Kenyan politics are personality based. The talk of a great leader losing their dignity because of taking an elective position is just hot air being blown by political enemies of one Raila Odinga. The strategy has been executed so well that many of Raila’s supporters have adopted the version. The truth is Kenyans elevate or lower a position depending on who is seated there. If a criminal is in a position that was hitherto held in high regard, the seat becomes less significant. Raila has always had the ability to transform the positions occupied in line with the personality based politics. In when he became energy minister and secretary general of Kanu in 2002, the respective positions received greater attention than at any point in history. As a matter of fact, during his tenure as secretary general of Kanu, the position glowed only in a manner comparable to Tom Mboya’s time as secretary general of Kanu decades ago. As minister for roads, public works and housing, the ministry still glowed. Attempts by Kibaki to weaken the position by taking away the public works and housing divisions from his ministry had no effect. The ministry of roads still glowed. When he left government and joined the opposition after the 2005 referendum, prestige of being a parliamentarian shifted to the opposition benches. He held no position in the opposition yet he was regarded as the de facto opposition leader. This was despite the status-quo oriented Uhuru was the head of official opposition at the time. The past is the best indicator for the future and those supporters of Raila who believe that being in parliament would diminish him could not be more mistaken. Raila has always managed to give positions held by him greater significance. He will certainly do the same with parliament.
There’s another reason why Raila should re-enter parliament: influencing the location of the battle field. Uhuru lost the election miserably despite having immense support from Kikuyu and Kalenjin voters. Had it not been the intervention of ghosts, he’d not be president today. That’s beside the point. The essence of influencing the location of the battle field is that one gets to put their rivals on the defence rather than giving them a chance to go on an all out attack. Any good soccer commentator will tell you that the team that concentrates more on defence tends to lose. It is the attacking team that often wins. The USA wins against terrorist because it never allows the battle to be fought on US soil. They are in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, South Korea, and even in Somalia albeit through proxy. The casualties are always greater when the battle is fought at home. Applying this to the Kenya situation, Uhuru is a man with state power but little public support. 6 out of 8 regions voted decisively against him even though he managed to create a miracle to garner a majority for his alliance in the legislature. He’d want to go out there and move the public to his side. If he gave this endeavour his full attention, there’s always the slim possibility that he could succeed. However, if his attention is divided, he’d not be able to do this.
The rationale for this thinking is that even though Uhuru may boast of a strong jubilee parliament, the only allegiance he can take to the bank is that from legislators in his tribe. Raila has constantly taken the position of defending marginalised groups and other communities considered as “second class” in Kenya and sooner or later, many of the jubilee MPs will have to choose between their people and Uhuru Kenyatta. Your guess is as good as mine on that, but I can understand why Uhuru would be jittery on that. That is why he uses his well oiled network to put pressure on Raila to retire or at the very least lead from outside parliament. Raila’s detractors are jittery about his entry into parliament because they know that all that is needed is a strong leader in parliament and the inter-party lines will collapse. This will get legislators to begin speaking in one voice (at least the clear majority of them) and they’ll do their duty in checking the executive as expected. Of course Uhuru’s counter would be to try and use to use jubilee speaker and deputy speaker as well as committee heads to reduce Raila into being an ‘ordinary MP’. But your strategy works only if your rival reacts as you expect him to. The success of this muzzling will only depend on how CORD counters.
By shifting the struggle to control over who controls parliament, attention is shifted away from the 6 regions in Kenya that Raila has a firm control over. Besides, it must not be lost to Kenyans that MPs are obsessed with power and easily affected by their fragile egos. An MP will only listen to a person he considers to be his senior. As currently constituted, there are no acknowledged seniors in the house. The MPs are like sheep without a shepherd. The persons granted the opportunity to be shepherds are nothing short of being fellow sheep and therefore not warranting any consideration. The situation changes with Raila in parliament and Uhuru can only count on the undying allegiance of his tribesmen. All other legislators are out for grabs and the only way that Uhuru will manage to keep them will be by ensuring that he serves the country well. Legislators are not the public. The public has a memory shorter than the warthog, but legislators have long memory and any agitation will never go unpunished for as long as there is a strong leader to inspire the legislators to crack the whip. This means that Raila can ensure jubilee government delivers by simply being seated in parliament. This is why Kenyans need Raila in parliament.
The entry of Raila into parliament will not diminish his stature. Instead, it will elevate the significance of parliament. When the person commanding the clear majority in the country is a legislator, the people will look up to the legislature for future directions. This is a threat to the authority of Uhuru Kenyatta and that’s why there’s a coordinated campaign. Leading from outside is a venture that requires lots of media attention and immense creativity. Creativity is Raila’s domain. However, there are questions on whether he can get as much media attention as he’d need to lead from outside the house. We all know who owns the media in Kenya. A single call from the criminals and people are given a blackout. We all witnessed the partisan manner in which the Kenyan media behaved during the elections. CORD supporters had to switch to Aljazeera, CNN and BBC just to know what their leader thinks when the media was ranting on and on about irrelevant content on criminals. If you think the script cannot be replayed, you’re mistaken. Raila is a brand that cannot be suppressed but the cost of maintaining it will grow as days go and Kenyans begin to forget the disappointments of the elections. The hype about Raila being bigger than parliament will then be replaced by a cold reality that the Kenyan leader will not be having a platform through which to defend his people; and I can bet the criminals will spare no effort to make this prediction come true. A wise man makes hay while the sun shines. Raila must enter parliament and do his thing in there. That will make his work easier. The best war is one that is won without engaging arms; and being in parliament allows Raila to win this war with minimal ammunition.