Saturday, 6 July 2013

What do Kenyans owe former Premier Raila by Makau Mutua

I don’t know about you, but I am disgusted by a matter of no small consequence. That’s the degrading abuse President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is meting out to Cord leader Raila Odinga. It’s unbecoming. No — it’s actually primitive.
Equally alarming is the lack of public outcry. Would Kenyans be as meek if the “victims” were former presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki?
Methinks not. Which begs the question — what do Kenyans owe Mr Odinga? What does any country owe its freedom fighters? Why would Kenyans worship distant anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, but allow the Jubilee administration to spit on Mr Odinga, their local liberator?
Don’t argue — Mr Odinga is the closest thing in Kenya to the incomparable “Madiba”.
The snubs and petty assaults by state functionaries on Mr Odinga look innocuous, but they are huge. Let’s sample a few. He’s denied access to VIP lounges at JKIA. And then forced to line up and wait for his baggage at the “hoi polloi” conveyor belt upon arrival from trips abroad. His security detail and guards are withdrawn.
He’s denied pension benefits and VIP perks unless he “retires” from politics. Let’s call a spade what it is — because it’s not a spoon. The State is trying to rub the man’s nose in the dirt. It’s “gratuitous violence,” and a naked assault on the man’s dignity. The question is why? What’s to be gained? Who’s giving these demeaning commands?
I don’t really care for many in the Jubilee crowd who demonise anything Mr Odinga does. Those bloviators and hissing mobs aren’t my concern. I’d like to know what Mr Kenyatta’s role — and DP William Ruto — has been in this sad saga. Is it State policy to humiliate Mr Odinga by “murdering” his spirit? If not, why hasn’t Mr Kenyatta publicly addressed it, and openly reprimanded — if not fired — the complicit factotums?
His silence can only mean one thing — acquiescence, or direct involvement. It seems clear Jubilee ideologues are nervous about Mr Odinga, and have advised he be cut off at the knees. There’s paranoia Mr Odinga is “regrouping” to launch a counter-attack on the fledgling Jubilee administration.
I am convinced that when history is written, it will show that Mr Odinga was the most reformist politician in Kenya’s first 50 years. This is simply an objective fact. Do I think Mr Odinga has been, or is, perfect? Not by any stretch of the imagination.
He’s made many mistakes, some of them serious. But on balance, no other Kenyan politician — alive or dead — can hold the reformist candle to him.
He’s suffered gravely in the vineyards of struggle. He was brutally detained for almost a decade for fighting for democratic change. But he bounced back every time to fight again. Even when he was wronged — as was apparent in the 2007 polls — he put the nation first.
Kenyans know the sacrifices Mr Odinga has made. It’s unarguable Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto are direct beneficiaries of the democratic space Mr Odinga helped create, and which they’ve exploited to attain power.
In John 4:38, the holy book says “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour”. That aptly describes Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto — the duo sits atop a state shaped largely by the yeoman work of Mr Odinga.
Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto have never broken any sweat struggling for reform. That’s why it’s maddening their regime is bent on burying the man who laid the golden egg.
I know most Kenyans see politics from the prism of the tribe. That’s why they can’t see straight. But if they could don national lenses, they’d see that Mr Odinga has no peer in politics. He towers over a field of dwarfs. It’s true he wasn’t always the statesman he is today. I was critical of him when he seemed to be more “Luo” than “Kenyan”.
But that’s a problem he’s long transcended. I was critical when I thought he made certain deals that were either unprincipled, or driven by short-term political gains. And I was critical when he seemed to bargain away certain reformist agendas. But he’s overcome these hurdles. He’s a rare true nationalist among senior leaders.
Let’s put “Railamania” and “Railaphobia” aside and candidly assess the man they call Jakom, or Agwambo. He has the progressive left politics of his famous dad, the late doyen of opposition politics, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. He has the fire of the “people’s millionaire,” the martyred late Nyandarua North MP JM Kariuki. He has the vision of KPU ideologue — and martyr — the late Pio Gama Pinto.
He rekindles the nationalist embers lit by Mau Mau supremo Dedan Kimathi and Nandi chief Koitalel arap Samoei. He has the moral courage of MeKatilili wa Menza, the Giriama anti-colonialist heroine. OK — I won’t fault him for not possessing the clairvoyance of Syokimau, the Kamba priestess who foresaw colonialism. That’s what I call iconic.
So, what do Kenyans owe Mr Odinga? I would suggest that first all regime slights and juvenile taunts of Mr Odinga be stopped pronto. That’s Mr Kenyatta’s duty — the buck stops at his desk. He and Mr Ruto should stop running scared of Mr Odinga. I know Kenyan history well enough to know that successive governments haven’t celebrated reformers.
They’ve been more apt to kill, detain, torture, and persecute democracy champions. This must change — starting now. Kenyans — and the government — owe Mr Odinga respect and reverence, not small-minded, mean, inexplicable assaults.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC. Twitter @makaumutua.

What do Kenyans owe former Premier Raila

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