Admire and love him or disparage and hate him, Raila Amolo Odinga is the most seasoned prominent politician still active on the national scene. The man has a career spanning over thirty years something that is unrivalled by any of his contemporaries. It is, therefore, little wonder that Kenyans are wont to bestow him with the endearing reference, “baba.” Only President Moi (Rtd.) and, especially, the founding President Jomo Kenyatta, were referred to using this fond title that once evoked the image of the people of Kenya as a single united nation made up of diverse ethnic groups. And it must be said, in the case of the former, the president did not become Baba Moi overnight. This is why Raila needs to pause and reflect on the role that he should play and the kind of footprints he wants to leave on shores of Kenya’s political history. Although made light of, or coined in sheer jest, this political christening, owing to his rather long absence from the political scene, I posit, was by no mere happenstance. It was a cryptic political script that either Raila failed to read or just misread. I suspect that he must have read it but read it slightly wrong hence the national rallies that were to reach the apogee in Saba Saba, and a series of monthly campaigns to collect grievances from wananchi.
It is this kind of thing that sets the man apart. On his sojourn to the US, “baba” had time to reflect and it somewhat paid off. He got this epiphany that was going to be a lightning rod of Kenya politics in 2014 but upon embarking on it, it immediately backfired. Yet there was the shinning promise of a radical grassroots movement culminating in an elections game-change in 2017. This, however, blew up in Raila’s face, within his party where trouble is brewing and political alliance where smoke is yet to be detected.
But there was nothing wrong with the vision and cause that must have consumed Raila’s heart and passion. I can hazard a few guesses why things didn’t work out the way they were expected. One was the political modus operandi. Raila and his advisers failed to read the signs of the times choosing mass rallies during a period of heightened insecurity in the country. It is no wonder that it didn’t take very long for this strategy to play into the hands of the government following the first attack in Mpeketoni. This dealt a serious blow and halted these rallies before they could even get started. Secondly, and this is, then, the gist of my argument, Raila was a little rash if not brash even, in unleashing his chosen political weapon. This resulted in the serious flaw of making the cause a party and political alliance affair. Subsequently, many a small minded demagogues and party hacks without a clue of the magnitude of “the cause” started pouring vitriol that bordered on ethnic hate speech a few weeks before “baba’s” return. That was strike number two and Raila has these loose cannons to thank for the temporary shallow backwaters that he finds himself and ODM in. Strike number three was failure to own his cause and make it his own personal cause. After all, isn’t he easily the first amongst the great generals of the so-called Second Liberation struggle? Hasn’t he tried every trick in the book including political marriages and alliances and, if you like, sleeping with the enemy? The last weapon that he ought to resort to is to change tack and with this, resolve some of the problems bedeviling him including the rift between the old and young politicians in his party.
Raila must start this process from within himself. He must dig deep within the recesses of his closet of tricks and strategies to recover his political mojo. Once and if he does so, he will come to the obvious appreciation of the fact that what worked in the 1980s or early 1990s might not always work right, work right now, or right away. Raila will value the fact that this is not time for political experiments where burning fingers in the process of learning is allowed. I would rue seeing Raila in an awkward “groundie” fashion under a wooden platform in a cloud of teargas reminiscent of a similar situation many years ago in Thika Stadium. He might also find that he might no longer have a taste for building and repairing political fences. That would be the whole gamut of the known three political cycles of this political giant whose full relevance and value Kenyans are yet to see: Raila of the burning fingers phase early in his political career; the boat-rocking Raila and running street battles in the early and mid-1990s; and Raila the fence-builder from the late 1990s and early 2000s.
However, the question still remains, “what will his fourth and last political phase be?” In my books, that will be the Raila of “the baba moment.” An elder statesman, who is idolized, proffers the olive branch and gives an entire people reason to hope. This, I believe, is what the man set out to do when he suggested dialogue between the opposition and the government an offer that was quickly bastardized and, appropriately, discarded. I suggest that Raila needs to reinvent and repackage himself and play pater patriae: the peacemaker, the joy bringer, the provident protector who, although doesn’t have all the answers always, utters weighty words of authority that are listened to without question. This is a role badly needed within his ODM party that isn’t the same since its botched elections, and in the country. So, step up baba.