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Baba takes train to ‘dala’ and he’s on a one-way ticket. Can you beat that?

By Peter Kimani | Dec 24th 2021 | 3 min read

ODM leader Raila Odinga inside the recently launched Kisumu- Nairobi train. He boarded the train from Fort Tenan to Kisumu on December 22, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Zion train is coming our way
The Zion train is coming our way
Oh, people, get on board!     (You better get on board!)
 Thank the Lord

 I gotta catch a train, ‘cause there    is no other station
 Then you going in the same direction…

                                          Bob Marley, Zion Train

ODM leader Raila Odinga, also known as Baba, knows these lyrics too well; he has been singing and dancing to reggae for the better part of this year and last. And Baba has had one consistent plan for the past year or two: He would ride the train home.

But even the most meticulous plans can go awry, as did this one. First off, who would expect a man his age to be out in the cold, at 6am, waiting for the train’s departure? So the train left as Baba slept…

I suspect he woke up with a start, and quickly devised ways of getting to intercept the train before it reached dala. At this point, the details of how Baba made his way to Fort Ternan, on the neck of Kisumu, are fuzzy.

I don’t think Baba flew to Fort Ternan—what sense would it make to fly all the way, disembark and take the train for the remainder of the way? Neither do I think he flew into Kisumu then made his way back to Fort Ternan. Nor did he drive all the way from Nairobi to try catch the train.

The latter is possible, given that the train rides slowly and Baba’s powerful SUV could easily have clawed back the hours that the train had been hurtling since dawn.

Anyway, Baba’s arrival on the Kisumu-bound train might remain one of his many vitendawili (riddles) and the important thing is that he arrived in Kisumu in style, after captivating visuals on board, having a meal with Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and giving Press interviews.

Baba is, after all, the African Union’s special envoy for infrastructure, which means he just wasn’t hitching a ride home—which he did, on a one-way ticket—but also to celebrate the milestone.

The NTV interview, no doubt a highlight of the ‘handshake’ politics he and Prezzo UK have been engaged in, was a disaster. As the master of optics, Baba struggled to keep his eyes open—perhaps from the blinding camera lights, or from the fatigue of commuting all day. He looked frail and frightened under the glare of the cameras.

A simple tilt of the camera would have yielded a much better frame by getting the lenses at Baba’s eye level. Instead, Baba is beneath the gaze of the cameraperson and he has to look up as the cameraperson looks down on him, symbolising a shift in the balance of power.

Perhaps the question that Baba dreaded and which never came, was why it was possible to rehabilitate the Nairobi-Kisumu railway, at a fraction of what the Mombasa-Nairobi railway had gobbled, mortgaging the country for the rest of our lives.

This line of inquiry was not possible as reporters had more immediate concerns: a wagon derailment that took several hours to clear.

Those looking for political symbolism perhaps have found a perfect summation of the perils and pleasures of taking the train to dala. But the train to Kisumu also symbolises something more poignant: it is ours, built by our taxes, not Chinese loans; no one can tunya us.

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