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How economic boycott might hurt Raila's political legacy
By Ben Washiali | Updated Nov 22, 2017 at 08:54 EAT
Raila Odinga boycotts Safaricom, moves to Airtel
  • NASA leaders led by Raila Odinga urged their supporters to boycott all products linked to the government
  • They have so far boycotted Safaricom, Bidco and Brookside
  • NASA CEO Norman Magaya said they will give a list of more products to boycott soon

The National Super Alliance (NASA) boycott of some firms is nothing less than an attempt to make money by threatening legitimate businesses. The effects, whether the boycott succeeds or not, will be profoundly undemocratic. Spearheaded by a man who spent his political career fighting and winning the battle for democracy in Kenya, it will conclude his legacy as a breaker, not a builder. It did not have to be like this.

When history of his years is written in a calmer, more reflective time, it will record that NASA leader Raila Odinga endured great suffering and showed great courage in the cause of Kenya’s constitutional democracy. He campaigned for the expansion of democratic space. He endured defeat after defeat, never doubting that the second liberation would come. These achievements will live. What will not live is the darker, less democratic side of his character, which has returned as his career draws to a close.

Few politicians are wholly altruistic. They are animated as much by power as by principle. Raila is not immune: he went into an ill-advised alliance with the ruling party in the 1990s; he did not refrain from playing ugly ethnic politics when he thought it would be to his advantage; and he has often played the part of the cynical populist when it fitted his political needs.

This latest boycott is best understood as a tragic attempt to take a game he plays locally to the national level. As it is in many tragedies, the protagonist is always undone by a deep character flaw. The desire for power once tempered by principle is now naked ambition. The courage that once inspired Kenyans across the political divide is now recklessness and disregard for private enterprise.

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