BY ISAAC SWILA
Christened the Enigma in Kenyan politics by Nigerian author Babafemi Badejo in his 2006 biography titled “Raila Odinga”, the son of the doyen of opposition politics seems to feel the sweet aroma of the presidency so closer to his nose yet he fails to have a real bite and taste of the delicacy.
At each election cycle beginning with 2007, 2013 and 2017, Raila has come so close yet to so far; and his is a rich narrative that will be written and told for ages for future Kenyan children and students of history.
And like a web in which a spider leaves each morning to seek pastures but retreats to seeking solace every time a danger looms, Odinga, throughout his quest for power has firmly relied on his web – his fanatical support base – to fight his battles every time he feels the wielders of power are up to mischief. This is an art he has perfected so much so that in the last twenty years, he has been the most talked about Kenyan politician.
And in a country where, sadly, the tribe is supreme, many believe that had Mr Odinga belonged to the “right ethnic group”, he would have long attained the presidency – the bride he so much courts.
In retrospect, the liberal thinkers argue that the ethnic card notwithstanding, Mr Odinga has been cheated out of the presidency at last twice due to a system-directed failure of what should otherwise be independent institutions of governance. This school of thought believes that Odinga could have as well had his moment in the sun and handed over the baton of power had Kenya been a mature democracy with functional institutions.
To this cadre of admirers, it is hard to fathom how a man, who draws so much gravitas, aura, has international connection, and a fanatical fan base to boot, has failed to get the cherry for himself.
Flashback to 1997, when he first ran for the presidency on a National Development Party of Kenya (NDP) ticket and came a distant third to 2007 when he challenged Mwai Kibaki to the throne, and in 2013 when he took the battle to the much younger Uhuru Kenyatta, RAO (Raila Amolo Odinga) as he is fondly known has continued to build a huge army of supporters while losing some in the process.
However, even as he enters the twilight of his decorated political life, which has been punctuated by years of fighting for good governance, openness and democracy, he remains a mystery to much .In fact, Mr Odinga invokes hate and love in equal measure.
Apart from that, it seems the fear, if any, has spread across the borders if the conduct and action of the international observer missions in the recently discredited explosive elections on August 8, is anything to go by.
Even before the electoral body could release official results, the international actors particularly, John Kerry, a former US Secretary of State, observing the polls on behalf of the respected Carter Foundation, former South African President Thabo Mbeki representing the African Union, among other heavy weights, gave the bungled polls a clean bill of health while silently calling on RAO to accept the outcome.
Not long after, all other international bodies such as the European Union, Common Wealth and the western powers such as the US and Britain gave the election a thumbs-up – a strong pointer that they were at ease with Uhuru, rather than a new regime under Mr Odinga.
This is a sharp contrast to 2007 and 2013, when the western capitals were believed to be silently vouching for an Odinga presidency.
In fact after the international actors turned a blind eye on the flawed polls, which he “lost”, many wrote him off.
He however stood his ground successfully petitioning the Supreme Court to annul the August 8 presidential election and rendering Uhuru’s “win” useless.
And for that, the daggers are still clearly drawn ahead of the October 26 rematch.
Questions however abound as to whether Odinga, a veteran politician, will this time break the glass ceiling and whether the western capitals and their agencies will be neutral in their game.
But before he can do that, Mr Odinga is seemingly not just up against the system but also a network of international community which is seemly too keen on an extended Kenyatta presidency.
The phobia that Odinga injects in the spine of his detractors seem to have caught up with the foreign powers which just five years ago were accused of vouching for his presidency when Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
But does speculation on the international community’s hard heart towards Odinga hold water? If so, what could be the informing factors?
Odinga’s foot soldier, Samuel Atandi, the newly elected Alego Usonga Member of Parliament argues that the international actors have showed biasness but have been left with egg on their face after the Supreme Court vindicated his party boss.
“The net effect of the ruling left high profile observers including former US Secretary of State John Kerry, former presidents Thabo Mbeki (South Africa) and Ghana’s John Mahama with egg on their faces. The general feeling within Nasa ranks is that John Kerry and particularly the Carter Centre, the African Union missions are not welcome if they will second the same officials who were quick to back a fraudulently elected leadership to monitor the repeat elections,” he says.
The EU, on the other hand, which has particularly come under scathing attack from Odinga’s army of supporters, pressure groups and civil societies, has however put up a brave face, turning the fire instead on the State actors in the run-up to the repeat presidential elections pointing to the unease in which their conduct and outcome of the Court ruling has placed them.
Marietje Schaake, the EU Chief Observer, said: “As with every electoral observation mission the EU conducts, we are committed to impartiality and independence and bound by the EU’s methodology. The persistent criticism of the integrity and neutrality of State institutions has negatively affected confidence in the election. It undermines State institutions’ independence, including the Judiciary, threatens the rule of law, democratic order and effective governance.”
But what informs the uneasiness of an Odinga presidency even on the international front? Erick Irungu, a Political Science and International Relations lecturer at Moi University says that under an Odinga administration, Kenya is likely to realign itself in the international order with a major foreign policy shift.
In fact, Irungu points out that Odinga’s clarion call on the pulling out of Kenyan soldiers from the Amisom in Somalia has rattled the international community as terrorism is today a global threat.
“There is a lot of uncertainty as to what an Odinga presidency portends locally and even in the region. Remember Kenya is a major player in this region and its word holds a lot of weight even on matters security. It is therefore in the interest of the international community to have a candidate who will not just be cooperating but also be seen to be reading from the same script when it comes to fighting terror.”
With Western countries now under severe threat from terror group such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS than before, Kenya in whose soil several attacks have been masterminded by Al-Shabaan, a Somalia based terror group, there is a general feeling amongst the western powers that Kenya must join in on the concerted efforts of weeding out Al-Shabaan and pulling out the Kenyans soldiers from Amisom would not be a wise decision after all.
Odinga, in his high octane rallies has made pulling out the soldiers a top campaign matrix while Mr Kenyatta despite pleas from hurting families of soldiers either wounded or killed in the battlefield has taken a hard stance unequivocally insisting that the solders will be in Somaliland for the long haul.
And in what may be termed as genuine ideological differences between Nasa and Jubilee as far as security is concerned, Mr Odinga and his Nasa brigade maintain that Kenya is better off confronting the terror menace from within than outside.
Apart from security matters and the Al-Shabaab equation, Kenya still has a lingering dispute with Somalia regarding the maritime border dispute.
The latter took the dispute to the United Nation’s top court in 2014, and to date, the matter remains unresolved.
The dispute has been simmering for years, keeping investors away because of the lack of legal clarity over who owns potential offshore oil and gas reserves.
Kenya, which has had troops in southern Somalia since 2011, first as an invading force and then as part of an African Union peacekeeping force, lays claim to a triangle of water stretching for more than 100,000 square kilometres (40,000 square miles) that Mogadishu also claims, and according to some observers, this, as a retaliatory action, formed the Government of Kenya’s decision to close the Daadab Refugee Camp which hosts refugees, mostly of Somali extraction.
As such, an Odinga presidency faces a backlog of assignments in the event he wins and the major players in this sphere are uncertain of what direction his policy may take.
Some observers agree he is one of the most controversial and influential politicians in Africa because of his long history of struggle for political power.
In his political life, Odinga has constantly painted the picture of a Liberal-Social Democrat laying emphasis on solid foundation for wealth creation and economic take off.
This is partly backed by his rigorous work as Minister for Roads and Public Works under the Mwai Kibaki regime, during which major plans for road construction such as the Northern and Southern bypasses were incepted.
Odinga has also promised to address the housing nightmare in major urban centres by ensuring that the rent rates are checked and not arbitrarily increased.
With landlords being the owners of capital in a capitalist economy, questions abound as to whether Odinga will navigate all the hurdles and roadblocks seemingly on his way, locally and on the international front to capture the presidency that he so much desires.
In the region, major political players like long serving Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame – though having taken a wait- and- see approach in these elections– are strongly believed to be uneasy with an Odinga presidency as it will radically tilt the region’s political landscape and economic direction.
Odinga may hasten the integration of the East African Community moreso the economic and political pillar thereby making the EAC a major trade and political block, a development that may not be warmly welcomed in other quarters, particularly the West which still exploits the region in terms of trade.
As to whether the skies will align themselves for the German trained Mechanical Engineer, the jury is still out.