There are few conversations in this country that attract as much debate like the place of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in Kenya’s governance architecture. On one side are Kenyans who see in Odinga a Messiah figure whose democratic and public service credentials makes him the most qualified person to run the affairs of Kenya at highest office. On the other is a band of citizens living in perpetual fear of a Raila leadership – often modelled on unverifiable grounds that Raila would fashion a populist wave capable of driving political opponents to oblivion.
Such polemics have once again emerged on the backdrop of the impending 2022 presidential elections. While the ODM leader has not formally declared his candidature, it is evident that his eyes are firmly fixed on the presidency.
Raila will be facing a number of candidates, chief among them Deputy President William Ruto. Raila is already making forays in different parts of the country such as Central Kenya where decades of stereotypes and propaganda have created a false narrative that the Mountain is unresponsive to his presidential ambitions.
Certainly, Raila Odinga is no angel. Like every human being, he has his own shortcomings yet it would be grossly unfair to deflect the very strong leadership credentials that sidetrack his public life. Kenya’s perilous political landscape demands a seasoned hand, capable of providing rational leadership in a way that unites the country while powering productive sectors.
The political reforms that have deeply impacted the country’s economy have been fashioned in a big way by the former Prime Minister. He led the clamour for governance changes that birthed the 2010 Constitution, a document that has now made it possible for some in government to abandon their duties without the risk of being sacked.
As a unifying factor, the ODM leader has built the most formidable, inclusive and successful political party in Kenya. Besides repeatedly giving up his personal ambitions as exemplified by the Kibaki Tosha clarion call in 2002; Mr. Odinga aligned himself with the interests of Kenyans after the 2017 elections when he embraced his political nemesis, President Uhuru Kenyatta through the handshake. Such magnanimity also manifested when Odinga agreed to share power with President Kibaki after the tumultuous 2007 presidential elections which many poll observers believe Odinga won.
In a fast globalizing world, Kenya’s future depends very much on what transpires at the international scene as much as what is unfolding within. Mr. Odinga’s international profile including being the African Union Special Envoy for Infrastructure has prepared him to lead Kenya at this time of continental reckoning with the roll out the free trade area.
Some of Raila’s political opponents argue that at 76, the ODM leader should give room for younger political candidates. This argument ignores compelling precedents. In the United States, the 78 year old Joe Biden was sworn into office this year. In Zambia, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema won the 2021 presidential vote after five failed attempts, in a major show of democratic consolidation.
Raila did not spend his many years hunting and gathering in some unknown forest. He spent nearly a decade in prison because of political activism and later gained invaluable experience in government affairs as he conceived and delivered policy driven development programmes with far reaching socioeconomic impacts in the country.
Kenya is a new vehicle with a broken engine. No amount of painting will bring it back to life. Only a skillful engineer can resuscitate and foster a people centered governance system that is productive and sustainable. No Kenyan should be constrained by malice, propaganda and sloganeering to imagine a new country that is united, and prosperous – managed on the basis of rule of law and a greater good for all.
While every person has dreams; when a Chief dreams, it impacts the lives of all, so goes an adage. The transformational impacts of Raila’s dreams for Kenya are in public domain and should galvanize the final push to put Mr. Odinga in State House in the 2022 elections.
The writer is a scholar of international relations. Twitter: @Cavinceworld.