By Makau Mutua Updated Sunday, November 2nd 2014 at 00:00 GMT +3 Share this story: Nairobi; Kenya:
Whenever opposition doyen Raila Odinga sneezes, the side opposite catches a cold. Despite being declared the loser in last year’s election, Mr Odinga remains the centre of gravity of Kenya’s politics. Mr Odinga bestrides Kenya’s political landscape like a colossus — he’s the country’s number one newsmaker. Newspapers and TV stations carry his mug at the drop of a hat. He’s not only the news. He sells them. He’s loved and loathed in equal measure. But not even his most ardent haters can afford to ignore him. Which begs the question — why is the former Lang’ata MP such an intoxicating public figure? Wherefore does his buckets of charm come from? Methinks I know. Let me unravel the man’s mysteries. First, Mr Odinga is the most intriguing public figure in Kenya today. But he’s not an intriguer. In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a character opines thus — “[s]ome men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” Rarely do people hit this trifecta. But Mr Odinga is one of the chosen few for which all three nuggets of wisdom are true. When Mr Odinga plans, his opponents think he’s plotting. When he’s sleeping, his detractors think he’s awake. He flummoxes his foes and unintentionally beguiles his friends. That’s because of his humility. Men with such commanding social and political capital can wield it with caprice. Except he doesn’t. His person and persona are public institutions. Second, he’s the leader of Kenya’s Left. Yes — I know some of you think such a thing doesn’t exist. Or that if it does, Mr Odinga is its chief betrayer. To which I say, chill sisters and brothers. There are germs of the Left and the Right in Kenya’s political history. These germs are carried in the bodies of living human beings. Mr Odinga carries the germs of the Left. So does Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki, and Uhuru Kenyatta hue to the right. Their faction has always ruled Kenya. Mr Odinga’s has only tasted power at the margins. That’s why CJ Mutunga’s ascendancy to the pinnacle is a historical anomaly. Let me tell you why Mr Odinga isn’t the Grinch of the Left. In both liberal and illiberal states, ideological purity is a one-way ticket to political marginalisation. In Kenya, which falls in this category, Left politicians must of necessity be ideologically polygamous. Otherwise, ideological monogamy will consign them to political obscurity. One hand can’t clap. I know it’s unpalatable to many — including me — to see Mr Odinga flanked by former KANU apparatchiks Moses Wetang’ula and Kalonzo Musyoka. But Agwambo has no choice if he wants to craft a plausible coalition. He can’t unilaterally disarm — and foreswear some of the tactics of the Right — because the Left won’t even have a heartbeat. The Left is of necessity contaminated. Third, Mr Odinga has no heir apparent. I know some folks say — tongue-in-cheek — that he must retire from politics. They say he must give way to a younger generation. That’s either silly or mischievous. I hear them saying that they want the mantle of leadership to be given to them — by Mr Odinga — on silver platter. That’s a heap of nonsense. In politics, nothing is given unless you want to be a puppet of the giver. Power must be taken, not doled out like candy. The Odinga naysayers are carrying water — loads of it — for somebody else. They should fight him man-a-mano for the Opposition. They should stop begging and go get it, or shut the hell up. See also: Is ODM in self-destruction? Fourth, Kenya isn’t a one-party state. If either Cord or ODM disintegrate — or Mr Odinga leaves the scene prematurely — Jubilee will stampede over other political minnows. As far as I am concerned, Mr Odinga is the one person holding Jubilee’s feet to the fire. Kenya’s democracy — fledgling as it is — needs Mr Odinga to flourish. I don’t believe for a second that Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka or Cord’s other so-called co-principal Senator Moses Wetang’ula have the cojones to lead an effective Opposition. With due respect, Senator Wetang’ula and Mr Musyoka are in the Opposition for personal convenience, not political conviction. There wasn’t room for them with their ideological kin in Jubilee. But I won’t beat a dead horse. Finally, the truth is that Mr Odinga has one more run to the mountaintop. In 2017, he will — and must — run again for the elusive State House. I have no crystal ball about how that contest will turn out, much less who his chief opponents will be. But I believe he will carry the Opposition’s flag one more time — most likely his last. That’s only fitting. Let Mr Odinga run his last race. Who knows — the fourth time may be a charm.