By Makau Mutua
Some Kenyans exhaust me – utterly. But let me be fair. I exhaust them too. So we are even because we exhaust each other. Even so, I am sick of being sick and tired of them. It upsets me to no end when individuals who’ve never done anything for Kenya – except steal from the public – question the patriotic bona fides of those who’ve sacrificed themselves for the country.
I write here not to defend ODM’s Raila Odinga but to give the man from Bondo his due. Since his March 2018 Handshake with Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Odinga has faced ruthless public opprobrium by his foes and even some of his comrades. Let me tell you why they should zip it.
In the annals of the Republic of Kenya, not many Kenyans can hold a candle to Mr Odinga as a freedom fighter. I know – Mr Odinga isn’t perfect. Who is? Mr Odinga has made his own share of political mistakes.
No one of his age who’s been in the political vineyards as long as he has been, especially in the opposition, can claim to never have taken at least one wrong turn somewhere.
Show me such a person, if they exist, and I will show you a liar. Politics, like everything else, is an experiment. This is true in a rickety post-colonial state like Kenya where you often have to improvise because the country lacks a democratic culture.
In life, it’s only fair you judge people by the full body of their work. You take the full measure of a person’s life and then you put it on a scale. Against this standard, Mr Odinga must be adjudged as one of the most patriotic Kenyans, alive or dead.
I rank him up there at the top of the pyramid with his father, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
Detractors say that he’s one of the “dynasties.” I agree – but he’s an opposition “dynasty.” Similarly, those who call themselves “hustlers” are also right. They are true hustlers – “fraudsters” and “deceivers.” They want to appropriate the language of revolution, but have no history or track record of opposing the state.
Mr Odinga and his family, including his spouse Ida Odinga, know what it is to face and live the ire of a savage, undemocratic state. For the nearly one decade in which Mr Odinga was under detention for being a liberator, Mrs Odinga held the family together.
It’s not a secret the persecution and mental anguish that the Moi-Kanu state put her and the family through. Jaramogi, her father-in-law, was himself Mr Moi’s public enemy number one.
The Odinga family lived not knowing whether they would be alive or free from one day to the next. These sacrifices are legend. Yet, and this is remarkable, I’ve found neither Mr Odinga, nor Mrs Odinga, bitter people. I don’t know how.
Much of the current ire and angst against Mr Odinga springs from his Handshake with Mr Kenyatta. The vast majority of those vexed by the Handshake in Jubilee are insiders who thought Mr Kenyatta would hand over the presidency to DP William Ruto on a silver platter.
Their hysterics arise out of a sense of unrequited entitlement. Their bitterness is actually anti-democratic because in a democracy, no one is entitled by right to rule.
It’s the people who choose their leaders, not the other way round. Like Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, who was ousted from the Senate Majority Leader perch, they are seeing red. They now threaten Armageddon. They fail to recognise that the chickens they hatched have come home to roost.
Similarly, some in Mr Odinga’s camp have left with angry conniptions over the Handshake. They can’t reconcile themselves to the changed political landscape. Several have made unsavoury alliances with the devil to spite Mr Odinga. They accuse him of betrayal.
It’s their right to feel betrayed. It’s also their democratic right to castigate Mr Odinga for exercising his right to associate with Mr Kenyatta. They claim Mr Odinga has orphaned them and killed the opposition. That’s silly. How can one man kill the opposition? If the opposition had only one man, then it wasn’t an opposition at all. Why can’t they step up and take the mantle of the opposition? Mr Odinga can’t be – and do – everything.
Mr Odinga says he went into the Handshake with Mr Kenyatta to save the country from collapse after a botched election.
It’s a fact the country stabilised after the Handshake. We know Mr Kenyatta has taken uneven and fledgling steps against some corrupt mandarins since then. He’s neutered Mr Ruto, the deputy who thought he was the real power behind Mr Kenyatta.
He’s decapitated Mr Ruto’s allies right and left. These actions would’ve been impossible without Mr Odinga’s support. Let’s just say I am not shedding any tears. Mr Odinga is entitled to play out his rapprochement with Mr Kenyatta. Is he being played? Only history will judge him.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.