Raila Amollo Odinga (RAO), is famous not because he’s from the royal family of Kenya’s politics, it is in spite of.
He has by sheer force of his personality he has carved himself in the collective national conscious.
This made him an institution.
Unlike many of his peers who labored under the shadow of their famous father or family name, RAO cultivated his persona. He was not inhibited by his father, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga- the doyen of opposition politics in Kenya.
At his prime, RAO captured the zeitgeist, embodied it, and directed it for greater public good; relentlessly push for expansion of democratic space at a personal cost.
His activism was rooted in the classical Manichean notion the government is “bad” and the non-government is “good”, although, some of his methods were questionable.
His dedication alongside many played a significant role in introducing the state reform. The fruit of that labor was the promulgation of the 2010 constitution.
At the peak of his power in 2007, RAO was the de facto people’s president. His electoral loss, which was accompanied by violence following the disputed presidential election claimed about 1200 lives with over ½ a million people internally displaced.
Because of the cumulative myth surrounding him, it is difficult to establish who the real RAO is; Some see him as power hungry devil incarnate, while other see him as their political messiah; baba. The true RAO is somewhere between these two extremes.
In realization of the political cost of latter characterization, he began to marginally soften his public perception. That planted the seed of his political decline.
The 2007 electoral loss, and subsequent acceptance of a power sharing agreement with Mwali Kibaki, the eventual “winner” elevated Odinga to a mini-statesman- willing to share the spoil against someone who “stole” his victory. But post-2013 defeat seems to have evaporated the man’s mojo. His party, the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) seems rudderless, his politics uninspiring and he demeanor unconvincing.
His handlers attempting to project him as a statesman could attribute some of this. But Odinga is a gut politician. He’s a risk taker. Unorthodox. Boxing him into a narrow prism is a kin to taking a fish out of water.
Since losing the 2013 elections, RAO has come across as deflated. His fuel comes from being in the thick of politics, by being outside parliament he seems to be dull and dour.
This is not limited to him; it is a systemic malaise of African politics, where the politicians hardly plan life beyond politics. Few have a career, few have honest business to turn to- most of their business venture heavily rely on leveraging their political power. Once out of power they hardly do well. Little wonder few contemplate leaving office.
Some of his off color performance after the elections could be attributed to pernicious consequences of tyranny of numbers- the ruling coalition enjoys a super majority in parliament and senate, and have state machinery at their disposal.
Even accounting for steep state’s machination, RAO’s post election’s performance is indefensible.
Kenyatta’s blunder and ODM primaries
There have been moments when Kenyatta’s administration have been out of their depth, and at every turn RAO has been at worst gave press conferences denouncing the government’s, at worst, he remained bafflingly silent.
RAO made his career in the opposition; it is not like he just joined the opposition rank.
And all indications are he will run for presidency in 2017.
But momentarily, RAO looks like a politician who is running on an empty tank.
May be age is catching up with him, or may be his persona is drenched in myth.
But today’s postponement of the party primaries is another demonstration of confidence of crisis RAO is experiencing.
And it raises fundamental questions, if he cannot manage the party primaries- despite the reckoning party primaries are never the most democratic, how then can he mount his next stab at the presidency?
Young New reformers
In Kenya there is a serious need for a new cadre of reformers to take over the mantle, the older generation needs to pass on their batons. The reform movement needs to negotiate this tricky and dicey transition with enormous care -the manner of the transition will determine the future arc of the movement. As it is, the movement needs a reboot and find its true north if it will remain significant moving forward in an unfamiliar Kenya.
It would be cruel, if a movement that valiantly fought for the enactment of the new constitution fails at the critical stage of its entrenchment.
And nothing symbolizes that than RAO’s struggle to impose discipline on his party.