BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU
“I think that any struggle requires a record, because memories basically lapse and there is need for future generations to appreciate the historical journey of the society they live in. This is important to shape the culture and thinking of a people. I found it necessary to chronicle the history of the struggle of the people of Kenya” – Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, when asked what he considered to be the most important contribution of his autobiography ‘The Flame of Freedom’ by the Sunday Standard’s Machua Koinange.
‘All the previous and subsequent writings, by friends and critics alike, have failed to unravel the real person behind Raila Amollo Odinga. I therefore look forward to the book the former PM will launch. I want to devour through it with so much interest, to drink from the wealth of new information that I hope it may provide to a student of politics. I hope in the book, the real Raila Amollo Odinga stands tall.
“Congratulations are something Raila deserves for writing this book. I believe that it should form part and parcel of the reading shelf for any student interested in Kenya and indeed African political history in the last half of the 20th century, and the first era of the 21st century”- Joshua Nyamori, a Nyanza-based youth-leader and former close political associate of the former PM, on ‘The Flame of Freedom’.
Former Vice President (the late) Michael Kijana Wamalwa described Raila Odinga as a politician able to evoke two extreme emotions in Kenya; Railaphobia, an unexplainable fear of the man and what he represents; and Railamania, an also unexplainable fanatical following of the man and his cause(s).
As a person who had the opportunity to work very closely with Raila Odinga during an extremely important part of his life; the last elections; and as someone who does not fall under either of the two categories of ’emotions’ about Raila Odinga, I have always hoped for a process to showcase this amazingly ordinary man; who has done extraordinary things with and in his life.
In this last general elections I was basically the former Prime Minister’s ‘defacto’ head of the presidential campaign operations; the guy who ensured that the trains left on time, and got to where they needed to be when they were meant to be there. This position, by default, gave me the opportunity to watch Raila Odinga, in different elements.
I saw Raila, the politician; a man whose understanding of the Kenyan political space is second to none. A man who can take the most complex policy issue and present it to a public gathering in the form of a simple ‘kitendawili’. A man who deliberately resists getting carried away with himself; that rare pragmatic politician fully grounded in the realities of the environment he operates, in despite his ideal preferences. I saw a man who looks like he flows with a tide while in reality he is the one fuelling the tide.
I also saw Raila, the Statesman; a man whose love for this country, ironically, exceeds his own personal ambitions. I finally understood why he entered a ‘cooperation’ arrangement with a president who had detained him for nine years; why he said ‘Kibaki Tosha’ to a man he did not fully trust; why he accepted to enter into a coalition with Kibaki despite the earlier betrayal, and then went flat-out to make the successful last. I understood the man who will go to court, accept the court’s decision, and still say he does not believe it is fair.
I also got to see Raila, the man. A man full of contradictions and imperfections, just like the rest of us; who will get so annoyed that he shakes and tears; but then will also laugh so heartily you might need to collect him from the floor. I saw the man who loves his family to a fault, but has all manner of complications around him. I saw the man who believes firmly in God, while not fully trusting those who represent God on earth. I saw a man with a high level of discipline, who gets easily distracted. I saw a man who fully understands himself; who has learnt to work on minimizing the effects of his weaknesses, increasing those of his strengths, leveraging his opportunities, and protecting against threats.
In short, unlike the majority in Kenya who are either Railaphobics or Railamaniacs and see only one side of a ruthless politician; or the relative minority (primarily in State and political leadership) who see a consummate politician and Statesman; in a relatively short time I joined that small group that knows Raila Amollo Odinga in what young people call ‘3D’; three dimensions. This is the man I hope readers of ‘The Flame of Freedom’ will see; a man who you can chose to hate or like; but who neither you, nor history, can ignore.
(Wambugu is the Executive Director of Change Associates Trust)