Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Is Raila Odinga Kenya's National Tragic Hero?

By Joshua Odhiambo Nyamori Why do I celebrate, sympathize with and mourn, but at the same time criticize, dismiss and oppose, the former Prime Minister, R.H. Raila Odinga, all at the same time? My feelings are defined by my conclusion, after many years of closely studying R.H. Raila Odinga, as one of Kenya's foremost political characters, that he is probably the Kenyan nation's Tragic Hero. I am happy that it's not only me who sees it this way. Last night my friend Noel Ochieng' expressed to me that he too has concluded that Raila is a tragic hero.
An understanding of Raila as a tragic hero can be found in studying his personality, vision, objectives, strategies, tactics, successes, failures, strengths and weaknesses in the context of the Aristotelian concept of Tragic Hero, as treated in Aristotle's Poetics. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero evokes in the audience a sense of both pity and fear. This tragic hero is normally a person of noble birth with heroic or potentially heroic qualities. Raila fits in this definition, being the son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a Luo Ker, the first Vice President who was also feted for leading the alternative ideological standing in Kenya, hence reverence of the old man as the "doyen of opposition" or the "best president that Kenya never had." Then Raila was detained three times for a total of nine years for wanting to overthrow Moi's dictatorship, which was interpreted - rightly or wrongly - as his commitment to democratization of Kenya. When he came out he has engaged in what many Kenyans have interpreted as heroic political adventures, sometimes with high political and personal risks. This endeared him to many, me included. But like the mythical Oedipus and Thyestes, Raila seems to be fated by the Gods or by some supernatural forces to doom and destruction. Aristotle avers that the tragic hero "must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous ... who is not eminently good and just, (and) whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.” While Aristotle does not expect the hero to be entirely good so that he can do no wrong, he contends rather that the tragic hero commits a fatal injury or a great wrong which eventually leads to his misfortune and total destruction. This seems to be the fate that has befallen Raila Odinga. He has climbed to almost the very top of Kenyan politics but seems to be making fatal errors one after another, errors that have cost him the Presidency twice. Although he has earned his position as a national hero, he has also set himself on a fatal self destructive mode from which no one can save him. He has steadily alienated his political pillars by betraying his loyal lieutenants, denying them opportunities for political reward through vertical growth in a democratic process. In the sense of all tragic heroes, and to his credit, Raila has been struggling heroically against this tragic fate that he seemingly finds himself in and this cosmic conflict has always won the admiration of many Kenyans including me. He invests time and energy - his entire life - in this cosmic struggle to overcome his tragedy of self destruction in order that he may achieve his objective of leading Kenya. But since, like all tragic heroes, Raila simply cannot accept the reality of a diminished view of the self resulting from being worn out by many years of battle after battle, most of them ending in his failure, our national hero Raila Odinga is most likely destined to end up a bitter and frustrated failure in this epic struggle against fate. This tragic theatre of the absurd that has become Raila's political epic seems to be his choice or free will. He has always chosen the paths that have led him into embarrassing failures. The paradox therefore is whether Raila's past and current misfortunes are matters fate or whether they are results of his free will. It is important to appreciate that these misfortunes have brought misery and suffering not only to the life of Raila and his family, but also to the lives of many of his followers and many others to whom these misfortunes have resulted in personal tragedies. Though he seems to be fated, those of us who consider Raila a national hero, and therefore hold him to higher standards of probity, keep getting appalled every time he makes choices which bring about not only his misfortunes and continued destruction, but also the suffering of his supporters, party members and Kenyans in general. Could these tragic theatres of the absurd have revealed the true identity of Raila Odinga which were hitherto unknown to many of his supporters and indeed many Kenyans? It should be remembered that Oedipus - instead of being the proud saviour of Thebes was revealed in tragic events to actually be the cause of the city's plague, the killer of his father and the husband of his mother. Could Raila's eventful tragedies have revealed that after all he is not the defender of human rights, the paragon of democracy, the voice of the voiceless and the embodiment of national spirit for revolutionary change, but rather a self seeking tyrant who never subordinates his political ambition, thirst for power and economic aggrandisement for the common good of his political party members and the nation at large? When Raila presided over a blatant abuse of democratic principles at Kasarani, tellingly excusing himself to go for "lunch", as his well briefed and well known goons stormed the amphitheatre, and in a spectacular speed and organization, crashed ballot boxes and overturned tables on their way in full glare of the delegates who had made their choices known by acclamation as names of candidates were called out, and even as the rest of the country followed on live TV coverage, any sane Kenyan who still believed in him as a democrat was disabused of the fallacy. The guy revealed himself as an unapologetic and callous despot, not ashamed of subverting popular will at the altar of self preservation. Any moral authority to accuse IEBC and the Supreme Court of abetting 2013 rigging was smashed in full glare of delegates and TV audience all over the country. The question that therefore begs answer is whether Raila Odinga's successive political and personal misfortunes have been gratuitous or not. Through great misfortunes, and the behaviour of this national hero before, during and after several crises, Kenyans have been greatly enlightened on his true character, qualities and abilities. I want to believe that Raila Odinga has also learnt about himself and his place in Kenya’s body polity and in the universe. His personal pride, sense of entitlement and aura of mysterious cosmic authority and power have been repeatedly and publicly chastened. Although his authority has been significantly diminished, the interesting thing is that Raila Odinga the national hero, and some of his supporters, seems not to be at peace with the reality that he may have outlived his political usefulness and that his continued stay in the political scene will no doubt result in further misfortunes, than in any useful result. It is this contradiction that informs my celebration, sympathy and mourning of this great character which is also interweaved with my criticizism, dismissal and opposition. Joshua Odhiambo Nyamori Strategic Management Consultant Abila Consultants P.O. Box 1733 Kisumu Tel: +254 714 335 816 Email; joshua.nyamori@gmail.com 42Like · · Share

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Wither RAO By Abdullahi Boru

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. Post-defeat blues 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.