Sunday, January 4, 2015

Raila's demonisation in Kenya, and its root in Islamophobia? Exploitation of ethno-religious factors

In 2014, I had before promised to write something about the demonisation as we call it, of Raila Amollo Odinga who has attempted to be president of Kenya in 2007 and in 2013 and lost the election in both cases. The results of these two elections were contested in different ways. 

Of course there are Kenyans who support Raila Odinga beyond and far beyond his ethnic base. It is not true that no Kikuyus support him. Things are not that simple. But there is a huge wave of tribalism these days that has mainly tended to blind all. 

President Jomo Kenyatta  was a Kenyan Kikuyu, Jaramogi Odinga the father of Raila Odinga are Kenyan Luos. Jaramogi gave way for Kenyatta to become the first Prime Minister of Kenya. Kenyatta I did not work with him much. Instead his assistant was assassinated, that is Pio Gama Pinto, a Kenyan of Goan descent. This happened in 1964. 

"In Nairobi, on February 25, 1965, Pinto was shot at very close range on the driveway while waiting for the gate to open. He was with his daughter in his car at the time of his killing. Kisilu Mutua was arrested for the killing. Kenyans widely believe that he was killed by Kiambu mafia. Pinto became the first Kenyan politician to be assassinated after Independence. At the time of his assassination, Pinto was 38. He was survived by his wife, Emma and his three daughters Linda, Malusha ...

Jomo Kenyatta is the father of Uhuru Kenyatta who is the president of Kenya since 2013 March 04. In Kenyatta's time Tom Mboya was assassinated on July 5 1969. He was a Kenyan Luo. J.M. Kariuki who was a Kikuyu Kenyan was also assassinated during the reign of Kenyatta I. Sadly, there were other losses of lives. The death of Tom Mboya brought became a deep wound and rift between the Luo and the Kikuyu. 

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga remained in politics until his death in 1994. He served as Kenya's Vice President in the sixties but upon disagreeing with Kenyatta politically, left and together with Tom Mboya formed Kenya Peoples Party, leaving Kenyatta and others in KANU.

 Raila Odinga has been a foremost national politician representing a Nairobi constituency made up of all ethnic groups in the past as a Member of Parliament. The area is called Kibra. Sometimes one hears Kenyans today tell him to back to Kibra. In 2013 under the new constitution vying for the office of the president excluded one from trying for Parliament. 

A loss in vote count means one is left without a political position in the Legislature or government. However, one can remain as chair of their political party and Oginga is the Chair of the Orange Democractic Party.  

Raila Odinga is a versatile and vibrant politician who not only gives color to Kenyan politics but also substance. In Moi  president from 1978 to 2002, Raila Odinga was detained and escaped to live in exile in Norway and Germany for a number of years.

He has great admirers for his contribution to democracy in Kenya. His enemies often point out that Kibra is a poor slum, the largest in Afrika and that he should have transformed it by now. 

I worked with young people in Central Province who did not care about ethnicity and supported the Social Democratic Party basing their arguments on issues, nor ethnic groups or persons. At the time, James Orengo was a low profile presidential candidate for this party in 2002. What the different peoples of Kenya think of the politicians from other groups, mainly depends on what the president and the top leaders say and think, how they treat them. 

There has been historical tension often in politics between the Kikuyu and the Luo since the British also divided them. That is not to say that leaders did not count on one another. Harry Thuku, in 1922 believed and wrote about the need for all Kenyan ethnic groups to work together and he went deep into Nyanza to seek support against British rule. We drop points from here and there in history as it is not a linear thing.

What has lacked is profound and sincere consideration of one another as people who can work together for the country putting political expediency in the background. For it is hard to lead a country of 41 Million people or more all of them with a diversities in languages, education, religion and customs. Much wisdom is called for. 

There is no time for insults and jokes in bad taste, an almost playful game that harms and harms endlessly. AND of course opportunities must be shared equally. There are nascent institutions such as the Constitution 2010 that protect all. What is  needed is hard work to implement these. But apparently thinking that way is strange. Politicians will skip along.

In 2002 when Raila Odinga supported Kibaki for president in Kenya, Kibaki being a Kikuyu, I enjoyed very much the kind of unity that was in the air. It was people power. It was a time that victory over Moi in 2002,  made one believe that tribalism, corruption and lacks of certain freedoms which Moi had come to epitomise were all being kicked out. At the time Kibaki won, Uhuru Kenyatta lost. He was Moi's project, the people said. And they were right.

I captured some reactions to Raila's work with Kibaki, which only lasted a few weeks. The two visited Murang'a. A mechanic from there told me in great joy, "We love Raila. If he wanted to be president right now, we would support him, elect him. He has done a great job! He is a real njamba... we love him". 

This joy both against corruption and for unity along tribal lines died an early death. Politicians concentrated on opposing each other on the writing of the new constitution which was an important thing after Moi's departure. He had allowed it only unwillingly. 

At the political level Kibaki He had promised to work with Raila Odinga in a  Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was eschewed after Kibaki won. Then more than ever one heard of Raila as a boy, immature and easy to cheat. But Raila has succeeded at many levels and contributed to Kenya's growth unstintingly. He was a voice for change when many did not dare speak.

Raila was defined for the Gikuyu and other groups of Kenya who practice male circumcision as a boy because he is not 'cut'. The means he is supposed to be immature and not a leader. This is the lowest rung anyone can go to but it swings the thinking of local people. Raila has taken  a lot of flak but this has not helped Kenya. We are fragmented. This is a place politicians must leave and fast. 
Many decry the current hatred fostered along ethnic lines as deeply ingrained and hard to get rid of. There is no leadership against it from most politicians. But we have always cared for one another in the past. We cannot allow everything to divide us and religious and cultural fissures most not be widened. It is most dangerous. 

I received one call I will always remember. It was from Ida Odinga, Raila's wife. She was weeping. She could hardly speak. She was crying after she saw mutilated bodies in morgues after the election of 2007/2008. Some will remember that she announced in those days that she would tour the affected areas and see for herself. She spoke to me about her experience months later, as I stood on Kijabe Street with a friend for almost 15 minutes. All were too silent on the matter. Hers was an outburst of anguish. The cries of a mother and leader.

She did not normally phoned me, but I rang her particularly in December 2008 when activists were arrested in big numbers. On the occassion of her long call, I told my friend I was puzzled not by the call but by the way she emptied her heart. How she wept  and even said her husband should speak out more because she felt that the victims of the violence of 2007/2008 were alone. 

 She was overburdened by the pain of loss and deaths of innocent people. That was in 2009. Luo males were killed and circumcised in death when Kenya went into violence. I am not saying that there were no other deaths. I am just saying that to keep on referring to Raila as a boy in this way is way below a simple dislike for insults. 

By the way, if you follow news from Kenya, I am not writing this because today 04. 01. 2015,  Raila Odinga's first born son Fidel Castro Odinga, 41 has been found dead in mysterious circumstances. Kenya is grieving and feeling tried. Kenya is continuously exhibiting deep seated tribal divisions among the people and the tenor of dealings is getting poorer by the day. Some have used even this event to show hatred but I am sure they are not in the majority. We are wounded and fear that an event like the death of Rwandese politicians in a crash in 1994 could precipitate violence as we continue weakening our ties.

One can read about Raila in many places including in daily Kenyan news, in history books, in the history of detentions in Kenya and exile. There is a book titled Raila Odinga An Enigma in Kenya's Politics, and lately in Flames of Freedom. 

There is also a book written by one of his former employees after losing his job in Raila's office. Peeling Back the Mask published by Gilgamesh Publishers. Here, I will only share what I know and this is not from research but from experience and interactions with others in Kenya.  Raila has taken criticism also from the Gilgamesh Publication well. I have also criticised him in the past.

Long before Kenyans were as polarised as intensely as they are today, along ethnic lines. Long before it was possible to say that there seems to be a religious angle to terror in Kenya and to ask why. Years before talk of Pwani si Kenya  ( planned secession of Mombasa) and all that for those who follow closely, Raila Amollo Odinga was clearly a politician who was well received in the Northern areas of Kenya, in the coastal ones too, as a possible president of Kenya. These were not easy zones. The people did not mind that he was an atheist and when he became Christian He was not rejected. These zones are home to a good majority of Muslim Kenyans.

Raila's support was obvious from the 1990s up to 2007. Clearly he had support from that quarter, maybe even more than I know. But then Odinga's political enemies exploited this using his weaknesses as well as the religious and ethnic vulnerability evident in Kenya. But he was steadfast and hard working. Many know that indeed there could have been something terribly wrong in the results that were released in the last two General Elections in Kenya, 2007 and 2013.

I go back to his integration and success with people from different backgrounds. In 20062005 I was in Garissa when Imam Shee who was traveling to  the town to speak against FGM and explain that Female Genital Mutilation is not a practice based on the Koran died. He had a car accident just outside the town. It was close to the election of 2007.  When Raila received the news, he flew to Garissa and spent a long time with the people condoling them since the funeral was immediate as befits Islamic ways.  I heard many people distinguish Raila among politicians in Kenya when he sat in the sizzling heat of Garissa and listened to the people. They asked if other politicians did not realise they were deeply bereaved.

From what I observed as I had been there on a project to empower women, those who spoke to Raila Odinga greatly trusted him. They wanted time with him alone and when he left, a crowd stood by as his chopper lifted off the ground to wave him goodbye. Everything had tome to a standstill in the town. 

After the 2007 General Election, there was violence in Kenya. It is normally referred to as PEV, or Post Poll Violence. It was due to those contested votes. Raila was already isolated enough to distrust the Kenyan courts. Perhaps there were other options. Normally you hear him blamed for calling for mass action. But he was no among those the ICC found necessary to accuse of crimes against humanity. Uhuru Kenyatta, president and his deputy were. Now Uhuru's case is dismissed. But let me stick to the Islamic connection to point at what I feel is Islamophobic.  

When things were very uncertain during this spate of violence,  I went to a friend in the only place that was open at this time where I could get access to Internet and share ideas with someone. I found a cleric in a church office. I told him my concerns. He like I was very sad for Kenya. He told me that Kenyan bishops were tribally aligned with power. We noticed that but it was terrible to hear it confirmed by an insider. In a while, he whipped out a paper, I thought it was letter from a drawer. He asked me to look at it quickly.

It was supposed to be a letter that was written by Raila Odinga to pledge that he would deliver money to a Muslim before or at some stage during the election. I thought it was too cheap and shabby to believe. It was not a pact. I told the cleric that this looked to me like something anybody could have made up and written. There was no signature. It was argued that he could not have signed such a thing. But the cleric believed in it and found it dirty in content and powerful. He said he, we,  could not trust Raila for that. He had a right to his opinion but this to me smacked of shallowness and even carelessness. This dirty letter had been intercepted from a messenger they said. I looked at it and I said,

"Sir, do you really think that this dirty paper, this promise for money and that Raila is going to deliver it, this unsigned paper is from Raila to someone?"I felt included in something I did not want to even think about. I felt disturbed because the places I refer to meant that such an opinion was definitely being passed on to the faithful. This is still my conviction.
The cleric in question was so convinced that I had to keep quiet. We cut up some materials I had. I went back home and put on sackcloth and began a certain campaign. One to call people together even if briefly to find solutions. I wanted people from different regions of Kenya to join in and call for us to stop widening our differences.

 As I say, for me Rwanda is ever near again with the 1994 genocide, that was enough for Afrika? It had its shocking involvement of the international community, Catholic priests and nuns. I cannot imagine listening to people asking where they were and why many looked on if it were to happen to Kenya. I know too what some people in the different religions think of the others... as almost non entities. We hardly hear of our African dignity anymore our humane ways. Our holding together despite belief in one God.  

So the cleric's mind still disturbs me. Every cleric like this has a perpetual audience every now and then and what they say is revered by their followers. Did we not take this too far? In other words, he was telling me thank goodness that Raila was not elected because he would have supported Muslims. But yes, there had been a Pact to be signed by anyone who wanted to be president to protect some Muslim interests. 

Raila Odinga made his support public in this which he signed. This means it was not going to be something which  he could not do. I understand the current government also did this but did not fulfill its pledge.  This is not proven.

The cleric's approach seemed to me narrow and horribly disturbing. It was at the same level with a relation and some overly faithful people who said and spread that Raila worshipped a snake. I kept asking them where they had seen that but things had changed.
In 2013, other people claimed that Uhuru Kenyatta was the prince chosen by God and Mary and that there was just no way of insisting that he first cleared his name before the International Criminal Court or even thinking of anybody else as a winner.

Raila's gods were being defined with much fear. Honestly, one person I remember almost put every car accident to Raila's imaginary love for bloodshed. It was irrational but it worked on voters terribly well. He was the demon who wanted blood. This message spread through faith was lethal. People look for someone to hang for all evils.

Raila the Communist.  In his case it seemed communism never died. They did not look at his business ventures. What with a son named Fidel Castro Odinga? May he Rest In Peace.

This meant Raila was still dangerous and would be seen as the color red. This fitted well when it came to being seen as one without faith. In the end he had a public baptism in a swimming pool and associated much with Bishop Margaret Wanjiru who had a great but again vulnerable flock, always ready to support her and her choices. Her ministries were mighty. 

But in 2012 some said that the Gilgamesh Publication was sponsored by Raila's enemies in politics. Most of his ardent supporters left him and went to the side which looked stronger. It became almost the fashion to abandon. Some said he did not listen to others and that his leadership was a dynasty since nobody could make it into politics in rural Nyanza if they went against Raila Odinga. But in Nyanza he is the ker. A chosen leader whose choices are hardly questioned. 

I believe that politics of ethnic or clan enclaves must stop to enslave. The times have changed. Isolation is not the way. We are already isolated in many ways, adding it politically at home is opening the door to attacks and catastrophes we cannot handle. 

1885 and the Scramble for Africa is still hurting us. It was the  British that insisted that we were enemies. The Luo were allowed in Nairobi but not the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru. Operation Anvil April 1954. But we cannot always point there. We have to stop creating our devils. We cannot point fingers forever West.  We had to make our own efforts. I think matters have reached a level where individuals have to take responsibility more seriously. I air my opinions as part of that exercise. 

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