REPLY TO MULUKA

Nyong'o: I'm no Raila sycophant, we're on the same ideological terrain

My friend Muluka argues that I have changed from the radical progressive scholar that I was when I taught him into a Raila sycophant

In Summary

• In 1996, a few of us, fed up with the unending political wrangles in the then Ford-Kenya, decided to form the Social Democratic Party as a purely ideological party.

• In 2002, history and progressive politics once more united Raila and I and not sycophancy, as Muluka would have us believe.

Deputy President William Ruto, Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong'o and ODM leader Raila Odinga during the burial of the Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso in Koru, Kisumu
Deputy President William Ruto, Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong'o and ODM leader Raila Odinga during the burial of the Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso in Koru, Kisumu
Image: MAURICE ALAL

In an article in this newspaper on Saturday/Sunday last week, my friend Barrack Muluka replied to my piece on an interview he had given to the media on the initiative taken by President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga to review the Constitution.

This initiative is called the Building Bridges Initiative.

It was Muluka’s opinion that Raila had no locus standi (apparently meaning the legitimacy to sit down with Uhuru) to propose constitutional reforms for Kenyans.

Assuming that is what he meant, my conviction is that any Kenyan, or any group of Kenyans  (be they few or in multitudes), have the freedom of expression to speak their mind about this Constitution given our Bill of Rights.

 
 

I further recollected that in Christian teachings in the Anglican Church, it is said that "where two or three are gathered together in Thine name, Thou shalt give them what they ask of Thee."

In his own rendition, Muluka misquoted me totally, coming up with a version of the prayer completely alien to my argument. 

The point I was making is that even in our prayers, we accept those who genuinely intercede between us and God to provide for us, hence the similarity between interceding in a political democratic process and interceding in religion. 

But to say categorically that Raila and Uhuru have no right whatsoever to take an initiative to propose constitutional changes for Kenyans is, for me, rather intolerant. And tolerance, I dare repeat, is the salt of liberalism that we all need to create an enabling environment for democratic discourse.

My friend Muluka then went further to discuss my person rather than my ideas, arguing that I have changed from the radical progressive scholar that I was when I taught him into a Raila sycophant.

This is a typical method that those who are weak in argument use to slay the messenger rather than the message. I have more respect for the intellectual ability of Muluka, notwithstanding the expose he engaged in when he replied to my article. 

There is plenty of evidence in the public sphere that Raila and I have always played Kenyan politics on the same ideological terrain than Muluka seems to portray.

 
 

Be that as it may, let us look at the empirical evidence Muluka gives for what he avers as my transformation from scholarship to political sycophancy or, what is worse, to a court jester. 

FORMING SDP

In 1996, a few of us, fed up with the unending political wrangles in the then Ford-Kenya, decided to form the Social Democratic Party as a purely ideological party that would eschew tribalism as an organising principle for political party formation in Kenya.

We decided, from the word go, that we would build the party from the grassroots to the top, rather than the other way round.

I would say that from 1996 to mid-1997, we did very well in popularising the party and created impressive support among the youth and the intelligentsia for the SDP.

In hindsight, the mistake we made was to enter the presidential election in the first place. Although our candidate, Charity Ngilu, was a marketable candidate, the choice of a President in Kenya is, however, more influenced by tribe or coalition of tribes than any other factor.

Ngilu, therefore, became more of a "Mkamba candidate" than an SDP candidate in the political psyche of the ordinary Kenyans. In a parliamentary democracy with proportional representation, we would have done much better.

My constituents, for example, would have overwhelmingly voted for me in Kisumu Rural for a second term in Parliament but they were split between "loyalty to their son as a presidential candidate" and "loyalty to their MP as a supporter of their son's rival."

The old adage that "blood is thicker than water" did me in notwithstanding my outstanding development record and parliamentary performance from 1993 to 1997.

On losing the seat, my party SDP nominated me to Parliament after a strong plea by the Kisumu Rural branch. Being the chairman of the party's politburo, the decision was unanimously carried out.

TROUNCING KANU

Between 1998 and 2002, there were extensive discussions within the opposition political parties on how to approach the 2002 elections.

People will remember the breakfast meetings that Mwai Kibaki, Wamalwa and Ngilu used to have at Serena as leaders of opposition parties.

Behind those meetings were more elaborate consultations of political cadres in the opposition designing the broad democratic coalition that we all agreed we needed to face Kanu in 2002.

Many of us, including people such a Kipruto arap Kirwa, Noah Wekesa etc worked together to forge what became National Alliance Party of Kenya.

In the meantime, the National Development Party, which Raila led, had joined Kanu.

But discussions between us and NDP continued such that when Raila’s party finally broke away from Kanu, it was not difficult to complete the rapprochement in forming the formidable National Rainbow Coalition in late 2002 and eventually trounce Kanu decisively in the December election.

History and progressive politics once more united Raila and I and not sycophancy, as Muluka would have us believe.

We have since then continued to work together. And I believe when Muluka worked with us, he shared our worldview.

Even as he works with Musalia Mudavadi today, I doubt very much that we are that far apart ideologically. That is why I was appalled by the undue emphasis that he seems to have put on the might of money intended to trounce presidential opponents in the coming elections.

But he defended himself by informing us that a crazy journalist misreported the substance of his interview on TV. If that is the case, then woe unto that bearer of fake news meant to confuse Kenyans.

We should now focus on making proposals for improving our Constitution to build a national democratic and developmental Kenyan state that, in my view, will be done more effectively in a parliamentary democracy with proportional representation in our legislative institutions.