For centuries, great leaders have always transformed the lives of their people. From biblical times to the two World War eras, a number of men and women have stood out for their bravery and charisma.
In Kenya, we have had our own legion of leaders, some great and yet some not so great. With millions of Kenyans battling with poverty and servitude, political rhetoric counts almost for nothing to the men, women and children whose stomachs growl from pangs of hunger.
Very few men and women in Kenya have, through their actions, impacted positively on the lives of their fellow citizens. As I stated in my last article, nationalists such as Thomas Joseph Mboya and Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano were some of these great Kenyans.
From the late 1950s to the early 1960s, Mboya and Kiano launched academic airlifts of Kenyan students to the United States of America, whose impact is still felt across the globe today.
By organising the airlifts and scholarships for young men and women to study in America, these two politicians built a strong foundation of leadership for a young nation that was in the midst of a struggle to shake off the shackles of colonialism.
Many years after Mboya exited the world through an assassin’s bullet in 1969 and Kiano from heart attack, several decades later, one great leader stands out today: Raila Amollo Odinga of ODM. Like his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga before him, he straddles the four corners of our republic like a colossus. However, many argue that the younger Odinga’s greatness has nothing to do with success in transforming the lives of his fellow Kenyans.
But many criticise this leader only in whispers. They have to look over their shoulders in fear and anxiety. They say, while throwing frightened glances in all directions, that opposition leader Raila Odinga, unlike Mboya, “receives more than he gives”.
A friend once told me: “We, Luos, believe that Raila has thuol (a snake) in his pocket. He, therefore, cannot give you from his pocket lest the snake bites his hand”.
Thus lies the biggest challenge to those who support Mr Odinga’s relentless quest for the presidency. He is, no doubt, one of the most charismatic politicians Kenya has ever known.
He commands a fanatical following and his influence across generations, ethnicities and political affiliations, is not in question. However, those who question his development record argue that he has squandered too many opportunities to use his massive influence to ensure that his followers grow wealthy and have access to basic needs such as water, food, shelter, and healthcare.
His influence and firm grip on the voters in his old Lang’ata constituency, especially Kibera, in Nairobi, borders on deity. Kibera has seen some of the most violent anti-government protests. Horrific scenes took place in the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
Some argue that if Mr Odinga was, indeed, a great leader, he would have pulled strings to ensure that roads within Kibera are fixed; electricity and piped water are accessed by residents; healthcare provided and crime tamed. All he needed to do, like Mboya before him, was call upon a host of his wealthy supporters locally and globally.
Even his Cord co-principal, Mr Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, seems to be miles ahead of him in matters development. In August last year, Mr Musyoka was awarded the African Dignity Man of the Year award by the US-based We Care for Humanity organisation.
He was recognised for his efforts in bringing peace to South Sudan and for educating more than 2,000 needy and vulnerable students through the Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation. Yet Mr Musyoka, unlike Mr Odinga, grew up in poverty.
One would, therefore ask what Mr Odinga hopes to achieve at the national level in terms of development. How does he intend to galvanise the support and resources at his disposal to turn around the national development agenda and expedite the achievement of Vision 2030?
Would he accept constructive criticism? Mr Odinga must prove his critics wrong by turning his pockets inside-out to show that he has only good intentions for Kenya and that he carries no deadly snake on his person.
Masika Wambilianga is a commentator on social and political issues.