In 1992 when I was a relatively young lad of 28, I participated in my first General Election, having sat out Elections ‘84 and ‘88 in protest. Presented with a choice to register either in Mathioya, my constituency of birth, or anywhere in Nairobi, I opted to register in Langata constituency. That decision was motivated by only one consideration, I wanted to vote for Raila Odinga for MP.
Since my high school and university days, this gentleman had been identified with the clamour for reforms and had paid a heavy personal price. Every time some protestations against government were recorded, this gentleman would either be arraigned in court or sent to detention. I had followed the stories of Mama Ida’s persecution and the suffering of their children.
My first serious foray in campaigning in Nairobi was for Raila. He did not disappoint as Langata MP even as government played siasa mbaya maisha mbaya in Kibera. In 1997 when he stood for President, my presidential loyalties had shifted to Charity Ngilu whose Social Democratic Party policies were ideologically aligned to mine. But my MP vote was again reserved for Raila, even though my party had a candidate in Langata. Since those heady days, I have watched his political career take many twists and turns.
Legitimacy as a leader
My first disappointment with Raila was the Kanu-NDP in 1997. How could he betray the reform struggle and get into bed with our tormentors, I wondered? Twenty years later that merger still rankles but as I have become more pragmatic I am appreciative of what may have driven the reformist Raila to sit with his erstwhile foes. Without the 1997 merger, Kanu would have been formidable and would most probably have won the 2002 elections.
His “Kibaki Tosha” clarion call in 2002 came as a surprise to many of his supporters but guaranteed a united Kenya and an emphatic Narc win. For a little while Kenya was one of the most optimistic places on earth. Raila had given the campaign its energy especially after “Captain” Kibaki got injured. His reaction to the breach of the MoU after the 2002 elections was therefore understandable.
I am convinced that if a genuine Raila-Kibaki handshake had occurred in 2003, Kenya would be a better country. The bad seeds that were planted by the 2002 betrayal led inexorably to the 2007 violence. Though framed as a reaction to “stolen elections,” the violence was in reality based on belief and perceptions that the Kikuyu, firstly under Jomo, and then under Kibaki, had snubbed the rest of Kenya, including those that had helped them chase Moism in 2002.
When Kibaki and Raila handshook in 2008, it was unfortunately five years too late and because it was a forced marriage, it did not produce to its best potential. However, no one can doubt that most of what Kibaki achieved occurred during the grand coalition season. That season gave us the long-delayed constitution.
I go into all this history to contextualise the current Raila-Uhuru handshake. There is no doubt in my mind that Jubilee legally won the August 2017 elections; the results of the other elections, particularly the parliamentary ones point to an obvious Jubilee win. But Raila’s NASA did impressively well and in a country where seeing your own in government counts for so much, the failure to recognise and affirm the significant support that Raila commands in much of the country would have cost this country much needed peace.
It is also clear that in Kenya’s political history, periods of calm and significant development have occurred when Raila’s legitimacy as a leader has been recognised. Unfortunately for Raila, because he has stood for the largest number of elections as a formidable candidate, enough venom has been spewed against him that he’s not an easy sell in many parts of Kenya, where it is difficult undo decades of Raila’s negative caricatures. But whatever his political future, I can think of few Kenyans who have contributed to getting us where we are as Baba has. May the country be kinder to him in the coming season.
– The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya
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