At first, he seemed like the most unlikely candidate for the task. After his fifth attempt to run for the Kenyan presidency, Raila Odinga is surely finished. The only thing left to her was perhaps how to update her memories of him. But who needs pips from a loser who couldn’t use them himself?
These were the thoughts that were on our minds when we thought of inviting the former Prime Minister of Kenya and recently defeated candidate of the Orange Democratic Movement, Raila Odinga, to the 14ththe edition of the annual LEADERSHIP conference and awards.
It is also interesting that since narrowly losing last year’s presidential election to William Ruto, who framed the campaign as an epic “con man vs. dynasty” battle, Odinga has received several invitations to speak at major international forums in the US. USA and Europe. There must be a lesson or two about his defeat that he keeps the world wanting to hear from his experience.
But the attraction to LEADERSHIP was even greater. On the eve of the Nigerian general election, with its accompanying anxieties, tensions and worries that violence could mar the result, or worse, nullify it entirely, who else is more qualified to share valuable experience than a man who was presidential candidate in kenya? general elections in 2007, which claimed more than 1,200 lives, and another election in 2017 that left at least 37 people dead, many more injured and thousands fleeing their homes?
Just last October, the two-term former president of Kenya and also a contestant in these two elections, Uhuru Kenyatta, was the guest of the Nigerian government at a ministerial performance retreat in Abuja.
Unlike when he made a state visit eight years ago, Kenyatta made no public statement this time, leaving a great cloud of cynicism in some quarters that the man who betrayed Odinga and paved the way for Ruto’s victory was perhaps delighted to sneak into Abuja. , the capital of Nigeria, like a thief in the night.
The press could not get Kenyatta to clear the air. So we thought it would be a good idea to invite Odinga, described as one of the most important Kenyan politicians in the last three decades by Professor Femi Badejo in his remarkable biography, “Raila Odinga: an enigma in Kenyan politics”, to shed some light in the cauldron of the Kenyan elections.
I am happy to have done it. My previous two articles on Kenya after the October presidential election leaned more towards Ruto because I felt strongly that the Odinga and Kenyatta dynasties had run their course and that perhaps Kenyan politics deserved a breath of fresh air.
But inviting Odinga also carried its own risks. Just one day before arriving in Abuja, he held a huge demonstration in Jacaranda, Nairobi, where he announced that there would be a series of demonstrations against the Ruto government.
Odinga insisted that the government was illegitimate, vowed that it would not be silenced, and compared Ruto’s government to the Biblical tax collector Zacchaeus, known for imposing punitive taxes on the people. And then the next day, he boarded the plane and headed to Abuja, with a six-member delegation consisting of a professor and a senator, to talk about “Credible Elections and an Economy in Transition”.
If the issue sounded good for Nigeria ahead of an election heralded by deadly attacks on electoral infrastructure, widespread displacement of populations as a result of banditry, and economic chaos; presented a different perspective for Nigeria’s diplomatic relations with Kenya.
Giving Odinga, the leader of the largest opposition party, a microphone after his rally in Jacaranda was like providing a foreign stage for attacks on the new government in Nairobi, which is still fighting. It could be seen as lending a hand to the “enemy”.
But never mind Part of why Africa has experienced five unconstitutional changes in government in two years, with West Africa as its epicenter, is due to the chaotic management of elections and political transitions, among other things.
The continent must grow beyond the rituals of holding periodic elections, which are increasingly triggering violent changes in governments. Africa has to find a way to make politics work for a much larger number of citizens who are currently induced or indifferent spectators at their own game. A good place to start would be strong opposition. So it made sense to listen to Odinga. And he did not disappoint.
As we waited for him to join us at the welcome dinner at the Transcorp Hilton on Monday night, I wondered what he was going to say. The federation’s government secretary, Boss Mustapha, was in attendance, as were representatives of the Kenyan high commission and a cream of professionals and businessmen.
Just a few days earlier, a friend shared with me a viral video of Odinga, where the former prime minister teased his audience with a bitter joke about Nigeria. It was about a Nigerian minister on a visit to Malaysia, who was told by his host that 10 per cent of the money for the pretty roads in Kuala Lumpur had been diverted to build the palatial house where the Nigerian minister was staying.
On the return visit from the Malays, he wanted to know where his Nigerian counterpart got the money to build his own palatial home, especially as the roads he had seen were bumpy. The Nigerian minister led his guest to the window, smiled and said, “100 percent of what was supposed to have been used to build the roads was used here (pointing to his palace).”
However, if you have read the work of Michela Wrong “It’s our turn to eat”, you could forgive Kenyans for making corruption in Nigeria the butt of their jokes. No matter, something told me that, out of courtesy, Odinga, a politician who precedes his speech with jokes and jokes, out of courtesy, will forgive Nigeria this time.
When the former prime minister and leader of Kenya’s Orange Democratic Movement finally appeared in the dining room without air, without fuss. He wore a simple long-sleeved blue and white caftan over a pair of white pants and walked into the room as normal Joe.
In my brief remarks, before taking the podium, I improvised his Malaysian joke saying that he would find the main roads of Abuja well paved. I added that while I wasn’t sure a kobo of the money used for the roads would make it to the palatial hotel, I could assure you that your host, LEADERSHIP, can cover the cost of the dinner we were about to have. .
He later told guests that he was last in Nigeria in 2007 as a member of international observers for that year’s general election, recounting how a policeman who had stopped his car insisted that he looked Nigerian to every inch and admonished him for violating the restraining order.
And then, he talked about the Kenyan elections. He said new evidence from the server that the Supreme Court had denied access to during the post-election legal dispute showed that more than two million votes were suppressed that could have given him a clear advantage over Ruto.
“How can anyone live with such injustice?” she asked. At that moment I inspected the room and locked eyes with the representative of the Kenyan ambassador. His face was expressionless.
Odinga was not finished. He said that he would not be silenced and that he did not think it was too much to ask not just for justice to be done, but for it to be seen to be done and for the will of the Kenyan people to find true expression.
The old workhorse that is, the next day, the main day of the conference, deployed a tactical maneuver. Of course, expressing concern about more elections and even less credible results, about state capture of electoral management bodies and the use of voting machines to rig, Odinga left the heavy, pointy work to his cohort, Akau Mutua, a American professor from Kenya. Law School based in New York.
Speaking out of time, Mutua criticized the Kenyan Supreme Court for obstructing access to vital evidence and for its complicity in perverting the course of justice. It’s only a matter of time, she said, before the rackets fall apart. When Mutua said that, the room erupted in applause and I saw Odinga smiling.
“So what are you going to do with the two million newly discovered votes,” I asked later that day at his hotel.
“Wait and see,” he replied. “We are building a movement that will hold the system to account for its injustice. How can there be another election until this matter is resolved?
At that moment, I remembered what his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, might have said about Kenya: “He’s not uhuru yet!”
Ishiekwene is the editor-in-chief of LEADERSHIP
Opinions expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not those of TheCable.