Conquering minds: Raila has much to learn from son Fidel

Fidel1001ywOutreach is the chief quality of what German political analysts used to call realpolitik – namely, that sense of what is real which drives the would-be national leader into forming political alliances with all sorts of tribal and even racial communities within the nation. Fidel Odinga, then, was the nonpareil among the present generation of Kenya’s politicians.

Among an earlier generation of politicians, the inimitable Tom Mboya of my own Suba super-clan of the Luo community was assassinated precisely because he had spread such powerful personal tendrils so far across all ethnic and racial communities that no rival could use any ordinary method to frustrate his quest to ride triumphantly into State House as Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s successor.

In Kenya, in short, the stark reality is that, no matter how large your ethnic community is, you – the individual candidate – must actively seek support from across your ethnic communal boundaries. Uhuru Kenyatta, a politician as hard-nosed as his father, knows it very well. Without reaching out to the massive Kalenjin, he might never have become our President.

Quite apparently, this was where Fidel Odhiambo would have surpassed his father, Raila Amolo, as a contender both for the Luo paramount chieftainship and – sporting that diadem – for the national seat in Nairobi. At all levels of social interaction, Fidel Odhiambo reached out to all strata and both genders of Kenya’s tribal and racial communities, especially of his age-group.

I am told that, in post-mortem comments about him, Fidel Odhiambo – like Mboya before him – was the social man par excellence, the town sophisticate without kifani. And, judging by the names, all the eulogies came from young people from both sexes and all tribal and other communities, including, notably, the consanguine Kikuyu, Embu and Meru themselves.

Kikuyu names stuck out because a certain Kikuyu family should regard the Odinga family with what Kiswahili calls utani – the teasing through which such families mutually egg each other on among all ethnic communities in East Africa, a mood heightened by soccer rivalry between the Luo and the Luhya, two prominent Kenyan communities between whom inter-marriage is profuse.


Fidel Odhiambo Odinga’s first marriage was to a flame from bucolic Kiambu, the very epicentre of that quintessentially Kikuyu redoubt which has always been seen to thwart the Odinga family’s ambition for State House. That was why I could not think that youthful passion and true love – whatever the latter is – were the only factors involved in that widely celebrated marriage.

From whatever angle you looked, it was in every way like one of those judicial marriages by which the pharaohs of Nilotic Egypt once expanded their empire all the way from Lake Victoria to the Persian Gulf, and by which, more recently, Europe’s Hanoverian, Hapsburg, Hohenzollern, Olof, Romanov and Windsor houses expanded their own intra-European empires.

Only upon Fidel Odhiambo’s death did I learn that, in the meantime, there had been a divorce and that he had consequently made an even more remarkable outreach to acquire his next wife, an Eritrean-Ethiopian lass who, from the pictures, looks as fetching as Makeda, the Yemenite lady – known to history (quite incorrectly) as an Ethiopian – who once conquered Judah’s King David’s heart all the way northwards in Jerusalem.

Do not even attempt to tell me that Ethiopia is irrelevant to my theme. Ethiopia is next door to Kenya. And ever since Independence, when Haile Selassie and Jomo Kenyatta began the courtship, any would-be Kenyan president who does not include Ethiopia in his map of potential conquests of the human heart had better return to the kindergarten of international politics.

As William Wordsworth quips in poetry, “the son is father of the man”. That is why Raila Odinga has so much to learn from his son Fidel Odhiambo concerning the techniques of conquering hearts and minds among the Kikuyu and throughout Kenya.


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