Saturday, May 18, 2013

Open letter to Raila: Don’t accept ‘errand boy’ job

 

By MAKAU MUTUA

No one wants to be described as an “ex so-and-so”. It’s like being called an “ex-husband” or an “ex-wife”. It’s got a bad ring to it.

That’s why I won’t call you an “ex-Prime Minister”. You are much larger than the positions you’ve held. If truth be told, your identity transcends any single state office in Kenya.

Today I want to address some unsettling rumours. They are two-pronged, but amount to the same darn thing

This is their gist – that you should “quit politics” and become an international “errand boy” for the Kenyan state. I’ve heard many cockamamie plots, but none trumps this doozy. You can’t – and shouldn’t – quit politics. This is why.

First, consider the source of the dastardly concoction. It’s been mooted by your opponents who are dying to bury you politically. Ask yourself this question – why are your political assassins so eager to knock you out of the ring?

The answer is staring you in the face – they know that for more than two decades you’ve been the centre of gravity of Kenya’s political left. They believe they can kill the left if they dispatch you from politics.

The Kanu nomenkatura that won the March 4 elections would then triumph completely and rule – as former President Daniel arap Moi “prophesied” – for another 100 years.

They believe you have no heir apparent in Kenya’s progressive politics.

Think about it. Ever since independence in 1964, the Kenyan state has been in the grasp of a rightist, conservative political elite. Your own father – the late opposition doyen Jaramogi Oginga Odinga – was for long the symbol of the left.

But we all know what happened: the rightist faction under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and later President Moi “neutralised” him.

He was persecuted and haunted into oblivion. You inherited his mantle, and have become a worthy “Jaramogist” yourself.

But, and this is the failure of the left, there isn’t an obvious Jaramogist to take over from you. That’s why you must stay in the field of battle – for now. The choice of whether, and when, to abandon politics isn’t yours.

Second, Cord is going to splinter into inchoate pieces if you abandon ship. The party – such as Kenyan parties are wont to be – revolves around you. Cord elected officials will head for the exits as soon as you dump it.

No one in the party – not in the Legislature or the county governors – has the wherewithal to lead the Kenyan left.

Leaving Cord will be tantamount to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Remember Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” taken from the poem “The Second Coming” by W. B Yates. Your departure would be a betrayal. To paraphrase the poem, the “centre won’t hold because mere anarchy will be unleashed upon the world”. This is your historical burden.

You might be the best president Kenya never had. We don’t know how your life’s story will end, or unfold from here going forward. I know you’ve been in the trenches for long.

You’ve got up every time they have knocked you down. You aren’t perfect as you – and we – know only too well. You have stumbled several times.

Progressive instincts

But I am most impressed by your progressive instincts. You led the country in getting rid of Kanu, and you played an outsize role in giving us the new Constitution.

But you’ve been thwarted in your journey to State House every time. Perhaps you are destined to be John the Baptist. If so, find and nurture Kenya’s next “political Jesus”.

Third, I’ve heard that the Jubilee government wants you to be a “Kofi Annan”. That’s hogwash. For one, the Kenyatta regime doesn’t have the international legitimacy to confer on you such a hallowed status.

Mr Annan wasn’t appointed as a “statesman” by any government. He’s an international elder because, as UN Secretary-General, he was widely admired and respected.

There are only a handful of former political greats – like Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama – who occupy such lofty perches.

How would you acquire such a status as an appointee of a head of state who is indicted for crimes against humanity? This is a poisoned chalice from which you shouldn’t drink. It’s a fool’s errand – an “appointment” to “nowhere”.

Fourth, don’t cut the legs from under yourself. I know the traumatic events of March 4 – with the finality of the Supreme Court decision on the election petition – weigh heavily on you. That’s true for all men and women of conscience. Your future isn’t like instant coffee – take the time to map it out. Life, as you know, isn’t a sprint, but a marathon.

What’s up today could be down tomorrow. That’s the single most important enduring lesson of history. The Book of Mathew in 20:16 says that “so the first will be last, and the last will be first”. The struggle for the freedom of the downtrodden hasn’t been in vain. That’s why you must hang in there.

Finally, don’t listen to those who want to read your “political eulogy”. Some people even say that you can’t run for President in five years because you are too old. That’s also baloney. Mr Kibaki was 71 when he was first elected to State House in 2002.

He was re-elected for a final five-year term at 76 and retired this year at 81. You should plan on running in 2017. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who is about your age – is touted as the leading nominee for the Democratic Party in 2016.

Damn the question of age.

Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC. Twitter @makaumutua.

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