Raila’s yo-yo year in politics

2017 will go down as another year of should haves, would haves and could haves for Opposition leader Raila Odinga.

If all went his way, his speech writers would be busy preparing his inaugural end year State of the Nation address, perhaps from the very spot, on that aged, breeze-kissed ballroom in State House Mombasa.

However though, fate has it that he will, for the umpteenth time, send a message of best wishes again as Opposition leader in a year that promised so much and delivered, yet again, so little for Raila.

But was the writing on the wall for the political leader from the word go?

Political pundits had predicted that a Raila presidency was the hardest thing to pull off in a year of political wars. For one, he was the candidate, according to some, most likely to be beaten by the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.

His challenge, they argued, held no surprises. Neither was his response to the electoral process. Every move could be anticipated, they argued. And they did. Kenyatta and Ruto incessantly talked about Raila’s inability to concede defeat in an election and his crying wolf after every time.

The Opposition leader ran a predictable campaign, surrounded by the same individuals that have run his campaigns over the years. While a lot arguably changes in his opponents camp, little in Camp Odinga changed.

The year has not all been dark for the second liberation hero. For the first time in the history of the country, he got an election of a sitting president overturned due to irregularities and illegalities in the electoral process.

The temporary reprieve was however short-lived; the second chance given to the National Super Alliance, of which he is the leader, to go for another stab at the presidency, another chance at the polls, another chance that would see Raila sit as the head of a nation he has fought and bled for for decades, was never to be.

Days to the election, Raila pulled out of the polls claiming that the Government was yet to meet his demands of irreducible minimums for NASA to take part. By that time, Raila — an agitator par excellence — was in his element. For a fleeting moment it seemed he held the revolver to his opponent’s head.

The political scene resembled a tense game of Russian Roulette and after five tries, it was Jubilee’s turn to put the muzzle on their head knowing very well that there had been five previous attempts and a pull of the trigger of the six-chamber revolver would surely end the game, handing victory to Raila.

Kenyan politics is like a night at the cirque du soleil. The more things seem obvious, the more they become complicated. Before Raila lapped in his victory, Jubilee pulled a rabbit out of their multi-coloured hat in a Kiini Macho, Johny Rodriguez moment. The quagmire that Odinga hoped would be created with his pulling out of the polls became an anti-climax.

The IEBC, in what looked like a conspiracy with the Judiciary, ruled that the other presidential contenders were free to contest the fresh elections as ordered by the courts. Only Raila said he would keep off. To make it worse, the electoral body said he had not formally withdrawn his candidature, thus his name still appeared on the ballot and as far as they were concerned, he would participate in the polls.


An interview with Raila Odinga at his residence. The leader of opposition has had mixed fortune in a year that was meant to be his. PHOTO/ Elvis Ogina

Never one to throw in the towel even when the blows are coming in hard and fast, Raila retreated to his corner after calling the October 26 elections a fraud, and while on his stool, fanned by his able corner men — his co-principals and lieutenants — he went back into the ring.

Knowing he was behind on points, he went in looking for a knockout. He just had to time his punch right.

His boycotting the election was a body shot, but the success at which his supporters stayed away was a straight punch to Kenyatta’s jaw. But, like many challengers to the title, he under-estimated the will of the champion.

So as he huffed and puffed and threw in all his combinations, the champion did the rope-a-dope, danced around the ring prepared to go the full 12 rounds.

The declaration of Kenyatta as the validly elected president of Kenya sounded the bell for the last round in the 2017 duel between the two party leaders.

In response, Raila, like a fighter enraged, stepped to the centre of the ring, arms raised high, talking up his chances of landing the final blow. For him, after 11 rounds of feeding each other leather, he would take nothing short of a victory. The only way he would leave the ring on the fight night was with the championship belt around his waist.

If the referee wouldn’t give it to him, he said, he would take it. The crowd, always rooting for the underdog got sold on this. In their eyes, Raila was the people’s champion. They wanted to see him with the belt.

They cheered him on, for one last round to claim the title.

Finally, the referee came to the centre of the ring. The fighters came out, touched gloves for one last time, blood in their eyes, each spurred on by roaring crowds.

Then, uncharacteristically, the Raila corner introduced a new rule. They called for a time out. Their fans continue to wait for the final blow that will, hopefully, deliver the title. Trouble is, the opponent is no longer in the ring.

*Story originally published in the Sunday Standard.

Photo credits: Elvis Ogina.

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