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No one can or will inherit Raila

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President William Ruto (left), Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Kisozi, Uganda, on February 26, 2024.

Photo credit: Pool

Raila Odinga’s declaration of interest in the office of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) has reaffirmed his preeminence as the centre of gravity of Kenya’s politics. A political thunderbolt has hit Kenya. Tectonic plates have moved political landmasses. Jitters have gripped political actors, both significant and nondescript. A political winter, or summer – if you will – is sweeping the land.

In some cases, the center cannot hold – and things are falling apart. There’s both hope and despair, depending upon your geography. As a result, there’s feverish talk about “inheriting” Mr Odinga. Let me be clear. No one – and I mean not a single soul – can inherit Mr Odinga. A GOAT – Greatest of All Time – can’t be inherited.

I understand the anxieties that multitudes of stakeholders feel about Mr Odinga’s probable elevation to the AUC. Mr Odinga bestrides Kenya’s political landscape like a colossus. He’s done so since Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, his late father, exited the scene in 1994. No one else has held such outsize sway in Kenyan politics since then. The only other comparable figures are Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi.

Political dominance

Two other presidents – Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta – were significant players but they did not reach the elevated stratospheres of their predecessors. What makes the duo of the Odingas remarkable is their political dominance without the power of the highest office in the land. That is the textbook definition of a GOAT.

We may never see another enigmatic leader like Mr Odinga. President William Ruto’s political biography is still being curated, and so it would be unfair to judge him. He’s a master political strategist and tactician. That’s why no one should write him off yet. We will have to wait and see how he writes his own political legacy. Mr Odinga remains the dean of Kenyan politics in spite of being out of office. President Ruto has openly acknowledged that he’s the “first son” and a political student of Mr Odinga’s. No compliment can be higher. No matter the outcome of the AUC contest, Mr Odinga’s life’s memoirs in Kenya – and indeed the world – are etched in stone.

I can say without any fear of contradiction that Mr. Odinga is the mentor of virtually every consequential politician in Kenya whether in Azimio, Kenya Kwanza, or other fringe formations. In that sense, virtually every politician in the country owes him. But the reverse is also true.

Mr Odinga as the doyen of politics, has sired political children who need his long cocktails to survive. Many, if not most, could be fish out of water without his patronage and tutelage. I would say more than half the country is wedded to him. His departure for the AUC, therefore, could leave a huge Odinga political orphanage behind. Those who need his political oxygen to survive have panicked. There’s real fright.

It’s normal for beneficiaries, whether of estates or politics, to become discombobulated when faced with an existential moment, which Mr Odinga’s AUC bid is. However, the beauty of democracy is that the next person rises, or falls, usually on merit. So, no one needs to develop an upset stomach simply Mr Odinga is headed atop the AUC. If Mr Odinga has taught you well, as indeed he has, then stand up and fight to become your own person. Children must grow up and stop suckling at the breast of the mother at some point. Grow up!


For those who still need mentorship, Mr Odinga has assured us he will be available in Addis Ababa, a stone’s throw from Nairobi, should he win the election.

Let’s not call a boulder a pebble. Mr Odinga’s departure to the AUC will re-arrange the political deck. This is for sure – the opposition will remain whether in the form of Azimio and its constituent parties, or in some other iteration. Kenya Kwanza will be there. The only question is whether it will metamorphose because of the meteors and gravitational forces in Azimio. Methinks nothing remains ever the same, especially in politics when a boom hits. There’s usually a boomerang. We don’t know how that will look like, but my crystal ball says I should grab my popcorn. In my 2008 book – Kenya’s Quest for Democracy – I showed how new political constellations can form in a nanosecond in Kenya.

I end where I started. No one can, or will, inherit Mr Odinga. Not because it’s heresy, but a political impossibility. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Look at history. No one inherited Mzee Kenyatta, Mr Moi, or Jaramogi. Those who tried failed. GOATS can’t by definition be inherited. They can’t even be succeeded. Stop talking about a Raila Odinga succession. That’s a tautology, a contradiction, an oxymoron, a political nullity. No one can succeed, or inherit, a titan, a legend like Nelson Mandela. One can only make their own place, chart their own path.

In a democracy, there’s no emperor’s stool to inherit, or plant one’s rear.

My advice is – fight it out.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. @makaumutua.