Raila Odinga should mirror Mandela, change gear
It is an oft told saga that of the king whose time is up but he will neither acknowledge it nor give way gracefully.
This saga is as old as history. Normally, the saga starts with the king who has had untrammeled rule over his subjects. His every word has been law.
He has managed to keep his subjects cowed by a mixture of fear and intimidation, and all who have stood in his path have suffered a similar fate, destruction.
But as time goes by and opposition against the king builds, he resorts to ever harsher and desperate measures to keep his subjects subjugated. As he loses grip, the crowd around him thins and he is left with a few hardliners who keep giving him the wrong advice.
Finally, the king is left isolated in a world of his own where he still reigns supreme. As his empire collapses around him, he becomes more strident. His pronouncements become more outrageous until finally it all crumbles in a heap around him.
One is left with a feeling of déjà vu when looking at what is happening around the NASA leader, Raila Odinga.
Raila has been a colossus bestriding Kenya for many years. He has grown to become a huge menacing force who has many times used the spirit of fear and intimidation to get his way. But times change and dynamics shift. Unfortunately for him, the ground has shifted significantly. The huge democratic space that was created by the Constitution has largely eliminated the causes for which he built his bona fides, fighting for democracy.
The devolved system of government has created equitability by taking resources to all the corners of the country. This has translated into development hitherto undreamed of in all areas of Kenya.
Communities now want minimum disruption of their drive for development of their counties. Governors are even less inclined to allow disruption of their cities and towns as they depend heavily of revenues from businesses in those places to run county governments.
The first manifestation of this drastic shift came after the August 8, 2017 election. The NASA brigade tried very hard to cause an eruption through all manner of outrageous utterances and shenanigans. There were no takers. Indeed, the only violence that took place was clashes between protestors and the police in Kibera and Mathare in Nairobi, and majorly Kisumu in Nyanza. The rest of the country was quiet. To date, the country remains largely peaceful despite all the tension NASA has generated.
Raila even declared himself president in an attempt to cause upheaval, but this was laughed off. His call for his supporters to boycott work simply flopped.
Raila then called for street demos to force “reforms” in the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Unlike in the past when the government moved to appease him to “avert” bloodshed, this time it decided to stay put.
The demos were a spectacular failure. Each time, Raila would announce “the mother of all demos,” only to have a small crowd of protestors in Nairobi who were quickly dispersed and the usual stone throwers in Kisumu. The rest of the country simply ignored all demos. Finally, NASA had to call them off.
His lowest moment, however, came a day before the repeat October 26, 2017 poll, when he promised a “big announcement.” The day started badly for NASA as all the cases they had filed through their surrogates to stop the repeat poll were all thrown out by the courts.
On the day, he addressed a largely empty Uhuru Park, apart from a small crowd dressed in ODM T-shirts and caps. Apart from telling his supporters to stay out of trouble on election day, there was no big announcement. The meeting ended in a whimper, apart from the rebranding of NASA to the National Resistance Movement.
No NASA governor was present. His running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, fled over two weeks ago, probably not wanting to put himself in ICC’s radar or risk a visa ban and asset freeze by a West that has grown increasingly impatient and tired of NASA’s antics.
Raila now has very difficult choices to make. His financial base has all but collapsed and his previously impregnable Western support has vaporized. Internationally, he is completely isolated.
Indeed, it is plausible that many of the NASA governors, especially those in their second terms would relish nothing more than to have him out of the scene to ease their own presidential bids in 2022.
Further, the governors have counties to run and politics will have to take a backseat at some point.
Indeed, the whole country, including his supporters are tired of his nonstop politics and just want to get back to their lives so that their businesses can be revived and they can feed their children.
The upshot of all this is that he has been left roaming the country with a tiny clique of hardliners who seem to have elbowed out everybody else and now dictate his direction. He is running out of “big announcements,” to keep his support base energized.
Raila still has a chance to redeem this whole thing, and still turn it to his advantage. And Kenyans are a forgiving lot. He still has a chance to “release” Kenya to the future. He can still assume the high road of one of Africa’s greatest statesmen, Nelson Mandela, or go down in ignominy like so many others all over the world who have failed to recognize that the time for old fashioned tactics to gain and keep power has passed.