. No other candidate can point to any positive change, even just one, that can be traced to their efforts, during that period.

Kenyans have reason to believe Raila when he promises justice, fairness, inclusivity and equity should he become president. They have seen him stand up for these before. We have no reason to believe his opponents when they make promises on these or anything else because we have never seen them deliver on anything, leave alone those that require sacrifice.

Raila is the face of both ideological and physical transformation in Kenya. The transformation from a single party to a multi-party State is easily traceable to Raila and associates. None of his challengers can claim that credit, although they now enjoy its benefits and even own political parties. The shift from a draconian constitution to the transformative one of today has Raila’s footprints all over it. Again, none of his competitors can even attempt to claim that credit. But they enjoy the new constitution and quote it profusely.

Kenya has witnessed tremendous change in its infrastructure since 2003 when the National Rainbow Coalition took over. President Mwai Kibaki, knowing Raila’s mindset for and ability to push transformation no matter what it takes, knew that Raila was the man to deal with the dilapidated and inadequate road infrastructure the country had when Narc took over.

The highways and bypasses now dotting the Kenyan landscape took shape in that brief period Raila was Roads minister. In fact, many Kenyans heard of bypasses – Southern, Eastern, Northern – and underpasses for the first time when Raila became Roads minister. The projects became real under the grand-coalition government when three forces for transformation, Raila, Kibaki and President Uhuru Kenyatta, found themselves in the same government.

Because of this record, we have reason to believe Raila when he talks of taking on some seemingly impossible project, like ending poverty in Kenya, beginning with the poorest of the poor and putting everyone on the path of upward social mobility. He has taken on seemingly impossible assignments before and delivered.

In recent months, there has been a lot of talk about the legacy of Kibaki’s presidency. What has not been acknowledged loudly enough is that the Kibaki presidency would not have happened without Raila. The decision by Raila to back Kibaki as scores of people scrambled for the Narc ticket made Kibaki president. Raila too was eyeing the seat. He must have believed he was best suited for the job. But he made the decision that rather than insist on running and have the opposition lose again, he would let Kibaki have it; hence, the Kibaki presidency we all now miss.

Many have said this is Mandela Moment for Kenya, with reference to Raila. I agree. However, I think this is also Kenya’s Lincoln Moment. There is so much similarity between Abraham Lincoln as he prepared to ascend to the US presidency and Raila’s right now.

Like Lincoln’s, Raila’s life of perpetual struggle has prepared him for the challenges facing the country. Like Lincoln, Raila has a temperament shaped by personal and emotional pain without being bitter or pessimistic about the future. He radiates and inspires hope. Like Lincoln, Raila has turned his pains into a vision of purpose and inspiration for the country. Like Lincoln, Raila has deep-rooted integrity and an ever growing confidence in ability to lead.

The writer is the governor of Kitui County

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