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Time to awaken the Kenyan spirit, says PM

LOS ANGELES, Apr 18 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga has called on Kenyans to re-invent the self-confidence and big dreams that characterised the earlier years of independence if the country is to remain competitive.

At a meeting with over 400 Kenyans in the US West Coast states held at the California State University in Los Angeles, Mr Odinga said something went wrong with the country from the late 1960s, and Kenyans lost faith in their ability to chart their destiny.

Speakers at the function, including Kenya’s best known writer Prof Ngugi wa Thiongo, singled out bad governance, the culture of betrayal and tribalism as the ills that killed the country’s ambitious dreams.

Mr Odinga said that about three years after independence, the Government declared that Kenya would attain a developed country status by 1990, and the goal looked attainable.

He recalled that after the Olympic Games of 1968, the government declared that Kenya would bid to host the 1980 Olympics, and there was agreement that the country was equal to the task.

“Six years ago, when our Minister for Sports announced that Kenya would bid to host the 2016 Olympics, the overall feeling was that we were joking. That was a far cry from the feeling in 1968 when we agreed we could host the games or 1964 when we believed we could attain Developed Country Status by 1990. Forty years into independence, the self-confidence of the people is gone,” Mr Odinga said.

The PM said that whereas in the 1960s, the victory over the mighty British Empire by ill-equipped Mau Mau warriors filled Kenyans with a conquering spirit, the dictatorship and suppression that followed killed initiative and the confidence of the people.

“The conquering spirit that brought down the British was still burning in Kenyans in the 1960s. That spirit died between 1968 and 2000. Repression made Kenyans submissive and hopeless, then we split along tribal lines and things changed for the worse,” the PM said.

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Mr Odinga said Kenya is once again caught in a struggle pitting the forces for change against those of the status quo, adding that this has been the struggle in Kenya over the years.

But he expressed confidence that this time round, the forces of change will take over power in Kenya.

“People can gang up along tribal lines but in the end, it never counts. I have seen this tribal arithmetic before, and it never works. In 2002 when I declared support for President Kibaki, some said Raila is finished. They began writing my political obituary because they reasoned that the Luo would never vote for a Kikuyu. I have seen all this posturing before,” he said.

Prof Ngugi decried the culture of betrayal, amnesia and emerging tribalism, saying they have killed the fighting spirit of the people of Kenya.

Prof Ngugi said the culture of betrayal ensured the Mau Mau was forgotten as soon as independence was won. It also ensured the likes of Tom Mboya and JM Kariuki were forgotten as soon as they were assassinated. Events that shaped Kenya were also forgotten, he said.

“When the British left, we began to behave as if independence had been given on a silver platter. We forgot the fighters. In 1992, violence gripped Kenya because some people had asked for multiparty politics. That too was forgotten and it happened again 1997 and 2002 and we kept forgetting until it happened again in 2007,” he said.

At the function, Ngugi presented Mr Odinga with a photo taken in 1964 in which Kenya’s first Vice president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had paid Mr Ngugi a visit at his home on being released from detention.

Prof Ngugi said leaders should be held culpable when they fail to protect the sanctity of the lives of citizens.

He condemned the tribal talk taking root in the country’s politics saying ability to mobilise tribesmen is not a mark of leadership.

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“No leader should talk as if he is at war with another community. No leaders should talk as if it is some kind of a crime to belong to a tribe,” Prof Ngugi said.

The PM’s meeting with Diaspora drawn from the West Coast states was his last function in the US. On Monday, Mr Odinga leaves for France where he is to launch a partnership between the French government and Kenya on clean energy.

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