ICONS

2022: Murathe’s ‘Mandela Moment’

Nelson Mandela, like Raila, is a metaphor for reconciliation.

In Summary
  • Raila has evolved from the radicalism of the single-party era to a statesman, with presidential imprimatur.
  • The former prime minister now contemplates more, speaks less and keeps everyone guessing.

The late Kijana Wamalwa captured the challenges of being Raila Odinga—a man caught between the hopes of those who love him, and the fears of those who detest him.

Wamalwa, then vice president, was addressing a retreat of the ‘Unbogwable’ Rainbow Team, months after President Kibaki succeeded President Moi in the 2002 general election. Raila, the man whose hypnotising persona was a challenge to power honchos, captained the winning team. But system influencers did not want the kingmaker anywhere near the citadel. The influencers constitute the system or deep state. So Raila became, sooner than optimists had expected, an outsider to the Kibaki State House.

The outsider tag came hours after Raila chaperoned the former Othaya MP’s presidential win on his third run for State House. Raila was a hero –  ‘Njamba Nene’ – among ordinary Kikuyu voters while the excitement of the return of power to the House of Mumbi lasted. Some of the insiders lost brokerage opportunities during the 24 years of Moi rule. Moi replaced Jomo Kenyatta, whose 15-year rule saw a disproportionate rise in the wealth of the Kikuyu power elite. A return to State House was something to protect.

 

Wamalwa was concerned court poets were creating animus between Kibaki and  Raila. He did not want the National Rainbow Coalition to drown under the weight of suspicions. Railamaniacs believe in the man, who speaks the unifying language of the masses. But Railaphobics carry the burden of inherited prejudices against the enigma.

Two years to the Uhuru Kenyatta succession general election, David Murathe, a system man, is inviting Kenyans to embrace a ‘Mandela’ moment, via a Raila Odinga presidency. Nelson Mandela, like Raila, is a metaphor for reconciliation. Mandela, in South Africa, and Raila, in Kenya, were detained for defending basic rights. Both forgave their jailers for the common good.

Raila has evolved from the radicalism of the single-party era to a statesman, with a presidential imprimatur. The former prime minister contemplates more, speaks less; he keeps everyone guessing.

The rebranded Raila has won the confidence of the likes of Murathe – proof that the ranks of Railaphobics may be weakening, just as his fan base could be expanding.

In the 1992 and 1997 general election, the millions of Kenyans who were disenchanted with the Nyayo regime did not matter. The power to decide lay with the system.

Now, Deputy President William Ruto, a child of the Moi, Kibaki and Uhuru systems, claims the deep state wants to kill his 2022 presidential dream. The DP, who is on the halfway road to State House, has made this claim twice. He fears Murathe’s endorsement of Raila marks the deep state’s rejection of his ambition.

Kibaki insiders feared Raila would upset the status quo. This is the bane of enigmatic midfielders. Raila the footballer prefers the vantage of defensive midfield, from where he can fix errors, watch the opponent’s schemes, and respond with resolute tackles. Anything that passes the defensive midfielder makes the team vulnerable.

The rebranded Raila has won the confidence of the likes of Murathe – proof that the ranks of Railaphobics may be weakening, just as his fan base could be expanding.

 

To Railamaniacs, spread out nationally in the six of the former eight provinces, Raila was bidding time and preparing the ground for his presidential turn.

In the 2007 general election, the revving ODM leader was told the people who cast the vote don’t matter; it is those who count the vote who decide. Former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin captured the irony: “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything.” Raila understands the wrath of the system, and the pain of rigged elections. But the pain of the 2007, 2013, and 2017 presidential elections were not personal for the former prime minister.

Whenever the system muddled people’s choices, Raila preferred to see it as a setback for democracy. He would rather cheated voters cried for Kenya, not Raila, a consistent voice for free and fair elections.

Raila has, in the judgment of trade unionist Francis Atwoli, come of age—a Second Liberation icon; a democrat; a pan-Africanist and a reformist—a bridge between the past and the future.

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