Passport saga and the crippling contradictions Raila is battling

Azimio leader Raila Odinga and charges D' Affairs Kenya High Commission to Nigeria, Amb. Samuel Mogere

From left: Professor Makau Mutua; Azimio leader Raila Odinga and charges D' Affairs Kenya High Commission to Nigeria, Amb. Samuel Mogere at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on January 29, 2023.

Photo credit: Pool

Mid-last week, Raila Odinga’s passport expired, and he promptly turned up at the State Department for Immigration to renew it.

As a citizen, Odinga is fully within his right to receive government services and hold a valid passport at all times.

A visit to the Immigration Department is not earth-shaking news, indeed it falls firmly within the run of quotidian chores that make up what may fairly be classified unremarkable.

It is the profound ordinariness of this minor civic encounter that makes Odinga’s decision to broadcast it quite remarkable. He took to his social media pages to “thank the agency’s friendly and helpful staff for the reception and timely service”. 

Odinga receives government services on a continuous basis. He is entitled to use the Government VIP lounges at all airports and has a bodyguard assigned to him. Renewing his passport cannot have been a spectacular novelty of such proportions as to justify public effusions of gratitude.

Political discomfort

A likely reason for the publicity of Odinga’s mundane errand has to do with the management of political discomfort. 

Only a day or two earlier, Odinga had led his faithful in denouncing the government, rejecting the results of the 2022 General Election, rejecting UDA policies and demanding the resignation of the government. He also declared that they do not recognise William Ruto as Kenya’s president.

Not only was Odinga’s visit to Immigration inconsistent with his call for a total rejection of the government, but there must also have been a real concern in his entourage that Kenya Kwanza bloggers would ‘leak’ his attendance at government facilities and perhaps facilitate sensational imputations regarding its place, timing and purpose. 

They could even say that he was sneaking by night into the Harambee House to grovel for sundry considerations.

It was, therefore, imperative for Odinga to take full control of the event and possible narrative spin-offs, by leading with a clear statement framing everything in their proper context. That shows that they comprise the persistent normative ambience of his political universe.

As pertains his vehement denunciation of the government as well as purporting to withhold recognition of the president, Odinga is trapped in a fateful predicament with no way out. His categorical rejection of the 2022 General Election underscores this quandary. 

As is now customary, Odinga is the only significant actor in his political galaxy who did not have a good outing in the last election. 

At all times, he is surrounded by ebullient incumbents who triumphed in the general election, emerging as governors, senators and members of the National Assembly.

It is natural for these people to reflexively defend their electoral victory and defend the much-reviled election management body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). 

Eloquently implicit

Their opposition to Odinga’s zealous position in this matter is silent but no less eloquently implicit.

Moreover, Odinga’s party, ODM, has had to participate in engagements that implicitly demand recognition of IEBC’s declaration of election outcomes, on a sustained basis. 

Not only did it have to accept and enforce a formula for the apportionment of nominations to legislative positions both nationally and regionally, ODM had to defend its share of these seats against claims from other Azimio coalition constituent parties, especially Jubilee.

In other words, ODM’s claim to its rightful number of positions is predicated on a premise requiring it to assert the validity of results declared by IEBC, and ipso facto, its legitimacy and credibility in managing the 2022 General Election.

So firm is ODM’s certitude in this matter that Odinga, as its supreme leader, was able to confidently propose persons extremely close to him to take up a place among the number allocated to the party.

Festering rancour

Indeed, the acrimony with which Azimio waged its internecine contest over nominations exposed festering rancour in Azimio and rancid disenchantment within ODM. 

Additionally, it revealed the increasing boldness and stiffening defiance with which that constituency engages its leadership.

This unravelling starkly foregrounded the unprepossessing division of labour within the movement, as between members expected to participate in the political heavy-lifting, and those entitled to the ensuing bounty. 

That the intra-ODM dialectic can be profiled thus signals the unstoppable advent of a new politics that makes discomfort over a visit to Immigration the most self-indulgent of redundancies. 

The contest in ODM is going to entail overdue moral, generational and material agendas with existential implications for the party.

Obviously, Odinga knows all this quite well. His strategic response is underpinned by hope: that a bilious onslaught against the government will distract the teeming malcontents, still their rancour, redirect their animus and buy him time.

Mr Ng’eno is an advocate of the High Court.