MINNESOTA, Oct 20 – At the launch of his recently published autobiography at the University of Minnesota, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga challenged Kenyans to be prepared to make sacrifices for their country and to protect the gains already achieved while they seek for more.
Odinga called on young Kenyans to build on the gains achieved so far and learn from America’s experiences especially in the field of protection of rights and decentralization of power and resources.
Odinga spoke at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs on “Kenya@50” as he launched his book.
He described the book as part the story of his personal life, part his dream for Kenya and part the country’s history.
“I have been a witness to history. In my own small way, I have contributed to the history of our country. I have been a witness as the tide of history turned in our country as a prisoner in torture chambers, as a detainee in some of our country’s worst prisons and as a participant in some of the events that changed our nation as Kenyans pushed forward toward freedom and I can tell you nothing comes easy, and surrender cannot be an option. I have put all that in this book. What you do with that information is up to you,” Odinga told his audience of mostly young Africans at the University of Minnesota.
He asked Kenyans to consider the gains made so far not as the end of the struggle for a better Kenya but as the beginning.
“There are those who think that we should now just sit back and watch. Those people are wrong. The reason Americans are so passionate about their rights is because like Kenyans, Americans too have gone through tough times and they know what it means to go back to those bad days.”
He recalled that in his student days in East Germany, TV images of a black boy in America being watched over by two policemen as he studied in a university where he was not welcome because of the colour of his skin were played over and over to demonstrate the tribulations of coloured people in America then.
“In those days, and until very recently, nobody could imagine that one day, a black man of Kenyan origin would sit in the White House as President. Americans have come this far because they have been persistent,” he said.
Kenya, too, has not had a shortage of people willing to make sacrifices and difficult choices and the youth should emulate them, Odinga said.
“We have had people who willingly went to jail or died to protest unjust laws. That was the spirit of people like George Anyona and Martin Shikuku. That was the spirit they carried with them like a torch and flame of conscience and courage. We cannot let that flame flicker and die.”
“Waiyaki wa Hinga was made to dig his own grave, then he was buried in it, alive. He did not have to die that way. He had the option of giving up and working with the colonialists. But that would have meant we remain captives much longer.”
“In the era of the single party dictatorship, I saw people who could easily have bought their freedom by giving up choose to die instead, being thrown from the top floor of Nyayo House to their death downstairs and then it was said they committed suicide. They did not have to die. But these people knew that freedom is not given; it must be won through struggle, persistence and faith in the future. I have documented those struggles in this book, but more importantly I’m asking you to carry on with that struggle. That is why I am calling this book the flame of freedom,” Odinga said.
He said this is the context in which CORD will be pushing for changes that ensure the right to vote is protected and implemented.
He said the party would resist actions that make it harder for the youth and minorities to vote and attempts to frustrate devolved units.
Odinga said his party would instead be pushing for more powers and money for the governors and reforms in police and other security organs.
“When you see me pushing for these things, I hope you will understand where I am coming from. I have seen freedoms taken away and opportunities frustrated and killed and I have learnt that if we sit back, nobody will apologise and say sorry. The powerful just move on while the poor and the weak suffer.”