By Dikembe Disembe
As Raila Odinga celebrates his 69th birthday today, I want to share with Tinga the things my generation now look to on him. Uninvited, I want to have ‘frank and candid’ chat with an enigma who recently dedicated the chronicles of his life, in a book, to my generation.
He is getting old, naturally, and soon, he will be a towering grandfather of our country, our democracy and an aspect of its politics.
My generation turned into first time voters in the 2013 elections. The earliest our expression were ever known was during the referendum. We were younger to have voted for you in 2007, and while we saw you win, then lose that election, the pain was not as excruciating as seeing you lose the 2013 elections.
Like so many in my generation, there was a feeling that your 2013 campaign was ‘not desperate’. You ran a race so comfortable and very slow paced. Much time was wasted on things which transparency and honesty, I mean ‘real democracy’, Â would have solved without your input, like the nomination fallout in your greatest all time stronghold – Luo Nyanza.
But before we go to this; let me first wish my 100 year bet. You are still stronger, you are still up and rigorous. Your spirit and politics still inspires many in my generation, though their numbers are dwindling. I will tell you why.
In 1945, months after you were born, Truman dropped the ‘little boy’ Â on Hiroshima, and the ‘fat man’ on Nagasaki. One hemisphere celebrated the end of fascism, and the triumph of democracy, the other hemisphere would remain shocked and muted for the horror of the two atomic bombs.
At the start of the decade that you were born in, Winston had said, ‘. . .never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few‘. Â Meaning, your life was a product of history; your times and moments have been defined by great historical turning points.
In fact, you are, to quote another politician, a ‘living history’. You were born in a generation that ended one war, only for Africa to climax another war – the war for independence – to which the returning soldiers, having fought in the trenches, were highly convinced that fighting for freedom would be their gift for your generation, who grew up to witness the last visages of colonialism defeated here at home.
I can’t labour farther with that history, because you know it better.You are our democracy’s greatest teacher; and our history’s best keeper. You are a precious gift to us; which exactly is why we talk about you each single day. But just like many other precious things in life, there are moments when knaves (thieves) have attempted to ‘steal you’ from us and have you for them. There are moments when robbers have broken into our midsts and attempted to take you away. At such moments, we have wailed so loud that they have always ran away, empty-handed, promising to strike at later dates!
We remain alert and awake. Because, with history as our best guide, they never promise and fail to show up!
My generation did not participate in the first liberation. The independence war. Back then, we only existed in the seductive thoughts of our grandparents. My generation did not fight for the second liberation. Our parents did. My generation did not see you go into detention. . .did not see you getting charged for treason. . .did not see you come out of detention. We were so young, some were not yet born.
My generation is not part of the big grand democracy stories of the past. We were not part of the struggle for political pluralism. We were not the Gallup poll’s ‘most optimist’ generation. Â In 2002, we were little kids in primary schools, some were now in high school. Some may have attended your massive political rallies where you declared Kibaki ‘Tosha’. But they never voted. They did not have IDs, meaning, my generation did not end KANU rule.
KANU, to my generation, was a political party in the school GHC books. The party that ushered in independence. You see, in the books, KANU is quite different from the monster you fought and defeated out of power. It is clothed in so many sweet sounding verbs and adjectives that it beats logic why you were fighting it.
That’s why; my generation, sometime in April, celebrated, with wide cheers and wails, the entry of Moi in Uhuru’s inauguration. A decade ago, another generation had jeered him at Uhuru park. You remember? I kept wondering what happened to that 2002 generation. In 2013, what became of their fate and their lot? Do you think they could have been part of the 2013 cohort at Kasarani?
While part of that 2002 ‘yote yawezekana’ generation may have voted for you in 2007, my year-mates, born in the last years of the 1980s, through to the first five years of the 1990s, though they may have filled your 2007 rallies, they still did not vote for you. They were a few years short of the voting age!
Come 2010, you summoned us to pass a new constitution and we did! You called us again to, for the first time, in 2013, to vote for you so that your government would protect the constitution and ensure the rule of law did not become official fiat, and yes, we did. We woke up early, stretched the lines, withstood the scorching sun and Â with our love for technology, scanned our votes for you!
But as we reached the voting age, a lot of things changed. The guys who had been on the other side all along also swelled in their numbers and their resolve. The reactionaries- their selfishness did not end – they still wanted the privileged society their own fathers and grandfathers inherited from the colonial lackeys.
In between 2002 and 2013 you recycled quite a number of them – the Rutos – and believed, probably, that they had changed. They had not. Your former comrade, and advisor, Miguna, put it thus:
“The retrograde are tenacious in the most perplexing ways; that their strength is often in the patience they exhibit.They know that no matter how intense, controversial or heated something is, when given time, it cools down. Time, our reactionary friends know, tames everything. The most spiritual amongst them would say that “time heals everything”. They fight, then hunker down and wait, until they have worn you out.”
You know this better. You observed it rightly at the University of Pretoria. In fact, you saw it from the fallout among the founding fathers. The trust which your generation had on the founding fathers was misused. In their ranks were ‘secret admirers’ of the brutal colonial apparatus. So, in South Africa, you told my generation thus:
“You have a rendezvous with destiny. To protect democracy, the youth of Africa must reinvent the spirit of patriotism that informed our struggle to be free.Â And by patriotism, I don’t mean blind obedience. I mean a deliberate effort by the youth to treat their countries as the last heaven on earth where if they lose freedom, there is nowhere to escape to”. Those were your rallying call to my generation.
This letter to you, Jakom, is part of my contribution. It is my fair share to give your words a meaning in my own life, without which, such great calls remain mere parchments on paper.
Recently, so many people, mostly your detractors, have urged you to quit politics. Your detractors see you in terms of electoral contestants. Their ‘victories’, despite the manifest irregularities, convinces them that you will never rise again. Your supporters too have been demoralised at times, joining the bandwagon of the ‘end the game’ whistles. They say you should ‘pass the button’ to a younger generation. However, part of the younger generation have urged you to remain atop, where you are now.
It is a debate that is not going to end any time soon, because each side have genuine interests in wanting you out. In that Washington Irving’s Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon story, many readers are often left wondering what would have been Rip Van Winkle’s greatest tragedy.
Some often opine that Rip’s greatest tragedy was sleeping through a revolution. I have often had a different mind. To me, Rip’s tragedy was not really with Rip. Already, he had slept. He had dozed off. The over two decades of slumber would not be retrieved. Again, the revolution had occurred. He would not be part of it.
To me, Rip’s greatest tragedy is with those he met when he left the mountains. Those who heard he had slept through the whole revolution. Through the deaths and the wounds. The rapes and the mutilating gangs. The burnt churches and the destroyed businesses. The bullets and the arrows. Naivasha and Kisumu. Some in this group ‘admired’ what had befallen Rip. They hoped, and wished, it was them who had that rare luck to sleep through a revolution.
This is often what comes to mind whenever I hear someone say, ‘he can’t beat them any more’, ‘he should quit’. Too many people do not realize when you joined the revolution, they were asleep. When you ended the revolution and found them awake, they see you as having taken so long in it. . .they don’t see themselves as having joined ‘very recently’. So they want you to quit? right? I would say, stay put!
But, that’s exactly where another revolution begins. If you are going to stay, you must discard the dogmas, and the tired tactics, of the last two elections. You may have recycled many of them, thinking you were fighting the same cause. No, they were buying their time. They were regrouping.
The tactics of the old revolution, and which led to their defeat in 2002, are now known to the them. In fact, in 2013, they realized what had cost them the 2002 elections! Meaning, Jakom, between now and 2017, or next election whenever it shall be held, you need to develop new tactics.
In rather abstract fashion, I only urge you to realize there was a past; now we have a present, which is very tumultuous, and; in a few years, there is going to be a future. My generation wants you to secure the future. There is feeling, accompanied by real fear, that the future of our country is increasingly ‘selecting’ a great majority to a life in abhorrent hopelessness.
No new jobs. No new ideas. No new role models. What we see are ethnic celebrities packaged by the media as ‘digital’ whatnots! A friend who sung ‘yote yawezekana‘ told me the other day how they are being mocked. . .it is bad, Jakom.
As the great poet, Anais Nin, would put it, “the dream was always running ahead of me, to catch up, to live for a moment, in unison with it, that was the miracle”.
Jakom, what is your miracle?
Dikembe Disembe comments on politics and higher education and ethnicity in Kenya.