Raila Odinga’s AU Chairmanship Bid: A Test of Leadership Beyond Kenya’s Borders

Kenya’s former prime minister Raila Odinga (L) walks with Africa Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki (R) in Nairobi, Kenya on November 8, 2018. PHOTO | NMG

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Raila Amolo Odinga has immensely contributed to the expansion of multiparty democracy in Africa; like no other, his legacy is secured, and many perceive him as larger than life. Like most successful politicians who won the policy debates are seldom trusted to implement their visions, Raila Amolo Odinga is no exception.

As his presidential bids seem stuttered, most Kenyans feel the sentimentality to reward him with the continental recognition. However, the burning question remains: Are Raila’s personality and quirks suitable for the chairmanship of the AU? His mercurial past suggests he will struggle to shape in and may be shipped out.

As I was mulling over how to peek at Raila Amolo Odinga’s suitability for the AU top job, my thoughts were punctuated with memories of how he has crafted a penchant for self-cannibalism that has, time after time, painfully damaged his chances of becoming: His Excellence Mr President.

Raila as Trail Blazer

Raila Amolo Odinga eclipsed his elder brother Oburu Odinga, and historians golden inked that their father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had passed the family mantle to the younger Raila because of his charisma, self-belief and fearlessness. Raila’s earlier education is littered with many ambivalences, with one of his personal assistants, Miguna wa Miguna’s biographies calledPeeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya” and its subsequent sequelKidney’s for the King” painted Raila as incompetent, venal and too rashy for the top job in the Kenyan public service.

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Miguna claimed Raila was a primary school dropout after he threw and hit a teacher with a stone, leading to his dismissal. According to Miguna, Raila is good for nothing except hurling stones at his enemies. Miguna’s views may have been moulded by Raila’s decision to axe him from being his personal assistant when Raila was the Prime Minister of Kenya. However, in many ways, Miguna’s characterization of Raila captures his demeanour very well. I shall dilate on that later.

But nobody can diminish Raila’s contribution to developing African multiparty democracy. Where Mandela’s incarceration helped torpedo apartheid as a system of governance, but Raila’s sacrifices catapulted Africa into the partial assimilation of multiparty democracy, albeit with mixed results across Africa. African democracy is still a work in progress.

Raila cut his political teeth during the dictatorial rule of President Daniel Arap Moi. Raila backed his father during the fight for control of the opposition main party, National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), against the ailing Kenneth Matiba. Many regarded it as a Gikuyu – Luo tribal supremacy battle that ended with the duo parting ways and unwittingly aided President Moi in bagging the presidency in 1992.

Before that, Raila is believed to have masterminded a failed Air Force military coup d’etat that involved junior military officers of his ethnic tribe, Luo, in 1982. The failed putsch changed Moi, and he became authoritarian to stay in power. The coup instigators who fled to Tanzania were brought back in chains and knew their fate was sealed as those who heard them at the Namanga border crying for mercies. Raila, for his role, spent nine years at Nyayo torture chambers but survived, where his accomplices were tried in a court of law, found guilty, and summarily executed.

After his father died, he attempted to wrestle control of the political party, NARC-Kenya, chaired by his father. Still, he found Kijana Wamalwa, a Luhya, too cunning to elbow out despite the latter’s disarming charm. Raila, feeling disinherited, jumped the ship and formed his political vehicle, the Labour Party, that he had hoped and prayed would fling open the sluice gates heading to the State House.

Raila cut a deal with Moi and joined Kanu with his brigade, hoping Moi would coronate him in the 2002 elections, only to learn that Moi did not trust him for the top job. Raila once again cut his losses and started another political party, the ODM, with all those who were disgruntled and demoralized with Moi preferring the scion of the Kenyatta family, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta to run as Kanu presidential candidate. We know Kibaki triumphed over Uhuru Kenyatta because of Raila’s declaration: “Kibaki tosha“.

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Raila played a crucial role in rewriting the Kenyan constitutional order, leading to its promulgation on August 04th, 2010. There were times when the media asked voters in Luo Nyanza – Raila’s bedrock of support – whether they had read the constitutional draft to make an informed decision when casting their votes in a referendum. Many said Raila had read for them so that they would follow his directive!

Raila may have been a trailblazer but had committed too many blunders that routed his prized ambition: the Kenyan presidency.

What Went Wrong With Baba Amolo?

It is strange, but Baba Amolo Odinga is excellent in mobilization but poor in strategizing. He practised brute force all his life, even where patience, humility, and deal-making attributes were all needed. In most situations, lubricant oil, not a hammer, unscrews a rusty bolt.

Baba Amolo would have been president of Kenya before Mwai Kibaki had he been patient, humble, and a consummate strategist. When Moi anointed Uhuru Kenyatta, he could have swallowed his bloated ego and joined the chorus supporting Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta. Uhuru reign would have ended in 2012, paving the way for the much sought Raila Amolo Odinga presidency, but Raila was not a giraffe, a farseer, as his father once prophesied him to be.

Raila could not read the big picture and think beyond the box. As a result, he passionately resisted Uhuru’s candidature without knowing that unless Uhuru Kenyatta became president in 2002, there was no credible path for him to become one.

Raila supported Mwai Kibaki in 2002 but lacked the patience and humility to support Kibaki in 2007, which was his Waterloo that drove the last nail in his political coffin. His political nemesis, Uhuru Kenyatta, saw a bigger picture and invested his political stakes in Mwai Kibaki’s second presidential bid. Two politicians displayed diametrically opposite leadership skills: Raila was impatient and myopic, while Uhuru Kenyatta was realistic, humble, patient, and an effective dealmaker, which Raila was not.

After the bungled elections in 2007, Raila became a prime minister, breaking a promise to leave that docket to William Samuoi Ruto. Raila’s lack of leadership skills came to the forefront as voters saw a different man than they thought they knew. Raila was an unapologetic bridge burner, firing everybody, questioning his leadership skills and pushing Ruto and his supporters to form another political party.

My analysis leads me to believe if Raila had kept his promise to William Ruto to let him be a Prime Minister and stay out of the polarizing politics of governance. It could have been him, not Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, who would have won the 2012 presidential election. Raila would have been able to keep his coalition intact, and many would not have known his weaknesses as a leader, and they would have jubilantly voted for him into office.

Nyerere’s exemplary leadership of sacrificing the Premier and leaving it to Mfaume Kawawa in January 1962 should have been a lesson in hand for Baba Amollo. Sadly, it was not, as he opted to exalt himself beyond measure, courting the acrimony of the political establishment that eventually conspired to throw a spanner in his presidential juggernaut.

After Uhuru Kenyatta became president in 2012, Raila did not keep his election pledge to the Luhya and the Akamba as his Luo-dominated ODM refused to share the political party subsidy with Kalonzo Musokya political party WIPER and the duet political parties of AMANI of Musalia Mudavadi and FORD-Kenya led by Moses Wetangula. Kalonzo endured the marginalization and the humiliation, but both Mudavadi and Wetangula had seen enough and decamped to the steady hand of William Ruto, dimming any hope of the Raila presidency on a foreseeable future with greying harsh reality seemed to have a final word on that.

Raila was once an Ambassador of the AU but brought Kenyan politics into it, causing a rift with President William Ruto and extraneous leading to his removal. The lingering concern that must occupy decision-makers’ minds is: can Raila leave behind his presidential dreams and lead the AU from the front seat, or will he caricature it into the 2027 presidential campaign machinery? In other words, will Raila ever reform? History suggests he is a poor student of it.

The ball is now in Baba Amolo’s court to prove we know nothing about him! Can he? The clock is chiming, so to speak.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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Antony Wekesa
Antony Wekesa
1 month ago

Narc Kenya was not, is not run by Moses Wetangula. Moses Wetangula is the party leader for Ford Kenya.

Rutashubanyuma Nestory
Rutashubanyuma Nestory
1 month ago

Correction accepted

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