Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reviewing Raila Odinga An Enigma in Kenyan Politics by Babafemi Adesina Badejo

Raila Odinga

Title:  Raila Odinga An Enigma in Kenyan Politics
Author:  Babafemi Adesina Badejo
Publisher: Yintab Books, 2006
Genre: Non-fiction (Biography)
Pages: 367
Reviewer: Manuel Odeny

The Author Babafemi Adesina Badejo, a Nigerian working with The UN in Nairobi in this biography of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga tries to outline the role and contributions of Raila in Kenyan political scene.
On the book’s preface the author acknowledges that Raila Odinga’s social and political life, especially earlier would not only excite Kenyans but also the international audience and political students.

True to the preface 6 years after being published and launched the book is still fresh and elicited wide coverage in Kenyan press especially about the 1982 coup attempt, clamor for multi-party politics in 1990s, NDP-KANU merger which ended Daniel arap Moi totalitarian regime and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with a copy in the appendix,  which collapsed the NARC government.

The desire to write Raila Odinga Am Enigma in Kenyan Politics was born to the author on 15th November 2002, a month after Raila declared Kibaki tosha at Uhuru park.

Raila accepted the author’s requested for his biography on the same date.

Badejo notes;
‘My intention in this work is simple. It is to tell as briefly as possible, the story of politics in Kenya and Raila’s role in them. In effect, it is a desire to write two biographies in one’
Individuals with imprint in Kenyan political history for more than 60 years are Jomo Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Tom Mboya, Daniel arap Moi and Raila Amolo Odinga, making Raila’s biography to be timely.

Making of the young Raila Amolo Odinga

Divided into 22 chapters, Badejo dedicates the first 5 on his upbringing.
In 1945 when a new beginning for the world dawned with an end of WW2 Raila Amolo Odinga was born to Adonijah Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Mary Juma Ng’ong’a on 7th January.

Rayila meaning ‘a nettle sting’ was the second child after Ng’ong’o Molo Oburu (Odinga) and the younger Ngire Omuodo Agola who was jailed in 1983 and died of diabetes.

The young Raila was first inspired by his father in quest for independence while living in Kaloleni estate, Kisumu where he accompanied Jaramogi in many meetings. In one such meeting to Uganda to raise funds for Ofafa Memorial Hall (after Ambrose Ofafa, a Nairobi Kaloleni councilor assassinated by Mau Mau fighters in 1954 ) notes:
‘This and other trips helped me to develop confidence that assisted me when I went abroad at a relatively young age’
Raila attended Kisumu Union Primary School, Maranda school from 1955-62 before joining Herder Institute and University in Magdeburg, Germany where changed from pursuing medicine to engineering. The scholarship was facilitated in 1960 airlift by Jaramogi who used Kwame Nkrumah and Abdel Nasser passports after his was seized by colonialists.

To Germany he passed through independent Tanzania where Julius Nyerere helped with travel documents and Egypt where they demonstrated for Mandela’s release.
The expanse student body shaped his political career by joining student associations and opened Kenya People’s Union offices in Europe. Thinkers like Frantz Fanon, Karl Marx, Kwame Nkrumah, Mao Tsetung, WEB Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Fidel Castro (History Will Absolve Me), Galbraith and Adam Smith too shaped his intellectual.

His father’s detention after forming KPU in 1966 disrupted Raila's PhD program where he come back to Kenya and started lecturing in University of Nairobi department of Mechanical Engineering in 1970.
It's here that he met his wife Ida Betty Odinga, born on 24th August 1950 in Migori to Nehemiah and Rosa Oyoo. Ida graduated with Education Arts in Geography.

Cutting the political teeth
From chapter 6-11 the book  looks at Kenyatta’s repressive government, ban of KPU in 1969, infamous 1982 parliamentary one party coup, 1982 government coup and Raila incarceration by Moi.

A taste of Kenyan politics to Raila was in Kisumu massacre on 25th October 1969 during the opening of New Nyanza General Hospital or Russian, a day after Raila arrived in the country. Kenyattaa used inflammatory remarks which culminated to over 100 deaths, and Jaramogi and Achieng’ Oneko’s detention. 

These incidences lead to Mau Mau era oathing by GEMA and Kamba to keep the presidency in their community.

Prior, tension was high with fresh assassination of CMG Argwings-Kodhek and Tom Mboya in January and July respectively on 1969 (at least they have streets named after them!). And Pio Pinto Gama. JM Kariuki (Nyandarua West MP) followed suit in 1975.

Kenyatta regime's detention facilitated by Mboya and Moi netted Dennis Akumu, Ngugi wa Thiong’o ( for Petals of Blood, 1977), Sharriff Nasir, Ochola Mak’Anyango, Oyangi Mbaja, Opwapo Ogai, Oluande K’Oduol, Rading Omolo, PP Ooko, Caroline Odongo (African American, Jaramogi PA), Bildad Kaggia (Thika MP), Were Olonde, Ochola Achola, Kimani Waiyaki (After Nairobi’s Waiyaki way first, African town clerk), Wasonga Sijeyo, Koigi wa Wamwere, Martin Shikuku, Jean Marie Seroney (Deputy Speaker) and John Keen (Maasai MP) amongst others.

Sharrif Nassir is succinct about Kenyatta’s detention as quoted by Andrew Morton image makeover of Moi in Moi: Making of An African Statesman as saying;
‘You could never talk in front of Kenyattaa. I remember he once called MPs together and told them: ‘if you talk my bird will take you away’…..the terror was such that you were never able to sit down with three people without knowing who was who. You were afraid it might get to Kenyattaa and you would be jailed’
It was these period of detentions that Raila helped KPU, after joining KANU, to run the 1974 and ’79 general election which failed. To succeed surrogates of KPU sucked from KANU were encouraged to seek change.

This period saw radicalization of university student’s politics and raise of academics like, amongst others, Ooko Ooki-Ombaka, Peter Anyang Nyong’o, Oyangi Mbajah, Atieno-Odhiambo, David Mukaru Ng’ng’a, Patrick Sumba, James Orengo, Salim Lone and Mwashengu wa Mwachofi. They wanted to form Kenya African Socialist Alliance (KASA).

Before realizing the dream VP Mwai Kibaki, Nicholas Biwott, Charles Njonjo aided by legal advice of Paul Muite rushed the infamous section 2A constitutional change making Kenya a one party state by a legal fiat.

Koigi wa Wamwere on Sunday Standard of 9th May 2004 noticed this move closed all avenues for change leading to the 1982 coup, he stated:
‘by the 1982 constitutional change, the Kenyan government justified war against itself”
The Kenyan 31st July 1982 coup
Due to controversy surrounding the issue Raila didn’t accept involvement in the coup bringing out Badejo’s marvelous knack of a biographer to piece the story together from newspaper and interviews.

Sparred by marginalization of Luos, poor facilities and fear of another coup by Kambas made james Waore Dianga, Hezekiah Ochuka, Pancras Okumu and Ogidi Obuon from Kenya air force to plan the coup. They made it clear that the new government could be purely military making civilian participants to seek only change.

Raila, Jaramogi, Patrick Sumba and Odongo Langi were the purported civilians who faced detention.
The coup survived shortly forcing Moi to hid in a Maize plantation before it was squashed.

In Raila’s first detention from 11th August 1982 to 5th February 1988, he tactfully implicated Njonjo causing his sucking. The second without trial followed six months later on 14th August 1988 in the newly built infamous Nyayo House torture chambers till 21st June 1989.

The third detention till 21st June 1991 when he was released on health grounds was in the clamor for multi-party politics on the 1990 famous Saba Saba rally at Kamukunji. This also saw incarceration of, amongst other, Alexander Muge, Kenneth Matiba, John Khaminwa, Gitobu Imanyara, John Henry Okullu and Mohammed Ibrahim. 

The author details effect of these detention on family members, business associates especially his wife who lost her job and his young children.

After passing of the multiparty system and the formation of a party, Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) Moi’s government was hell bent on assassination attempt forcing  Raila into exile through a boat ride to Uganda and only came back latter for 1992 general elections campaign.

FORD, NDP-KANU merger and MOU
The Goldenberg scandal rocked FORD when Kamlesh Pattni donated Ksh 2M, tribal internecine wars and the demise of Jaramogi on 20th January 1994 caused disintegration.

This saw Raila buying National Development Party (NDP) from Steven Omondi Oludhe for 0.5M and a used Mercedes, and send the registrar into a spin by showing interest in KENDA and Labour Party. With this and a go getter spirit he resigned from FORD and won the cosmopolitan Lang’ata seat in a risky by- election

When NDP took the third position in 97 elections Raila masterminded a merger with KANU which wanted a majority in the parliament. On its part NDP wanted government’s material support and logistic, and re awake spineless leaders like Kalonzo Musyoka, George Saitoti, Musalia Mudavadi, Katana Ngala amongst others.

Raila’s countered Moi’s use and dump policy when he thought he had the Luo’s vote to pass Uhuru Kenyatta as a candidate. Mark Too who facilitated the merger observed;
‘president Moi underestimated Raila by thinking that the dissolution of the NDP had turned Raila into a lion in a cage that could roar but not kill’
Daniel arap Moi
The walkout from New KANU to form Rainbow Alliance leading to the formation of NARC and later to the degeneration of the first coalition government due to the miss understanding of the MOU discussed in the book.

Badejo too  has shed Raila’s involvement in the protracted struggle  for a new constitution, I have moved from reviewing this area since its still fresh to most readers.

A critique of the book
Raila Odinga An Enigma in Kenyan Politics is a marvelous abridged version of Kenyan political history over the  last 60 years without pedantries written by an outside observer which, honestly, gives the book credibility above tribal bigotry by critics if it were to be written by a Kenyan.

The book’s attempt to cover Raila’s un-scathed life through the political landmines of communism label, ‘dirty politics’ in Luo Nyanza, courage and resilience in bettering Kenya is well done.

Additionally, Badejo’s simple language and knack of narration gives African political challenges from an African perspective in flowing chapters well crafted to carry the reader smoothly across to the end. 

To avoid a construe of all biographies into hero worshipping the author is balanced in a marvelous interview and research although most interviewee’s back tracked  in fear of being associated with Raila, like Moi.
The Book

Worth of note is the unbiased quotation on Raila by different people like Paul Muite’s;
‘Raila is in the same model as people like Hitler….He is somebody who would destroy a country if he sees power…. (he is) determined to seize power by hook or crook. But he must be stopped from seizing power…. He is unelectable and therefore would design short-cuts to grab power’
I will recommend the book to enlighten the reader in Kenyan political landscape.

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