Just take a moment and imagine if Barack Obama, a black man with a funny name, decided to run for president of the United States on an ultra-civil rights platform.
Picture the first African American candidate who stood a better chance of being President of the United States anchoring his campaign on reparations! That a man who goes by Hussein as his middle name talked about compensating the black community for the sufferings and the brunt that they bore under slavery. Does anyone in their right mind think that he would have been elected President of the United States?
For perspective, his successor, ran on a deeply divisive and downright race-baiting platform that left little to imagination and emerged victorious.
The point here is clear: Obama had to tread a thin line that was encapsulated thus – a democratic presidential candidate who happens to be black, not a black presidential candidate. This is how he maneuvered his way to the White House. He passed the acceptability test and even while there, he endured all manner of epithets and disrespect and he took them all in his stride.
In order to win, one must carefully craft an acceptable image and a unifying message that is rather forward looking than one that seeks to go back in time.
Raila Odinga is a man like no other. His political acumen is enviable, and his mobilization skills are unmatched. But he is man whose political journey and trajectory was defined and packaged way before he could brand himself to the masses. The powers that be, plucked him from relative oblivion and thrust him into the political limelight, all the while associating him with criminal acts and detaining him for a decade. This, was an act of political baptism with fire.
Children were indoctrinated with anti-Raila fables and decades later; first time voters were openly insulting the man who gave his all for his country.
The goal here was to paint him as militant and abrasive way before he set foot in parliament. And when he debuted in parliament, he was already a marked man with a complete political portrait of a man out for revenge. To his credit, he spent eons trying to jettison the derisive image and rose to the top of the political food chain.
But in a classic case of staying true to form, he couldn’t resist the temptation to go back in time. Regurgitating historical injustices, public land and a litany of other political lightning rods, he squarely placed himself in the crosshairs of those who control the levers of power in Kenya. In this effort, he enlisted several lieutenants with a penchant for tough talk and cavalier attitudes towards sensitive and emotive talk who helped fuel the fire.
Predictably, the owners of Kenya had a field day with the constant own-goals scored by those in Raila’s camp. “We will recover and redistribute stolen public land,” “for Raila to be president some people have to die,” they avered! The poohbahs now had real reasons to stop Raila from being President. Electoral processes be damned! Justice be damned!
It was either them or Raila. And the Raila camp became the gift that kept on giving. This writer believes that Raila won all the presidential contests that he participated in except the 1997 elections. The question was never about him winning but rather one about him being allowed to be president after emerging victorious. This is why he became a marked man. This is why he was crowned a militant and a dangerous person. Children were indoctrinated with anti-Raila fables and decades later; first time voters were openly insulting the man who gave his all for his country.
They defined him early enough and with an incredible assist from the man himself, the owners of Kenya found ways to believe that he was bound to revenge and fundamentally change Kenya as we know it. And because of that, they have tirelessly worked hard to stop him just when he is about to reach the mountain top. It is therefore not surprising that Raila has always been in a Sisyphean political posture.