Odinga fights for relevance


MISSION IMPOSSIBLE . . . Zimbabwe’s outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (left) speaks to then visiting Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga at the MDC’s National Congress in Bulawayo in April 2011. Odinga has since lost the presidential poll to Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya while Tsvangirai is contesting a Zanu-PF landslide in court

Wanjohi Kabukuru
In the last three months the future of Raila Odinga in Kenya’s politics has been a torment to his supporters. One faction of his core support base sought to have the senior Kenyan politician retire from politics.This viewpoint had its basis in age (he is now 68) and the fact that since he had lost three presidential elections, it was only reasonable that he retire honourably to avoid another electoral defeat.

The second bloc has refused to entertain this notion and holds that Raila’s political aura is still needed in active politics. It is this second group that has prevailed and the reason Raila declared that he was not retiring from politics, in mid-July saying that it is his supporters who will decide whether he will be on the ballot papers come 2018.

His running mate and partner in the Coalition for Democracy and Reforms (Cord), Kalonzo Musyoka, has also dismissed any talk of retirement, indicating that he is still in politics for the long haul.

And this is what has made Kenyan politics so fascinating. With Odinga and
Kalonzo firmly declaring their intentions, it is clear the permanent electioneering mode that has bewitched Kenya, for the last 10 years, is likely to persist.

Even though this time around Raila is trailing President Uhuru Kenyatta in the opinion poll ratings, the former is busy reconstituting a new team. His new team will be seeking to change his image and at the same time fix the myriad blunders that have seen him become a perennial loser.

So what are the chances that Raila will win on his fourth attempt? This is the question that Raila’s team must confront, knowing the odds are probably in favour of the incumbent.

Secondly, they must look for weaknesses in the Jubilee administration to exploit. However, so far all the indications highlight a leadership vacuum in Cord, and multiple judgement errors.

This is courtesy of the 2010 Kenya constitution that bars anyone seeking to be president or his deputy from being a Member of Parliament (MP). The same applies for cabinet secretaries (previously ministers). Under the past constitution the entire political executive were members of parliament.

This caveat has denied both Odinga and Musyoka the necessary political cushioning to provide leadership for their coalition from Kenya’s senate and national assembly. As such they are leading “from outside”.

For Odinga to be relevant in the current dispensation, he will need to resort to history going back a decade ago and interpret the events of 2003 using a similar incident in 1961.

The events of June 13 2003 are a living memory that he will never easily forget. It was a day emblazoned with historical meaning and far-reaching political ramifications, dating back slightly more than four decades earlier.

It had been six months since the new National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) had defeated and replaced the independence party Kenya African National Union (Kanu). President Daniel Moi had sauntered into retirement and Mwai Kibaki had defeated his own godson Uhuru Kenyatta, and his preferred heir, to become Kenya’s third president.

On this day Kibaki was destroying a well-established political myth that had been erected by a powerful clique around president Jomo Kenyatta in his sunset years.

Between 1976 and 1978, Kenyatta’s kitchen cabinet, under the name “Change-the-Constitution-Group”, swore never to allow the presidential motorcade to leave Kiambu where Kenyatta came from, and cross the River Chania, which forms the boundary of Kiambu and Murang’a Counties
Kibaki hailed from Nyeri County that borders Murang’a.

On this particular day Kibaki was making his maiden “homecoming” journey since his election in late December 2002.
Huge crowds had lined the Nairobi-Nyeri route to witness this trip. At the Kenol Petrol Station located at the meeting point and popular border town of Kiambu and Murang’a County, former planning assistant minister Peter Kenneth and a huge crowd waited anxiously.

“I have come to witness the presidential motorcade cross the River Chania,” an elated Kenneth told reporters at the time.
Accompanying President Kibaki were ministers Chris Murungaru, Martha Karua, Raphael Tuju, the late John Michuki, Raila Odinga and the late Karisa Maitha.

However, as the trip would later turn out, it was political pageantry for two men. Kibaki and Odinga.
To Kibaki, it was about restoring hope to other regions in the country that anyone can be president in Kenya. For Odinga it was different.

While it was obvious Odinga was not an insider in Kibaki’s administration, on this day his political charisma and gravitas with the masses was proved beyond any doubt.

The ministers who comprised Kibaki’s inner circle, led by Murungaru, tried to sideline Odinga from the crowds that day, as they had since taking over power.

But the crowds thronging the market centres of Sagana, Kutus, Kirinyaga, Maragwa, Murang’a, Karatina and Nyeri had different ideas. They all demanded to be addressed by Odinga and in unison they referred to Jaramogi Odinga’s son as “Uyu ni we njamba” (Kikuyu for “he is the heroic warrior”).

This historic day was significant not only because of its political symbolism but because it had identical echoes going back to 1961. In Kenya’s political parlance and topography only one other man had managed to elicit such admiration from the members of another populous community.

His name was Tom Joseph Mboya, who was later assassinated in 1969.
Mboya, described as “brilliant, and a man of extraordinary intelligence and dynamism” was a prime mover in Kenya’s formative years and helped build Kanu into the formidable political machine it turned out to be.

At the time Mboya and his colleagues in Kanu were having a hard time retaining members of the so-called minority communities who had ganged up to form the Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu).

David Goldsworthy, in his book Tom Mboya: The Man Kenya Wanted to Forget narrates the “astonishing win” of Mboya for the Nairobi East seat. This was during Kenya’s first multi-party elections in February 1961, which Kanu won by a landslide.

“He won astonishingly,” Goldsworthy writes. The numbers were: Tom Mboya (Kanu) — 31 407; Munyua Waiyaki (Independent) — 2 668; and Martin Shikuku (Kadu) — 1557.

“It was a triumph that confirmed him beyond challenge as the political king of Nairobi,” Goldsworthy writes. “It represented the most resounding and personally satisfying blow he ever struck in his career against “negative tribalism”.

Indeed it led some to conclude that thanks to Mboya the struggle to achieve a common sense of Kenyan nationhood was on the way to being won. On that euphoric night of the 27th (February), as Kikuyu cheered Luo, the most optimistic of forecasts for unity seemed justifiable.”

Why would Goldsworthy term Mboya’s win “astonishing”? It is because “for the 1961 election Nairobi East had nearly 40 000 registered voters, of whom about 27 000 were Kikuyu, Embu and Meru.”

Mboya himself was Luo and Goldsworthy continues to expound on the reasons he resonated with the Kikuyus who failed to support Waiyaki, who was not only their own kinsman but hailed from a privileged background within the Kikuyu chieftains.

So why would history be critical today to Odinga?
Because Odinga’s history as a reformist who was detained for Kenya’s democratic space, no longer holds traction.

For Odinga to succeed in being germane, he must achieve what he had transcended in 2003 and translate that adulation, just as Mboya did. Goldsworthy’s description of Mboya’s core base is a pointer for the plummeting political fortunes of Odinga.

“Mboya’s Kikuyu constituents were low-income urban Kikuyus including plenty of unemployed ex-detainees. They were anxious for urban jobs while remaining hopeful, no doubt, of eventually acquiring small holdings out of town,” Goldsworthy notes.

“For these people at this time Waiyaki simply did not offer a believable alternative as a ‘big-man’, a patron on whom to pin their hopes.
“Mboya was a man of proven power, both in labour affairs and at the political centre; further, he was a man who time and again had shown that he was genuinely concerned with the fortunes of ordinary people regardless of ethnic considerations.” — New African.

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