NO politician in post-independent Kenya ever evoked the extreme passions Raila Amolo Odinga has shown himself capable of, not even the Founding Fathers individually.
And none can claim his prowess as an instigator of intense political fireworks. He is, without doubt, modern-day Kenya’s utmost political wizard. Indeed, Agwambo stands for a man who’s anything but predictable.
Though admired and loathed in equal measure, few Kenyans spare the time to soberly dissect what actually ticks about Raila.
On reflection, five things stand out in him.
One, Raila has an enviable ability to bounce back after every fall. Raila is certainly not Humpty-Dumpty. To jog your mind, Humpty-Dumpty is a character in a little Nursery Rhyme whose earliest version was published in Samuel Arnold’s ‘Juvenile Amusements’ in 1797. In this little poem, Humpty-Dumpty suffered a great fall but “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again”.
Raila has serially fallen out of favour with or rubbed the wrong way each of the four administrations Kenya has had since Independence. He knows exactly what it means to rise to grace and fall to grass.
At one point or another, Raila has been incarcerated, banished or outfoxed. Still, the man stunningly manages to summon the presence of mind for one rebound after another. His spirit and resolve are indefatigable. Nothing mutes them even when they appear, as they occasionally do, like the manners of a bull in a china shop.
Two, Raila has the epic ability to cause both his admirers and haters forget ills attached to him and even forgive him. It is Meir David Kahane, an American-Israeli rabbi and ultra-Zionist political figure, who famously said, “Let us not suffer from a national amnesia that causes us to forget who and what we are”. Kahane’s wisdom on national amnesia does not apply to Raila.
He knows how to bolt out of sticky situations without injury. An exceptionally smart fellow, Raila is seldom mentioned in the 2007/8 post-election violence narratives though he was the figurehead of the feud that almost tore Kenya apart. Neither did allegations of a host of improprieties in his corner of the Grand Coalition,including the Kazi kwa Vijana and the Maize Scandal,really stick.
The Jubilee administration has a lot to learn from Raila on image cleansing. The embattled Anne Waiguru could certainly benefit a lot from Raila’s political baptism of fireand salvation manual.
Three, RAO, as Raila is popularly referred to, is ageless. At 70, he has been able to take excellent care of himself and much as he is a grandfather, he hardly looks tired. Of course the dye on his hair helps cut the image of a youthful man. Add that to his energy and alertness and you have a candidate who can take on Uhuru and Ruto head-on, come 2017.
When the time comes to do jigs on the political dias, Railaexhibits awesome flair and flexibility only comparable to Uhuru Kenyatta’s in his league.
Four, Raila understands the power of occasion better than any other politician of his time. His ability to make good judgment on the spur of the moment in situations requiring quick action is epic. That is why Raila effortlessly turns burial ceremonies into powerful occasions to throw jibes at his would-be political nemeses and make unforgettable pronouncements that become key drivers of his politics.
This same political instinct that makes the most and the best out of unconventional situations is the same that has won him loyal and influential friends in what may, politically-speaking, be referred to as ‘enemy territory’. Such friends include Stanley Githunguri, Charles Njonjo, S.K. Macharia and Paul Mwangi.
Five, Tinga, also christened Jakom (chairman), has exhibited a rare talent in rallying millions from his community of origin into a feverish following. Despite the Luo people reminding everyone that they dominate Kenya’s club of intellectuals, academics and scholars, most of them are Raila’s bondservants and jesters. Those like Professor Anyang’ Nyong’o and James Orengo who have ever tried to break free of his spell have been humiliated back to the fold and reprimanded.
Nowhere else in Kenya has such political captivity worked and made millions completely and freely subservient to one man.
Looking at how well Raila has managed to rein in his community, the noise Kenyans make at their leaders would certainly stop with a Raila Presidency. I wouldn’t be shocked if the often-meddlesome civil society would not remain the same. And I am certain that the media would calmly tow his line as well. Imagine such a rewarding benevolent dictatorship!
One wouldn’t have to strive too mightily under this benign tyranny, or to set out to reinvent the wheel. RAO’s politics are the politics of arrival, the fish landed, the deal done, not the endless journey.
Like him or hate him, Raila rocks!
Alvan Kinyua comments on topical issues.