Do We Love Or Hate Raila Odinga?

I don’t do politics. Or rather, I don’t do it well. I voted at the very last minute, and I ascribe to being truly Kenyan. I have no tribe. I get pissed whenever my daughter comes home from school with some tribal spew that she picked from a classmate.

Post Election Violence was frightening for me because for the first time, I saw friends judge my by my father’s tribe. I had people approach me in the office trying to get me to pick one side or the other. I had a stranger from *my tribe* walk up to me and talk ish about *that other tribe* in mother tongue. I pretended not to understand, so the Tanzanians watching us assumed that we were from opposing tribes. I guess I looked pretty hostile.

During PEV, I wasn’t in Nairobi. I was in Dar. I watched terrified but safe as CNN and Aljazeera aired the worst of the worst. I blogged about my feelings and received scathing responses. One reader suggested I should stop hiding in comfort, and that I should come back home and fight on the ground instead.

I sent him an email in response. I said it wasn’t his country burning – it was mine. I said he didn’t have family in danger – I did. I said I hoped he never felt as damaged and helpless as I did just then.

Whenever people in the news talk tribally, it shakes me to my core. It makes me remember just how bad things got, and just how bad things are. It shakes me even more that while some people are still living in tents on relief food, others are pretending to be IDPs so they can benefit from handouts. For every 3 genuine cases, there’s some leech trying to get what isn’t his – or hers. I know that’s human nature, but it stings, and it stings deep.

Today, while idling on Twitter, I tweavesdropped an exchange between @Nittzsah and @MisterNV, fellow members of the DR crew. I wondered what it was about, so I followed along to this article. It’s describes Raila Odinga from the writer’s perspective, which I fear is shared by a lot of people.

The writer feels that Raila isn’t serious or important enough to resolve the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. He accuses Raila of political and ideological seasonal migration.

My hands always shake when I read stuff like this, because I fear that it will stoke idle fires. There’s still a lot of misplaced passion in the hearts of many Kenyans, and I’m afraid they’re just waiting for an excuse to let it out. So when I hear statements like this, I curl into a corner and start saying my rosary, and I’m not even Catholic.

I don’t particularly like Raila, but I don’t dislike him either. I understand that it’s a fault in my DNA, because I’ve seen shrines to his holiness in many places, some a lot closer to home than I’d like. I’ve seen family members faint in his presence and jump at any excuse to take pictures with him. I’ve seen him at funerals of my cousins, and watched as the framed mourning pictures were placed on household pedestals, literally.

I saw him at another cousin’s wedding – and watched in disgust as he was ushered by the crowd to sit on the ‘right side.’ My cousin was the groom, and Raila had arrived with a party representing the bride. A little wheedling and vernacular got him sitting in the wrong chair with the right crowd. Yes, it was a tribal thing. You see, Raila had come with the father of the bride, who was a personal friend of his – from another tribe. ‘My people’ convinced him to cross over to the groom’s side and sit among ‘his own’. I almost cried.

So you see, I have no allegiance to the man as a person. I enjoy his jokes and his speeches, and I think he’d have known better than to do a sunset swearing in, but other than that, I have no opinion on the man – which is why I was surprised by my reaction to the article. It was harsh and inflammatory, and vastly inaccurate.

I agree that while I was in Dar watching horrors on the news, I was angry at the man. I knew he had been conned, denied of victory, but I was mad. I knew that his followers are capable of madness. Any idiot who runs at an armed cop holding a stone is NOT mentally okay. People who uproot railways with their hands are very strong … and very amusing … but also very disturbed. Very, very disturbed. To do this in the name of a politician is nothing short of frightening. That kind of devotion cannot be reasoned out, and it can – and does – get people killed.

I didn’t believe for one second that Raila put them up to it. I believe those nutters acted on their own volition, and their action was driven by a fanatical love, the kind from Basic Instinct or Cruel Intentions. Pure, unadulterated nuts.

And then, the worst of the violence wasn’t even in Nyanza – it was in Rift Valley, which is a whole different ball game. The bad blood there goes back to Molo and beyond, and Tom Chlomondeley is just a teaser in the waters. When it came to PEV, both sides were involved, both sides got nasty, and it became a hellish orgy of tit for tat with no way of knowing who threw the first blow. To the people who got hurt, it doesn’t even matter who picked up the first stone.

The real reason  I was mad at Raila is because he knows the power he holds. I honestly believed that if he really wanted to, he could have made it stop. He could have stood upon a podium and said ‘Enough!’ and it would have been. I still believe that.

Earlier today, I read a story that made me smile. It mentioned a church service with seven wedding bans, each of them involving couples from different tribes. I hear stories like that and it warms my heart, because it shows me that 2007-2008 won’t happen ever again. There will be people willing to stop it, or at the very least, willing to try.

But stories like the one that portrays Raila as a butcher don’t help matters. They enrage his supporters, enliven his opposers, and start the whole ugly mess all over again.

If that story had been written by a Kenyan, Lord knows what would have appeared on the news tonight. But the fact that it was written from the outside is – in some ways – infinitely worse. The guy [or girl] who wrote that story truly believed it, and so will lots of people who read it.

The average Kenyan is – I think – hoping to see justice served to the Ocampo 6. Of course there are those who disagree, and a lot of them hold the title of Honourable So-And-So. I refused to be dragged into this debate earlier, but I’m moved enough to give my two cents. What happened after elections was beyond words. We shouldn’t just pretend it didn’t happen. Ocampo’s accusations didn’t come out of the blue. They were backed by research, evidence, and data,  and whoever caused this hurt needs to pay.

But even more than that, we need to get those people back to life, back to homes, back to farms. We can’t have  a nation of refugees within their own borders. That’s insane.

I pause in my ranting to think, to breathe. This all seems like idealistic nonsense, and I’m sure someone will say I should get up and do something about it. Thing is, I’m not sure what. But I do know that as long as people ‘out there’ have that view of people ‘in here’, and people ‘in here’ are only concerned with playing politics, then nobody is really going anywhere.

I started this post asking whether we love Raila or hate him. I think there’s a good number of people that do both. I don’t understand the machinations behind sending him to Cote d’Ivoire. I leave that to sharper minds than mine. But when I read that article today, my heart stopped for a moment as I wondered how the people would react.

In the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of talk on Twitter about revolutions and people thinking someone should just set themselves on fire. I think many times, we do, except we do it with words. I just wish writers with authority would think carefully before they put theirs down.

28 thoughts on “Do We Love Or Hate Raila Odinga?

  1. If you ask me, Raila invited this on himself.

    What mediation experience does he have?

    He was one of the first African leaders to publicly denounce the election results in Ivory Coast and even advocate for military force to oust Mr. Gbagbo.

    And on a personal note:

    Why leave your own country as it grapples with its own issues, to go help another country deal with its own issues?

    • I do agree with some of the sentiments raised here and to some extent I can say that We hate and love him in equal measure. His major weakness is that he’s been a ‘reformist’ (I use that term losely) for so long that even when he’s in government he still has the same thinking, I do know that he’s also erratic in as far as decision making is concerned!

      Having said that the Comment by ISHOULDBEWORKING.. is really in bad taste really speak alot of ignorance on his/her part.

      First of all I’m happy that a Kenyan was elected to mediate in the Ivory Coast political impasse
      Secondly to the best of my understanding he went there to give the AU’s position, Granted he had publicly given his position, but from my diplomacy knowledge there is nothing wrong about having taken a position!
      I however felt that he did not handle the whole debacle well and the worse part is other African leaders of similar thinking to Gbagbo support him case in point Museveni and Angolan president (Forgotten his name).
      One thing I respect about Him (Raila) is that he takes a position and stick with it maybe this Ivory Coast situation being delicate demanded a different approach but in my opinion he just went to give the position of AU that other African leaders may have wanted to give but did not publicly come out to say

      • “from my diplomacy knowledge there is nothing wrong about having taken a position!”

        Did you actually just type that?

        First of all, its mediation. Peace mediation at that. Between two opposing parties. The mediator is meant to be in the middle in order to help both parties reach a common consensus.

        Raila was and still is Pro-Ouattara. He’s made that fact abundantly clear.

        Please dont let your loyalties to Odinga cloud your reasoning. He was unfit for the job from the word go and should have respectfully declined the invitation to mediate in Cote d’Ivoire.

      • Going by your comment shouldn’t we stop calling Raila, a mediator in this situation but just somebody sent there to deliver the AU ‘message/stand’.
        Think of it, Annan and Co. mediated in Kenya with no ‘stand’ and somehow the reconciliation process worked, Zuma is mediating in the Zimbabwe situation while supporting Mugabe obviously his efforts have come to naught, the status quo still holds.

  2. Raila in my opinion is a very savvy politician, what with his populism (though that sometimes irritates me), he has no mediation credentials, none whatsoever…
    I dare say he made the situation in Ivory Coast worse.

  3. People I don’t necessarily love the man. In fact, I’m voting Martha Karua next elections. But you should realize that someone does not appoint themselves as mediator. The AU looked around and they chose him. What was he to do? Refuse? What would have happened if Kofi Annan refused to mediate in Kenya because some people are still mad at him coz he did nothing during Rwandan genocide (google it)?

  4. I hate to be part of the ranting but it is strife we understand Raila didn’t just wake up one morning and too a jet to ivory coast on his own behalf,the reality is he was chosen by the AU not just to mediate but with a stand,an an impossible one per se, which he was obligated to stand by and he did!

  5. Great article, mirrors what the late Wamalwa said about him, he evokes deep fear in his enemies and deep love to his followers. Railaphobes and Raila-addicts. Love him or hate him, Raila is a politician to the core and never pretends to be anything else. He never seats on the fence on anything or any issues under the sun and he is ever forthright. As a human, he has his shortcomings and since he is a public figure they are always magnified and seem grotesque at the very least. Such is the life of a savvy politician like Raila.
    On the Cote d’Ivoire issue, Raila made his stand very early in the crisis and expect more of this from him if the other 15+ elections taking place this year around Africa follow that script. The AU stumbled from the start of the crisis and only said that Gbagbo had to vacate the seat after UN and EU stated that Ouatarra is the duly elected president. AU was leeft with no choice but to follow ques more so since UN was a major player in the elections. By sending Raila, AU was stating its stand as that Raila had taken since there was no African President who had come out strongly to tell Gbagbo to quit. For if there was, Raila would have been the last resort of AU. Either way, its been done and Gbagbo should be going home and Ivorians and Africans elsewhere should not suffer from demigods who think they are the best thing to happen to their country since independence. Unfortunately, this Cote d’Ivoire scenario happens to be Kibaki’s lasting export legacy to tin-pot despots in Africa. What a legacy!

  6. Okay, I’m kinda proud no one has commented on the statement about Raila being conned/denied a victory, but at the same time I’m kinda not okay with that statement. I mean, me and all of Kenya cz we decided afterall to power-share…Secondly, mediation should not be imposed on a couple nor a people and if it is, shouldn’t the couple or the people get to decide who they want to be their mediator, regardless of what the AU think? My two cents, for whatever its worth.

    • I don’t think we really decided. I think we did the Kenyan thing and simply moved on. We’re good at that. We get riled up about stuff for a week, then life goes on. Think about it. Arungamania, Jeff’s drama at CNN, the Ethiopian Maumau guy, Angloleasing, Goldenberg. We get mad, we yell, we move on. It’s the Kenyan way.

      We didn’t question the fairness of the solution, we were just glad to stop fighting and pretend like nothing happened. But I agree with you, I’m glad it hasn’t stoked old animosity. I was worried the post might do that. I wrote it specifically in the hope that the TZG article wouldn’t stir things up again.

  7. I wonder … did Raila accept the position to mediate because three years ago, Raila WAS Ouatarra? And could that be why the AU chose him – because he’s walked in those shoes and knows exactly how they fit?

    • Perhaps that should have been a reason for him to decline the appointment… If one identifies too much with one side, how can they be a successful mediator? And he was a mediator, not an envoy. N’est pas?

  8. Good People! (This is particularly directed at “ishouldbeworking” and “fellowkenyan”)

    Raila was chosen to be AU’s envoy to Cote d’Ivoire.

    I stress again Envoy NOT mediator.

    His job was to convey the AU’s position on the matter not to mediate between Gbagbo and Ouattara. His job was to go there, meet both parties and strongly present the AU’s case to them in a bid to get them to reconsider their respective stances.

    Alot of you seem to be confusing the role of an Envoy compared with that of a Mediator.
    These are two different things, my friends. Envoys are meant to be partial, while Mediators have to be impartial in order to reconcile two or more opposing forces.

  9. You meet Raila quite often. (You must come from the right side of town). The stone throwers haven’t seen him since… well the last referendum.
    On the Cote d’Ivoire issue I think I agree with 3CB. Maybe the AU saw Ouattara in him and thought it fit to send him to represent its position. Lets not forget that in 2007 we also rejected 3people before finally settling on Kofi Annan.

  10. I’d like to through in my two cents as well. I can relate to the author of the article I have seen Raila in different scenarios – public as well as private.
    As a Kenyan I think the coalition govt was the wrong solution, it has left us fractured, just read comments on news items where a major political “decision” has been made with or without “consultation” – fractured.
    In my opinion we put convenience first, we put our way of life first but not our nation. Like the author said if Raila had put this nation first and said lets not have violence, I may not trust the courts, but we are all brothers, there will be another election – the outcome would have been exponentially different. However he didn’t do that, Ouattara didn’t do that, Bagbo didn’t and neither did Kibaki. Who will put their nation before their individual desires.. that is a true leader, everyone else is a pretender, a politician. What we did as a nation (not Raila or Kibaki) was wrong in 08 and its still as wrong today, we have what we wanted – a way to get back to our individualism – which will be our downfall, hence we really don’t want to do anything collectively about the inequality in our nation (the genesis of the problems in the Arab world fyi)
    Before this becomes another article, I challenge you to stand up for what is right, stand up for the truth, don’t walk the middle ground, or give in to someone’s point of view, ideology, because they are more violent than you – while we still have a country. Putting a nation and the lives of people at risk to achieve a political goal is wrong, those are not for any political leader to sacrifice. Al Gore didn’t become president after losing to Bush, but he loves his country he is a patriot. Raila unfortunately has put my nation at risk twice to achieve his dream, that is wrong I don’t consider him a patriot, I don’t believe he loves this country, my country, because if he wanted the best for this nation he would be willing to publicly say that he wants the best for Kenya with or without him “leading” us – which truly puts the choice in our hands – where its supposed to be right? I dare any politician to do that, truly give us as Kenyans the CHOICE!!! not to ram themselves down out throats – we aren’t cattle you know, God wasn’t stupid in giving us FREE WILL. If God gave it to us who are politicians and their goons to take that defining trait of humanity from us? Put the nation before you and you have my allegiance.. my vote. Sorry for the rant

  11. First and foremost i would like to thank the writer for the un-biased view on Raila.
    I think more often than not we base our views from one side of the political kaleidoscope. I am yet to see anyone who has tried to bring out a substantive view from the so called “Raila Psychopaths”
    Why does this man wow crowds? fill up stadiums and command such a great following? but more importantly how is he able to uplift and uproar his massive allegiance?
    Surely the millions of Kenyans who voted and the thousand of people who lost there lives for him cant all be brainwashed psychopaths. When people feel oppressed they lose every sense of order and temperement. From the great Russian revolution to the Civil Movevement in once white America to the post modern Egypt and Tunisia. Kenya is no different.
    Instead of trying to demistify the intrigues of Raila or any other leader for that matter we should look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves what we need to do as a society to foster intergration. As we speak nepotism in our country is rife from the top office to the smallest businesses. your name determines where you work..That for me is the brutal truth .If we can sort out the enigma that is tribalism and nepotism we shall surely thrive in success otherwise we are doomed

  12. Pingback: Raila, Bob and How Broke is Zimbabwe, Really? | Diasporadical

  13. I do trust all the concepts you’ve introduced in your post. They’re really convincing and
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    Could you please extend them a bit from next time?
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