Why is Prime Minister Raila Odinga keen on “dancing” with former President Daniel arap Moi? My gut — and brains — tells me it’s a very bad idea.
But politics is neither rational, nor emotional. It’s about expediency. That’s where principle goes out of the window. This is the reason moral and political “purists” never get into the “mud of politics”.
But, in a democracy, the top priority of politicians is to win elections. That’s why every vote — especially in the opponent’s turf — must be wooed.
Does this mean Mr Odinga must lie in bed with Mr Moi? I am revolted by the mere thought. I will tell you why — and why not — the PM would be unwise to dine with Mr Moi.
I will lead with the case for coddling Mr Moi. First, Mr Odinga has been outmanoeuvred by Eldoret North MP William Ruto among the Kalenjin.
I know that my Kalenjin brethren and sistren are not an unthinking monolith. Quite the contrary we have the history to prove it.
They produced dissenters during Kanu’s despotic rule. None were more prominent than the former Eldoret North MP Chelagat Mutai and the late Tinderet MP Jean-Marie Seroney.
Mr Odinga is a “splitist” who is playing on “internal” Kalenjin differences to win a large chunk of their vote.
He wants to “split” the Kalenjin along the Ruto-Moi rift. He believes Mr Moi will work with him to “kill” Mr Ruto’s stranglehold over the Kalenjin.
But can the Kalenjin be put asunder along this divide? The chances are only good if Mr Ruto is bound for trial at The Hague.
It will be easier to lure away Mr Ruto’s supporters if he’s “sequestered” at The Hague. Mr Moi can then — with Mr Odinga’s charisma — recapture his place as the Kalenjin kingpin.
That’s because there is no other Kalenjin who can take Mr Ruto’s place. The Kalenjin might figure that Mr Odinga — who they christened arap Mibei when they were solidly in ODM — is better than the devil they don’t know.
But this plot will turn out to be a fool’s errand if Mr Ruto beats the confirmation charges at The Hague.
Second, it would be foolhardy for Mr Odinga to sit by idly and concede one of the largest troves of votes. He wants to be the president of all Kenyans.
That’s why he simply can’t give up on the Kalenjin. This would be devastating especially if there was a runoff.
You can bet that Mr Odinga knows that Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka wants Mr Moi and the Kalenjin in his column.
That’s why Mr Odinga has snatched Mr Moi to deny Mr Musyoka a crucial ally.
But you can bet that the man from Tseikuru — Mr Moi’s political pupil — will fight hard to get “daddy” back. My take is that Mr Moi will go with the winner.
Third, the Kalenjin elite are not used to being out of power. The evidence is in their “troubled” behaviour during President Mwai Kibaki’s reign.
That’s why they supported Mr Odinga and ODM in 2007. They believed that Mr Kibaki’s regime had victimised them, and that Mr Odinga would bring them out of the political cold.
But Mr Ruto turned the Kalenjin against Mr Odinga. But the Kalenjin may calculate that Mr Odinga could emerge the winner in 2012.
This could be their chance to partner with Mr Odinga in the inner sanctum of power. This is a likely scenario if Mr Ruto and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta are at The Hague.
Let me now pivot to why Mr Odinga shouldn’t woo Mr Moi. First, Mr Moi is passé. He’s not the future.
Why, then, would Mr Odinga, a man who wears the mantle of reformer, reach back to resuscitate Kenya’s last dictator?
It’s a fact of history — which even former Moi cronies acknowledge — that he ruinously led the country for a painful 24 years.
Mr Odinga was Moi’s victim, as was his father, the late opposition doyen Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Kenya is littered with Mr Moi’s victims.
Is this the man that Mr Odinga should be courting? Should reformers worry that an Odinga administration will be more status quo, and less reformist?
Second, should we worry that Mr Odinga will be captured by ancient regime elements? If so, should reformers leave his side and launch their bid for the State House? This isn’t an idle question.
If we want to transform Kenya — and break up tribal voting patterns — how can we do so if folks like Mr Odinga strategise along tribal lines?
Ethnic math has governed politics to date. Shouldn’t Mr Odinga reject the tribal calculus and turn the 2012 elections into a contest of issues?
If so, on what important national issues would a reformer agree with Mr Moi?
Can’t think of any
For one, I can’t think of any. That’s why Mr Odinga ought to think hard and long before embracing Mr Moi.
Finally, I know Chief Justice Willy Mutunga was vilified when he recently met Mr Moi. The CJ bristled at the criticism. He argued that Kenyans shouldn’t tell him which citizens to meet.
I think he’s right, but he also knows that many Kenyans, especially Mr Moi’s victims, are still bitter. They are bitter because they’ve been denied justice for the wrongs committed against them.
Like the Chief Justice, Mr Odinga can meet any Kenyan. But it’s quite another matter to form a common political project with a person of Mr Moi’s legacy and infamy.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.