Raila Odinga’s legacy and character makes him suitable to succeed Uhuru Kenyatta

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta at a past event. [File, Standard]

Then he said, “You are Peter and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it”. If Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, according to St Mathew, the Kenyan pro-democracy lobby groups of the last quarter of the last century collectively gave subsequent generations the gift of true democracy – well, at least its semblance.

The story of the restoration of Kenyan democracy has been told exhaustively by people whose sandal straps I am not qualified to undo. Mine will therefore be brief and straight to the point. We cannot talk about Kenyan democracy without talking about Raila Odinga, and the role he has played in its preservation.

While one strand of political punditry has painted a picture of a power-hungry, rabble-rouser individual in the person and character of Raila, another set of arguments promote the narrative of a man who has walked in the darkest of trenches at a great personal cost to save Kenyan democracy. I agree with the latter.

See, you don’t have to like Raila, but the ideals for which he’s known and his reform credentials are beyond dispute. These are facts. And facts are incontrovertible.

With his close comrades Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia and Martin Shikuku gone, Raila, the man we have known over the years as the mainspring of Kenya’s opposition politics, is among the last standing heroes of Kenya’s second liberation.

He will go down in history with the formal epithet ‘true patriot’ attached to his name. He may or may not deserve his epithet, depending on what political angle you look at it. I don’t feel remotely qualified to judge. What is undeniable, however, is that the Kenyan story has a special place in his heart; it has shown on more occasions than one.

Raila isn’t a saint. None of us is. All said, he ranks higher than any of his competitors in terms of ideology and character. He’s more than qualified to execute the basic job description of the president. His is a political career built on coherent ideologies, the selfless pursuit of justice and protection of the inalienable right to free expression.

I was among the thousands of Kenyans who gathered at Uhuru Park on January 30, 2018, to witness Raila’s swearing-in as the people’s president. It could have been a mock exercise that lacked clarity, but, with the state insisting that it amounted to treason, it was the boldest action in the standard contemporary political practice.

Before Raila made amends with President Kenyatta, the country was staring ruin in the face. Endless dogfight for access and control of political power that is our politics was threatening to reduce this country to rubble.

The Handshake brought the peace we needed to move on with our lives. But if it must stand as the most important thing in the recent Kenyan political history, it must go beyond the elbow, irrespective of whoever wins in August, address the root causes of the trouble with Kenya and why Kenyans are no longer at ease with the future that the country presents.

This election isn’t just about electing someone who will revive the economy. We must look at the character and legacy of the person to whom we are donating our consent.