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Raila fit for ‘Baba wa Taifa’ title, not president

By Yash Ghai | December 24th 2017 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

NASA leader Raila Odinga addressing his supporters

Raila’s statement about his swearing in as president has understandably divided the nation — if one might describe Kenya as a “nation”. He seems to be losing the sympathy even of some of his close supporters for his persistence to be so sworn-in. And his colleagues seem ready to leave him, as they realise that he is unable to bestow money or office on them.

As usual, the diplomatic community is worried about violence — and not concerned about the illegality and the unfairness of the conduct that has led Kenyans into this crisis. Those who accuse Raila of treason should review the legality of their own acts that has led us into this crisis. The Attorney-General is pontificating to him when people feel the AG could have done more to ensure free and fair elections. I have every sympathy with Raila’s sense of betrayal, the victim of the disregard of the norms of fair electoral process by those in authority, and the general principles that underlie our Constitution.

Reasons for bitterness

Those who are being very righteous about Raila’s conduct should think how they would feel if they were in his position. I do not mean only his deep sense of having been cheated of his victory as president in the last elections. The cause of anger goes back a long time. He was cheated more than once by Mwai Kibaki of high state office, including presidency, especially when Kibaki’s own ascension to the presidency was owed to Raila’s lobbying for his victory.

Yet Kibaki did not keep his promise (in a solemn document) to ensure Raila’s appointment as prime minister, with an equal number of ministers from their respective parties (choosing instead a disproportionate number of ministers from the Mt Kenya region) — and then election as president.

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Many people believe, with good reason, that Raila was cheated out of presidential victory in 2007, 2013 and 2017, neither has his great struggle for democracy and freedom after Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi established highly authoritarian rule, which led to his long spells in detention, been fully recognised. Raila fought hard for the new Constitution against firm opposition from Kibaki and several of his close comrades who preferred the former constitution — and have continued to occupy high office — a fact which is seldom acknowledged.

Why not Presidency

So Raila’s frustration is understandable. And yet I feel that he should abandon his determination to be anointed as president — not only because none of our presidents has been a person of integrity but also because ministerial position has not been his forte, neither does Kenyan politics, deeply rooted in tribalism, suit him when he has a vision of Kenya as a nation.

That vision will also suffer greatly, in the event that he is sworn as “president”, for this will provide this blood-thirsty government with the opportunity to deploy its armed forces, with the consequence of more murders and the effective occupation of vast sections of the country. And given Kenya politics, Raila will lose his “ardent” supporters, who will now no doubt seek Uhuru’s patronage, as some have done already.

Undoubtedly, Uhuru would destroy any basis there might be for him to initiate policies for development and justice in areas he “occupies”.  There is much talk of secession, but in these circumstances the supporters of secession would not have the ability to bring it about. A major crisis will arise — and there is every likelihood that Raila and his team will be blamed for the consequences. This would undermine his status and standing.

But I have a positive reason for Raila’s abandoning the idea of presidency. It is to find a role outside the structures of the State, in order to reshape Kenya. We should proclaim him as ‘Baba wa Taifa’ (Father of the Nation), which is accepted even by those not his ardent supporters. This is not an official role; its strength lies in people’s proclamation and acceptance of this title and role, and Raila’s conduct as the national leader. His strength will not come from money or armed force, but his wisdom and sacrifice.

The person who made the greatest contribution to the freedom and unity of India and won the support of an overwhelming number of Indians was Mahatma Gandhi, who never occupied an official position — and spent most of his time with ordinary Indians, and was not concerned about his own aggrandisement. In the US, Martin Luther King inspired a whole nation without any formal state office. So did Nelson Mandela both before he became and after he ceased to be president. Julius Nyerere continued to influence Tanzanians well after he resigned as president. They were able to achieve these goals because people trusted them, and believed in their good faith and integrity.

There is no reason why Raila cannot play that role. His stature and achievements are infinitely superior to those of Uhuru — as are the sacrifices he has made for democracy. In his role as ‘Baba wa Taifa’, he would have little pressure to provide posts or money to his political friends, and keep the party united. He will have no personal axe to grind.

Welfare of the people

His mission will be the welfare of the people — something that our politicians have completely forgotten in their own greed. He will have more time to go round the country, meeting, listening and talking to people, criticising official policies when necessary, and propounding his own policies based on the values of the Constitution. That would be fantastic for the country, giving us goals and policies, moving us away from ethnicity and petty conflicts, the exploitation of the workers and other vulnerable people.

In this way, Raila will have infinitely more influence on national affairs and policies than Uhuru — indeed he would show Uhuru as a president without a vision, self-centred, and unable to inspire the people. And hopefully people will turn away from narrow, ethnic politics driven by selfish interests and look to the broader interests and welfare of the entire community that is Kenya, with justice for all.

Unlike the conferment of the presidency under the Constitution, there is no rule for the conferment of the title of ‘Baba wa Taifa’. This is an entirely good thing — acknowledging that the people have on their own conferred the title; nothing is owed to the state. People are free to choose the ceremony for this purpose. The government cannot claim that the conferment of this title (which they have freely chosen on their own) is an act of treason.

—The writer is the director of Katiba Institute and former CKRC chairman

Raila Odinga raila swearing in
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