Saturday March 10, 2018

By : Daniel Wesangula

The Raila Odinga Show


The Raila Odinga Show

Raila Odinga (left) and Mwai Kibaki shake hands after signing the Peace Accord in February 2008. [File, Standard]
Opposition leader Raila Odinga has, for the umpteenth time in his political career, reinvented himself by pulling the rug from under the feet of political friend and foe.

Yesterday, Raila, once a sworn enemy of the current regime, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with President Uhuru Kenyatta and toast to new beginnings.

Completely missing from his speech from the now famous steps of Harambee House was his recurrent call for electoral justice that dominated his post-election talk.

About 10 years ago, Raila stood on the same spot where he shook hands with Mwai Kibaki to symbolise adoption of a framework that brought healing to a country on the brink of civil war.

Students of Raila’s political life know that he lives true to the adage that there are no true enemies in politics.

Neither are there permanent friends. Since his induction into Kenyan politics, Raila has been a politician looking out only for number one.

When the occasion demands, he will look out for someone else who still plays a significant future role in Project Odinga.

Every political move he makes is well calculated to make sure Project Odinga remains relevant to Kenya’s political discourse and that he, at any given time, always has a trump card up his sleeves.

Just a week ago, while addressing mourners at a burial in Siaya, he said he sensed betrayal coming his way. Statements that at the time seemed pointed at his Nasa co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula.

Conversations that might prove key to the continued resuscitation of his evolving role in Kenyan politics that has on different occasions oscillated between favourite, front runner, kingmaker and the perennial loser tag that has refused to leave his shoulder.

After the numerous battles he has waged, the countless shots he has taken at regimes and institutional ills like corruption and suppression of free speech, yesterday’s meeting with President Kenyatta may have given him another chance to walk his followers to Canaan.

But what are the palm readers saying about Raila’s latest move that has come at a time when his core support base has peaked at their fanaticism for the man? Will they listen to him after being juiced up on secession talks? Will they move with him to trying to offer an amicable solution to the ills currently ailing the country or will they, after four decades of pledging allegiance to the man, finally pry themselves free from his hypnotic grip and move on to new ground?

On the contrary, they might see this as a win. It is a proper strike against the establishment that has forced Uhuru to come to the table and have an honest discussion with their champion fighter who seems to work best under pressure and bounces back at the least unlikely of moments.

In 2002, with just months to one of the most definitive elections in Kenya’s history, Raila landed perhaps his cleanest and deadliest blow on the establishment. He agreed to merge with Kanu in what, on the surface, seemed like a guarantee to power for the independence party. Unknown to Daniel arap Moi, Raila had something up his sleeves. He cannibalised Kanu internally and when he left, he took with him an entourage of former Kanu diehards such as Kalonzo Musyoka to establish a coalition that would form the next government.

As the country talks about the deal between the second generation Odinga and Kenyatta, scions of two families that have dominated Kenyan politics decades even after the fall of the pioneering patriarchs, it will be interesting to see where this new-found public display of affection leads.

At different times in history, Raila’s image has ping-ponged between victim and victor, hero and villain. But even as he pins yet another feather on his political hat, to some he will remain a king without a kingdom, an Esau who has had successive Jacobs make away with what he believes is his birthright.

For now, though, he is in his element - alone on stage, his other co-principals out of sight, with the spotlight firmly on his face. Ever the performer, Raila remains unwilling to exit the stage. No amount of applause from an audience will budge him. He still has another song left in him, and the gallery, ever so patient, will resume position and brace itself for another episode of The Raila Odinga Show.