Former PM Raila Odinga clears air on key political issues

Has Raila Odinga, a man many consider the fulcrum of Kenya’s politics, and who is likely the most talked about politician after President Uhuru, made up his mind on the 2017 race?

Is the former Prime Minister plotting a ‘return match’ with President Uhuru and deputy William Ruto at the next Presidential poll?

And what new thing has the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy leader got to say about the March 4 elections over which he has insisted his victory was stolen? This week The Counties brings you an exclusive question-and-answer session with Raila on the raging devolution row and push for referendum, his political future and relations with Uhuru.

In the interview, Raila talks about what he has been doing since he lost the presidential race, agitation by his party MPs for a referendum on the Constitution, and claims that his party is under the tight grip of older politicians out to lock out the youth.

Below is the full interview with one of Kenya’s most controversial politicians who the late Vice President Kijana Wamalwa described as one upon whom Kenyans are always split into Railaphobics and Railamanics:

The Counties: Share with Kenyans what you have been doing since you left the premiership.

Raila Odinga: I am busy putting final touches to my autobiography. I am also working on setting up my Foundation and at the same time reorganising my party, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD). As you are aware, I also travel a lot across the world not for fun but to engage in generating ideas and seeking solutions to the myriad of problems that face humanity on a global, as opposed to national scale.

TC: Are there new interests and hobbies you have since developed and what is your day like?

RO: Not really. I still read, exercise, watch football and other games and meet people to discuss various issues.

TC: Five months after the March 4 , General Election, do you still hold the view that your victory was stolen and what information are you privy to that backs this conviction?

RO: I believe Kenyans know the truth. I believe Kenyans have seen enough signs even from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to tell the kind of elections we held. This is therefore a subject I really don’t want to belabour anymore.

It is no use flogging a dead horse. I have moved on. Still, we have a lot of information on the March 4 election. Since the Supreme Court ruling, we have gathered much more information and landed much more critical evidence. But sometimes, some things are better left to history for the sake of the nation.

TC: How do you rate the Jubilee leadership so far, and what do you make of its plans like that of laptop for schools?

RO: As I have said, it is a bit too early to judge the performance of Jubilee. I have been in government and I know how complex it is to run a country. You cannot do much in 100 days. By and by, Kenyans will know how capable or incapable Jubilee is. When that time comes, nobody will rely on my judgment alone. Everyone will be feeling it personally either positively or negatively.

However, I am worried about the way the Government is handling Devolution, blowing hot and cold. I am not convinced that enough groundwork has been done for the laptops project, and I remain very worried about how the teachers’ strike was handled.

TC: How many times have you met Uhuru and Ruto since they were sworn in on April 9, and what has been the nature of your discussions and outcome?

RO: Kenyans need to know that I am not an enemy of the President and his deputy. We may meet or we may not meet, but that does not mean we are enemies or that we are not in touch. We live in a very modern nation and contact does not have to be physical. And Kenyans know that when the nation is at stake, I always put aside political differences. Nobody should lose sleep on account of whether I have met the President and his deputy or not.

TC: You are on record saying you will run in 2017, is this accurate information and how do you plan to win the race this time round?

RO: It is never my nature to claim the media misquoted me. I speak my mind and once I say something, I stand by it however unpopular, no matter the pressure against it. I have not said i will contest the presidency in 2017 as the media reported this week.

I have only said I will remain active in politics and I will not retire. I will remain active reorganising and strengthening ODM and CORD with a view to turning them into formidable tools for future political contests.

But I have not made a decision to run or not to run for the presidency in 2017. We have just finished a very bruising and divisive election. I believe it would be wrong for us to put the country in an election mode again by declaring our candidacy for 2017 elections. Even election petitions have not been concluded.

I don’t equate politics with the holding of an office as an MP, Senator or President.

TC. There are those in your party who are talking about ODM being a monopoly of older politicians, standing in the way of youthful leadership. What do you make of these claims?

RO: Those claims are far fetched, but we are not going to stop people expressing themselves. If ODM were a monopoly of older politicians, we would not have fielded the many young people who made it to Parliament. ODM has some of the youngest MPs in Parliament, sitting side by side with veterans of our party.

It is a healthy mix. Some of the young MPs have expressed interest in certain party positions. That is their right. But those positions are filled by the members, not by Raila Odinga. I cannot wake up and declare somebody the chairman or secretary general of the party. It has to be done by the party’s membership. The relevant organs of the party will be meeting and they will pick people for the positions. All I can ask for is patience. We need young people just like we need the older members. Their mix and ability to work together is our strength as a party.

TC: There has been speculation that though young MPs claim their target is the ODM secretary general and chairman positions, their real target is you. Do you think the political youngsters are being used by ODM outsiders to get at you?

RO: I don’t believe any individual is being targeted. But even if that were the case, there is no need to worry, the decision on who holds which position, including that of Raila Odinga, will be decided by the party.

TC: What do you make of the upcoming cases against Uhuru and Ruto at The Hague and the new push by two of your MPs plan to have the two impeached? Did they consult you?

RO: The cases are coming up at The Hague in a short while, so there is no need for speculating or even discussing them now. About MPs who are planning impeachment, it should be known that MPs are in Parliament to legislate. They do not have to consult the party on every issue they wish to pursue. Ideally, MPs are supposed to pursue issues that are important to their voters. In that regard, they do not have to have consulted me.

TC: Tell Kenyans about this plan of ending ‘tyranny of numbers’ through a referendum seeking to amend the Constitution through a referendum so as to end direct election of a president?

RO: There is really nothing like tyranny of numbers. That is a very backward invention that was put out there to justify the fiddling with the ballot that followed. It was simply put out there to be used as a justification for an outcome some people were already working on.

What we are seeking is simply an electoral system that will make every small community in Kenya feel appreciated, included and wanted in our politics. We want every Kenyan, whether he or she is from the El Molo, the Ogiek or any other small community to feel they have stake in the formation of government and that their votes are not taken for granted because they are few. We don’t want a system that reduces some Kenyans to spectators in the affairs of their own country.

TC: You have always advocated for a parliamentary system. If the system was adopted in the 2010 Constitution, do you think the 2013 election outcome would have been different?

RO: I believe that with a parliamentary system, we would have emerged less divided than we did, the campaigns would not have taken the tribal undertones they did and the results and how they were arrived at would have been clearer to the voters and the parties. The sense of inclusion as opposed to exclusion would have been greater. And that is what matters to me.

TC: The old constitution was amended 39 times in 50 years to suit political interests. Don’t you think it is too early to change our laws before they have been fully implemented?

RO: The amendments that were done in the last 50 years were practically coups against the people to shield the ruling class. The people were never consulted when Kenya was being declared a one-party state, when Majimbo (federalism) was being killed or when detention without trial was introduced.

This time round, we are saying let us consult the people through a referendum as provided for in the Constitution. We are not going to impose any decision on the people. If the people think we are wrong, that it is too early to change the Constitution, they will have their say and reject our plan. If they agree with us, they will approve it through the vote

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