Historically, populist movements in the US have arisen in response to periods of economic hardships. This is beginning with the Greenback and Granger movements in the 1860s, through most recently the so-called Tea Party movement that sprung up in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008. Although the movement came to be, as a result of the meltdown in the US economy, especially in the financial sector, the movement would soon morph into something else — an effort to block or defeat then President Barack Obama’s agenda, driven in part by racist motivation by some in the movement.
Within weeks, Tea Party chapters began to appear around the US, using social sites such as Facebook to coordinate protests. Conservative loudmouths such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Peck spurred them on. According to Britannica, the generally libertarian character of the movement drew disaffected Republicans into its fold, and its anti-government tone resonated with members of the paramilitary militia. Obama served as a powerful recruiting tool, as the Tea Party ranks were swelled by the “Birthers”, who claimed Obama was not born in the US, thus illegible to serve as President. These racist Birthers soon had Donald Trump as their leader.
Even though the Tea Party movement as a force had fizzled to non-existence by the time Trump vied in 2016, the 2010 mid-term elections saw the Republicans gain approximately 60 seats in the House and reduce the Democratic majority in the Senate. Many observers credited this performance to the interest and enthusiasm generated by the Tea Party.
Like the populist movements in the US, we have had our share of movements, beginning with the First Liberation that fought for Independence, which had heroes such as Dedan Kimathi and founders of the nation Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
We then had the Second Liberation that took shape on July 7, 1990 and propelled the country into a period where the government did not have a chokehold of people’s lives.
In an opinion piece in the Star by Imende Benjamin and Eliud Kibii, the two journalists opined soon after the mangled non-election presidential elections of last year that former Prime Minister and opposition leader Raila Odinga is now leading what could be the Third Liberation. The writers noted that the movement would be pegged on devolution and the fight against “state capture,” which has seen past elections rigged to maintain the status quo, a vice Raila and like-minded hope to quash through local and international efforts.
State capture is a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making in the interests of a clique.
Raila has repeatedly said, and it’s true Kenya cannot conduct free, fair and credible elections because of state capture and, because of this, Raila has sworn that never again will elections be rigged in this country “even if I'm not contesting.”
“I don’t have to always be on the ballot, but I want my candidate or whoever will be on the ballot to participate in a free and fair contest,” Raila said.
In this, what we all hope is the last liberation push to finally place Kenya on track to realising its true independence, the 72-year-old former Prime Minister promised to take on the status quo and their state machine on two fronts – reorganise the government and lobby global support. Raila says he will push for full devolution (federalism), economic freedom and guarantee individual liberties to challenge state intrusion.
It is coming to almost one year since he embarked on this journey and undoubtedly the most significant of his life.
To be sure, there were many months of anger, depression and uncertainty in that order following the last in your face and thuggish theft of presidential and other elections, but we yet again avoided the worst in response by Raila once again rising up as a statesman and accepting Uhuru’s extended hand for a handshake.
Will the handshake produce the next and hopefully last liberation of Kenya?
We certainly pray and hope so.
Samuel Omwenga is a legal analyst and political commentator in the United States