Since 1902

For the love of God and Kenya, can the real Raila please stand up?

ODM leader Raila Odinga addresses the press after officially opening Azimio la Umoja secretariat at Nyali in Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

Word had gone round on Monday evening that former Prime Minister Raila Odinga would address the media from his Karen home.

After a torrid weekend of defections, many expected a forceful comeback from the master of self-renewal. But when it came, it was an anti-climax that elicited scarce mention in mainstream media. To be sure, this is no way an attempt to downplay the importance of the informal sector (jua kali) in the economic transformation.

I have held that for the equity and progress, those on the fringes of the economy – including the jua kali sector - must be made to feel that they too have a stake in the economy. It is just that Mr Odinga’s message was miscued.

And that, for many reasons, encapsulates the challenge facing Mr Odinga in this year’s elections. RAO’s is not the well-oiled campaign of the past. Far more people speak about who will be RAO’s running mate than what message he is running on. If the presser was an attempt at changing that then it misfired. While his opponents have hit the ground running, his campaign has been ensnared in an ungainly contest and the calculus of picking a running mate rather than passing their message of change and hope.

Since Azimio was launched in April, his camp has spent more time in boardroom strategy sessions propping up what seems more like a fragile coalition of competing interests. By the time they are done with it - considering the twists and turns - it might be too late to beat back the Hustler Nation wave and the pessimism that he is a shoo-in for the power brokers, the money men and the influence-peddlers.

To a degree, unseen in any other elections, the self-styled doyen of Kenya’s Opposition politics seems to be acting on impulse and the belief that all is well.

The pessimists feel the March 2018 handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta has not only doomed our democracy, but its chief architect as well. Mr Odinga has seemed hamstrung to demonstrate that he is what he has always stood for, not something in between. The wanton disregard for democratic ideals or for the truth and common decency; the political posturing and the grandstanding, the lack of principles; the return of the Big Man Syndrome and hero-worship must weigh on his mind a lot.

Or the question whether he is a continuation (which he has denied) of Jubilee 1? For one never misses the overbearing sense from many in his camp to project their man as President Kenyatta’s project.

So when will we see the Mr Odinga of yore who offered scintillating ideas that chimed with the man-on-the street? No doubt, his belief in socialist revolution to transform and reconstruct society and foster egalitarianism possible only with good governance, the rule of law stands out. But that is in history.

And what is his economic blueprint beyond the Sh6,000 dole? He has spoken less (many consider half-heartedly) on public finance, meritocracy, the impending debt crisis and rising inflation.

His signature health agenda BabaCare doesn’t elicit much inspiration. Besides this, he needs to pronounce himself loudly on such issues as education, and other public good issues like security, transport and energy.

It should also worry him more that his ardent supporters are increasingly finding him to be neither fish nor fowl. He looks less like the sure-footed social liberal he was - but rather a chancer. He lacks the self-assuredness that endeared him to so many people. He hasn’t spoken much about the need to have strong institutions- clean, independent and speedy courts, an active civil society that agitates fearlessly or a media that barks and bites.

One could argue that the former PM is a victim of his own making; that by striking compromises and building consensus - itself not a bad thing - he has had to change colours and spots.

His party, ODM’s subservience in savouring power and privilege makes many believe that all along, they had rather it were they and not others in power. Sadly, this has advanced the unhelpful notion that to be in government offers a group an advantage – that it-is-their-turn-to-eat.

Whatever it takes, Mr Odinga surely needs a reinvention of sorts. First, he needs to stand away from Uhuru’s long shadow; find his mojo and light the revolutionary fire under his belly.

Put it another way; he needs to find himself lest he gets lost in changing political and moral labyrinths. Else, he might soon realise that he has been sitting on a melting iceberg.

Mr Kipkemboi is Partnerships and Special Projects Editor, Standard Group