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November 17, 2018

The call for dialogue: Why it is not about to happen

NASA leader Raila Odinga during an interview in his office on December 22, last year / HEZRON NJOROGE
NASA leader Raila Odinga during an interview in his office on December 22, last year / HEZRON NJOROGE

There is a West African country that has a very interesting tradition.

If you break up with your wife or you divorce her, she may leave but, some time in the future, could return with a child claiming it is yours. It is possible, say for a woman who has been gone five years, to return with a two-month-old and tell you that it is yours. The explanation is that five years ago, when you had last been intimate, the baby was conceived but had remained ‘hidden’ in the ‘stomach’ and only recently ‘hatched’ after so long.

The man was supposed to embrace the child without questioning and congratulate the ex-wife for bearing him the child. You were not given the chance to doubt its paternity. Just accept and move on.

Now, we know that babies do not remain hidden in the ‘stomach’ for longer than is necessary, and that if there was one, you should have it in the next nine months. Anything after that belongs to someone else.



This custom was an excellent defence for a woman who found herself in a crisis pregnancy and unable to explain it or perhaps take care of it. The simple answer was to go back to her former husband and make him the new father. But in this day of science, you may have to look for a good explanation that will prove your case. Or find a miraculous explanation (the Immaculate Conception is taken and Gilbert Deya’s was busted). After the October 26 election, Jubilee knew that it had decisively defeated NASA and closed that chapter. But NASA is now saying it became pregnant on August 8 and so, with that, it is claiming the presidency. Jubilee is disputing the baby’s paternity and will not take it. It sees no need to ‘talk’ about it, saying the opposition is only using the talks to get a foot in power.

However, like a goodly contentious wife, NASA has returned and demanded ‘inclusivity’, claiming that everything was done unprocedurally and is calling for reforms.



Jubilee does not in the least bit feel compelled to undertake any talks. It feels they are premised on political skullduggery and ill-intent on the part of NASA. It was only recently that NASA began a tough campaign for secession and even as we speak, there is a Bill that intends to create two new republics out of Kenya. They have created an economic boycott that targets the personal business of Uhuru Kenyatta and a few others. They have also instituted a state of civil disobedience under the ‘National Resistance Movement’ and are engaged in all manner of rantings. It is, therefore, understandable why Jubilee is not willing to talk. Now they have called for talks, and have threatened that if the talks do not take place, then they will proceed to swear in their ‘president.’ Now there is everything wrong with this approach. You do not hope to get ‘structured dialogue’ using all manner of threats.



In many ways NASA is behaving like the West African woman. She has herself become pregnant and unable to find upkeep for her baby and has brought it to the footstep of Jubilee. But instead of quietly talking to her former husband, she has come to him belligerently. She has demanded talks but the tenor of the talks is anchored on all the wrong premises. She is coming to her former husband with threats, to cut half of his land and to make it difficult for him to conduct his business. But Jubilee has sat quiet watching. Then to up the ante, NASA formed the People’s Assemblies, whose ambiguous functions are baffling even to its followers. Nobody seems to know what exactly they are meant to achieve other than stir negative national energy that hurts everyone, including themselves.

They have then moved to the next level, saying they will swear in NASA leader Raila Odinga as the ‘People’s President’, something they twice postponed but which is now slated for January 30. They are not telling us what those who do not recognise his ‘presidency’ can do. Attorney General Githu Muigai has promised to slap the NASA principals with charges of ‘High Treason’, the upshot of which, if convicted, is death by hanging.




Raila has countered by saying he is not afraid of charges of ‘High Treason’ and that he has been down that road before. He says he does not fear being hanged if that will bring ‘electoral justice.’

In this, he could just be tempting fate, like Kondraty Ryleyev the leader of the Russian Decembrist Revolt of 1825, who was sent to the gallows for his role in trying to overthrow Tsar Nicholas I. He got a technical pardon after the rope hanging him broke.

Instead of quietly going home, Ryleyev ranted and raved saying, “(Russia is an) unhappy country, where they don’t even know how to hang you.” The Tsar was given the report that the rope had failed. Tsar Nicholas I was obliged to release him, but before he did so, he asked what Ryleyev had said just after the rope broke. He was told. The Tsar then ordered a second hanging. This time, the rope did not break. Raila was saved from the noose by a nolle prosequi that had been issued by the then Attorney General. Now the same is no longer part of our statute and I dare say this time, the rope might just not break.



But Raila is not the Decembrist Revolter (although if he was Russian, he would probably be known as Railayev!). He has calculated the next move for Jubilee and wants to turn it to his favour. If he is arrested, then he automatically becomes the ‘saint’ of his movement. He knows this will make the magic to hold together his movement, which was fast losing steam and is not going far. We saw NASA blow from a Category Five hurricane to Category One, and may soon not even blow out a candle. He needs a new thing to stir up a hurricane. This may just be the moment for him. NASA needs Jubilee to trigger trouble for them, that way, they keep together.

Already, the choice of parliamentary positions threatened to unravel this coalition and so they need something to keep them going. This is Raila’s moment. Kenyans instantly fall in love with whoever the state ‘persecutes’. Apparently, Jubilee does not seem to be aware of this situation. If they take Raila to court, and put him on the path to the noose, they have galvanised NASA behind Raila. Already, there is a document being circulated in which NASA leaders must sign allegiance to Raila and here lies the problem.



You must keep wondering why exactly Raila felt he should have been President in 2013 and in 2017. The manner he went about his campaigns, he seemed full, as may be expected, of great expectations of the outcome. This was regardless of his strategy, which was clear from the outset was not going to take him far. He was running a poorly strategised, poorly funded campaign based on such weak premises as resource nationalism and ethnic particularism. But he did not care. He went on full throttle.

It later emerged that it had nothing to do with winning or losing. He was sure that Kenyans would remember his role in the struggle and give it to him. But it did not happen because nearly two-thirds of all voters were born after the onset of multipartyism. They do not connect with Raila’s long-drawn out quest for the Presidency. So it did not happen. He seemed to look at the Presidency as a fitting reward, now that he had given his life to the post-Independence struggle for freedom. His book Flame of Freedom seems to have been designed to remind us so, lest we forget that he was the tiger that had earned its stripes, unlike Uhuru, for instance, who was sequestered from that life.



When Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had been offered by the British the chance to form the Independence government, he felt inadequate, knowing that Jomo Kenyatta had earned his stripes in the struggle for freedom and that the position should be a ‘reward’ for his effort. He stepped aside, like John the Baptist, who said of Christ, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

He would deeply regret that decision of 1961 because, not only did it delay our Independence by about two years but in the end, he was frustrated by the same Jomo Kenyatta, who turned out to be coldly Machiavellian, preferring to be feared than loved. He suffered politically and economically for the remaining 40 years of his life.

Raila seems to be thinking like his father. That he now deserves to lead this nation because he has given his life for it. Granted, most of the freedoms we are enjoying today are courtesy of Raila. We have to give it to him. But that is as far as it goes. Bring in his arrogant lieutenants and the equation changes drastically.



It is always a good idea for protagonists to talk. If indeed Jubilee wants to achieve the elusive national unity, then it must talk to NASA. However, as things stand, there is too much distrust between the two camps and lots of toxic talk that the ‘structured dialogue’ will not realise any meaningful result. Jubilee is looking at NASA with the eye of distrust and has reduced the call for talks to a demand for ‘Nusu Mkate’. And NASA has not given them anything to believe otherwise. We thought it was all about ‘electoral reforms’ but it has now been expanded to constitutional changes, with Raila claiming that in its eighth year, the Constitution should have been changed already.

Ultimately, Jaw Jaw is better than War War. This is what Harold Macmillan said, and is usually wrongly attributed to Winston Churchill. But even if Jubilee will call the talks, NASA may not achieve any meaningful progress as long as the talks were achieved through threats (including threats of violence), grandstanding and outright horseplay.

Jubilee may still maintain that the baby is not his.

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