A number of us leaders in the Mt Kenya region have recently come under attack for supporting former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s bid to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Our right to support an aspirant of our choice is being treated with contempt, with a rival aspirant – who claims to be the leader of the region – going to the extent of disregarding our existence and that of the President.
The attacks have targeted governors in the region, an overwhelming majority of whom support Raila’s bid.
Those attacking us fail to appreciate that our backing is not based on blind sycophancy. Rather, it is based on solid, rational considerations.
We appreciate and are impressed by Raila’s pragmatism. He supported President Uhuru Kenyatta at a crucial juncture, when political instability threatened economic growth.
We also appreciate that Raila has always deployed the “handshake” as a tool for peace-making. He shook hands with President Daniel arap Moi against all expectations and repeated the same feat with President Mwai Kibaki in 2006 to restore peace against the wishes of hardliners in his camp.
Then, in March 2018, he shook hands with President Kenyatta, restoring much-needed stability. The common theme in these “Handshakes” is the desire to save the country from going over the brink. But even long before the era of the “Handshakes”, Raila was still contributing to political reforms. He has played a major role in advancing the course of democracy but, unknown to most people, in Kenya’s economic transformation too.
While Raila is a fallible human being like the rest of us, he stands out when his contribution to Kenya’s transformation is evaluated objectively.
Historians will accord him a central place in Kenya’s democratisation. This is an irrefutable fact.
Raila ranks with the likes of Kenneth Matiba, Koigi wa Wamwere, George Anyona, Charles Rubia, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Gitobu Imanyara and other heroes of the second liberation to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for fighting for political reforms when some of the current presidential aspirants were propping up the status quo.
It should not be forgotten that Raila paid a great personal cost for fighting for a better Kenya. He was detained for nine years. To put it differently, Raila was in prison for the exact same number of years William Ruto has been Deputy President.
Unfortunately, most of us have tended to see Raila through the prism of propaganda sold by his political opponents. Raila has in the past been portrayed by his opponents as a rabble-rouser, a trouble maker and a political monster. This portrayal has stuck in some people’s minds but now the veil is being removed, sometimes by the very people who depicted him negatively.
As a former lawmaker who served with him in Parliament and as former chairperson of the National Transport and Safety Authority, I am familiar with his contribution to laying the foundation for the current expansion of infrastructure.
It is, however, over the past few months that I have really interacted with Raila more closely. What I find most intriguing is that he is very different from his public image. I have come to realise that Raila is actually a humble, unassuming, approachable leader who has a good grasp of ordinary life and the challenges facing the nation.
More importantly, I have noted that he takes time to listen and accommodate good advice. As Mt Kenya leaders, we have told him our views and our regional interests and it is clear he understands them. In any case, he has demonstrated support of our pursuit of fair representation, allocation of resources and the war on corruption.
Views on cohesion
As the governor of a cosmopolitan county, I have shared with him my views on cohesion.
Raila is clearly not what we grew up thinking he was. He is at that place in life where legacy is more important than personal ambition.
I have come to the conclusion that for Raila, the presidency is no longer a trophy to be collected and placed on the mantelpiece in his house.
He has taken such a long time to announce his presidential bid this time round because the presidency is no longer personally important to him but he is doing this for his legacy while others may want the position for reasons linked directly to personal ambition.
This is why I keep saying that I may not have voted for him in the past six elections, but I will vote for him in 2022.
It is unlikely that Raila, who spent his life fighting for democracy and a better Kenya, would take us backward.
The writer is the Governor of Nakuru County.