By Dikembe Disembe
Yesterday President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto officially commissioned the construction of a new terminal at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Raila Odinga was present!
So definitely there is a story. An unlikely story.Talk of infrastructure in Kenya and the person who comes to mind is retired president Mwai Kibaki.
Am I, like Miguna Miguna’s recent characterization of my friend, Philemon Wesonga, a “Raila groupie”?
Probably yes, but then again, only on matters which the national narrative has been back-pedaled to ignore, or crudely manipulate, both history and the facts.
One such matter (and you can disagree) is the country infrastructure narrative for the last decade.
How should historians apportion credit to actors in political coalitions?
When President Kenyatta’s photomen released a series of photos of the groundbreaking ceremony of the new terminal at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and Odinga became oddly conspicuous, many were confounded.
There were marked frustration among the usual Jubilee pinheads – the clueless ruffians to whom any mention of Raila creates violent mental dissonance – and many could not tell why Odinga was ‘invited’ to the event.
Let’s congratulate President Kenyatta. At least, he did what is rare in Kenya: political courtesy. He invited Odinga to be present when one of the his (Odinga’s) pet projects finally got life.
We (ooh, the March 4 vanquished) also realized a certain degree of discomfort on the person of the Deputy President William Ruto. His physical demeanor from the President’s photo propagandists (sic) betrayed a man a heartbeat away from the presidency. This is for another day.
The project President Uhuru Kenyatta commissioned yesterday remains one among many of the country’s infrastructure ‘stories’ which Raila Odinga played a leading role in both ‘imagining and initiating’ and which the ‘official single story’ of the country’s government and media elites (same people) thoroughly edited to remove any mention, including its footnotes, of Raila Odinga.
Dr Wolfgang Thome, writing for the biggest tourism industry blog in East and Central Africa, wrote this on September 17, 2012:
Only a day prior to a cabinet decision last Thursday to fast track the project and move with all due haste and with all stakeholders involved, had the board of KAA attempted to get a court order in a last ditch effort to have the project halted, according to reliable information at the bidding of the still in office transport minister Amos Kimunya, but had to yield when they got the cabinet directive which overruled Kimunyas stop directive and his intensive behind the scenes scheming.
In fact sections of the board of KAA and in particular the chairman now stand accused to have well near conspired with the minister to bring the project down, and the CEO of KAA along with it and pressure is growing for the chairman to step down together with his misguided loyalists on the board, now that Kimunya clearly has lost this battle. Regular pundits anticipate that should Kimunya lose his cabinet seat, his KAA board cronies too will have to pack up and go.
Meanwhile will CEO Stephen Gichuki return to his office in a more than triumphant manner, having slam dunked the chairman of the board and the minister and asserted his position, after first being locked out of his office inspite of a court order which had instructed the KAA board to lift the suspension slapped on him on August 23rd. This action is now viewed as an act of conspiracy between Kimunya and the board and further investigations into that sordid affair are likely to follow to establish if any laws were broken in the process.
The Board Chairman then was (guess) George Muhoho. Names of board members will annoy you.
The least we say about these people the better. However, let it be known; with these guys at the helm of statecraft in most parts of Kibaki years (and some are even more powerful in this new government) Raila Odinga’s premiership, and his ability to outwit these guys and get his way, is a mystery.
Even as Kibaki recently blamed Moi of slowing economic growth of this country, there are thousands of massive projects which wheeler dealers in his decade-long rule,mostly the so called ‘Mt Kenya Mafia’ openly frustrated or strategically delayed. Project Greenfield, which Uhuru commissioned yesterday, is one such initiatives.
Those which would benefit the right region, like Thika Road, saw the light of the day at the earliest dawn, and is today referred to as ‘Thika superhighway’.
On project Greenfield, the politics on how Kimunya was overruled in the then ‘grand coalition cabinet’ to let this project see the light of day points to only one man and one side of that government: Raila Odinga and ODM wing. These are facts only jubilee pinheads deny.
Project Greenfield, then seen as a brainchild of Odinga, and whose success would be an issue in the campaigns for the 2013 elections, had to be fought by all means. Courts played their role. The media played its role. In the end, the project that was to be commissioned eons ago waited for another era and another president, and yes, Odinga was blackened out.
Nor is Uhuru the first Kenyan leader to look East. On the JKIA project, all negotiations had been completed long ago. Raila Odinga made extensive trips to China to ensure this project materialised. These trips, though with fewer delegations and less media buzz than Uhuru’s; brought the Chinese here at home in the largest haul ever.
By pointing Odinga’s contribution on the infrastructure development in Kenya; I am mindful of the others. However, here is a man whose story – from Thika Superhighway to almost all tarmacked highways in Nyanza, Rift Valley, Western and other regions in Kenya – has never been properly appreciated.
By 2003, Raila landed the roads and public works docket to find a country whose infrastructure was ruined under the 24 wasted years of Moi. He found a public works culture which only led to collapsing buildings. He recovered both!
In Nyanza, it would take one a whole day to move from Homa Bay to Migori in ‘former’ tamarack road. Kisii to Kisumu was journey in hell. Coming to Nairobi was a trip dangerous, excruciating and soul-wrenching.
I remember as young primary school kid coming for Â the national music festival being given a whole day off to ‘rest’ before I could sing my song! Travelling from Nyanza to the country’s capital in the early years of 21st century convinced me that Moi and Kanu belonged not only to the part of history that records the scientific existence of useless people on earth, but also to jail.
These things; the economic infrastructural waste of whole societies, did not happen ages ago. These experiences are recent. To us who forgets not easily; Raila Odinga’s presence in the two governments, in effect, ensured more ‘crumbs’ fell off the dining table where the so called ‘national cake’ is eaten.
As we see projects coming up in these Kenyatta II years; probably, the narrative, when it is clear it cannot cheat anymore, will give unto Odinga his due credits.
Dikembe Disembe comments on politics, higher education and ethnicity in Kenya.