By Dikembe Disembe
These days, reading through the newspapers, or watching it on Television after ”news” analyses, a generation that came of age under Kibaki gets excited every time President Uhuru is on the front pages, or, as is becoming the norm, when he is the first item on broadcast news.
But, listening to an older generation, you will be told of a time when nothing registered in the public consciousness than the ‘what, where, and when’ of then President Daniel Arap Moi.
We must agree. It is increasingly difficult to keep tabs on Raila Odinga.
A lot has changed, or is being changed. As you read this, somewhere in the country, something fundamental is changing, or, is being changed.
The last decade, half under Kibaki and the other half under the Grand Coalition Government apparently made Kenya a beacon of freedom and a shining light of democracy in an otherwise dark region.
The flicker of hope, though tested by monumental events, some which completely altered the nation’s body politic, like the two referenda and the 2007 elections, disputed violently and resolved calmly, endured for a decade.
As leader of the left, the social democrats of Kenya, CORD Leader Raila Odinga remains a transformational figure in a transitional country. If beforeÂ 2007 he saw himself as the ”bridge” that Â the ”honest efforts” of our nation’s founders to the ”future”, that remains the same today as it was then.
Between 2002 to end of 2012, Odinga’s brief stint in government changed the way policy was formulated and communicated to the people.
A man who joined government as minister of public works and found the country’s roads and housing policy recklessly abandoned, Odinga transformed the whole sector: buildingÂ new roads, creating new bypasses, developing new housing schemes and policies, getting the country new development partners and allies etcetera. Odinga remained tall in his service to the country.
He is proud of it, but will never hire a British public relations company to scribble his role in your consciousness.
Take for instance Thika Super Highway. Odinga came in and found a small single lane road connecting Nairobi and Thika. Under KANU, as government ministers cleared the roads offÂ traffic and got their businesses before you, Odinga wanted to change something under Narc. Road reserves had been grabbed by KANU functionaries and connected businessmen. Businesses were booming even as orderliness was thrown to the dogs. The myopia of that time proceeded from the cheapness that businesses built on road reserves should not be brought down.
Yet Odinga came in with bulldozers, flattened road reserves and started the hard work of building modern highways and access roads and bypasses.
He received his share of flak and scorn from those who never imagined the country was gasping for new roads and new businesses. He was accused of targeting businesses of a certain community and yet, with the resolve one man, assisted by a small body of men, heraldedÂ new roads and highways.
These historyÂ remain a legacy of another man. Of course, Odinga didn’t bother and even today, not bothered. Because I have heard the privilege to engage this man on a one-on-one, I took away a man only concerned withÂ the end product – the good for the country.
If constructing new roads for new businesses for the nation, houses for both the middle and poor urban and restoring forests were some of the tangible initiatives of Odinga, resolving the impunity of KANU era mentality with the demands of a free, transparent and law abiding nation remained work in progress.
The reason why my narration is in the past is to separate it from the hullabaloo of now. The propaganda of now. The PR of now. This is the main gist of this piece.
Raila Odinga is still around. The work hasn’t ended. He remains upbeat and dedicated to a better Kenya than never before. While his reform credentials are signifcant for the country, and his political presence sometimes the only buffer between hapless citizens and vindictive, arbitrary government – as we saw in Likoni – his own efficacy in poliics depends, in no mean feat, on our collective determination to stop him from hanging his boots.
In my view, the narrative of now is that having tried three times to capture the presidency and finish off the work of building a better Kenya, a more equitible country, and failed, he should call it a day.
People forget that for all the 50 years of political independence, Odinga has been in significant positions of power and authority for a period less than a eight years!
If, as some argue, he is ‘now old’, we only need to sum up the man’s years comparative to his earstwhile opponents. You will be shocked to discoverÂ that some of the current ‘digital politicians’ have been close to the levers of power longer than Odinga but with meagre contributions to write home about.
He has his fair share of failures. He is human.
He has continued to lead a coalition of broad interest groups. His group, in whicher government or opposition they have been, has been the most progressive and pro-people. It is this tenacity that has secured the little freedoms that Kenyans enjoy today, as he has always ensured that what can be easily taken away from people without their wishes is anchored in the constitution, so that the law, rather than the might (of those in power) becomes the safest arbiter in times of conflicts, be they social, economic or political.
Even as contemporary political narrative appears to proceed without him, a critical observation of the ‘development projects’ the Jubilee alliance government claims to laucnh every other week and weekend has the footprints of Odinga’s futuristic thinking. They Â ride on his critical policy decisions to make headways on anything. Whether it is the constitution or devolution, Odinga’s contribution stares back at those who struggle each day to wish him away.
While we may not say much about these goings on, I get the impression that majority of young people in Kenya still support Raila Odinga.