The turn of the 2017 General Election may mark the end of an era, and, the beginning, sorry to say, of the return of the age of conformity. The country may, for a generation, lack an alternative locus of national political power.
Raila Odinga’s decision, whatever it is, is going to redraw the political landscape. And, never has the political direction of a country depended so much on the decision of one man. This one man has occupied the alternative national power bloc for a generation.
The international community, especially the West of the 1990s, did not understand this man. London and Washington power honchos had impressions of Raila based on the propaganda of the Moi era.
Moi was their man to do their bidding, in spite of his flaws. Raila was supposed to have allies in the socialist bloc of Moscow and Berlin. The rest of the power gang thrived on the fence — the ideological no-man’s land.
Raila was a threat to Moi and Kanu’s stranglehold on the public psyche. The owners of capital, who also controlled state power, branded Raila a socialist, who could not protect private capital — largely the proceeds of impunity.
Speaking for the people against the lords of corruption is supposed to be Raila’s fatal flaw. The beneficiaries of impunity have ganged up, and continue to make the voice of the people the enemy of the owners of private capital.
The perception of a radical Raila changed in 2002, when he successfully campaigned for presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki. Since then Raila has been the barometer of public opinion.
What Raila has said, or what will Raila say, has defined the national direction, especially during the 2005 and 2010 constitutional referenda. On both occasions, his side won.
Media houses, particularly newspapers, know Raila in headlines sells. They also know the ‘bottom line’ leaks when Raila is not headlined. Journalists look for Raila when they want to reboot circulation and audience ratings.
There are other national players, but none, for now, matches Raila’s gravitas. None of Raila’s potential successors possess his courage to speak for the voiceless. None has his clarity of purpose.
None of his proteges has the resilience, nerve, and verve to command and sustain public attention that Raila has. None has the potential to operate among kings, and feel equally at home among the low-downs, in folk parlance for the package.
Post-independent Kenya has had two people of Raila’s stature: Raila himself. The other is his father, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
To be Raila, you need character, courage, and gravitas. You need energy to endure a long-haul flight from New York, a break in London, arrive in Nairobi, and then go straight for a rally in Kericho, without betraying fatigue.
Raila is not running for President in 2022, and, therefore, is likely to hand over the leadership of the National Super Alliance to Kalonzo Musyoka, his running mate in two controversial elections. He may hand over the alliance, without the people, who suffer ballot fatigue.
This possibility stands, no matter the decision of the Supreme Court on the petition challenging the management of the presidential election in which the IEBC handed an alleged ‘statistical win’ to Jubilee Party presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta.
Even if the Supreme Court orders a repeat presidential election, and Raila wins, he is unlikely to remain the commanding force he was in NASA, and its predecessor.
Raila is likely to hand over the leadership of ODM to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, one of his two deputy party leaders. But ODM under Joho will not be the same as ODM under Raila. Joho still needs to learn at Raila’s feet to understand what makes him blossom in adversity.
The other ODM deputy party leader, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, is a rank behind the succession mark. Oparanya is boxed in between two NASA principals, the rebranded Musalia Mudavadi, who is also the ANC leader, and Moses Wetang’ula, the Ford Kenya leader.
But whoever takes over ODM and NASA aside, the new Mudavadi is Raila’s blue-eyed student to watch.