Raila Odinga

ODM leader Raila Odinga at Ziwani grounds in Nairobi, where he launched Koth Biro tournament on December 4, 2021.

| File | Nation Media Group

Season of politics: Why ‘A Man of the People’ is a crucial read

What you need to know:

  • The battle seems to be shaping between DP William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
  • These two have had an interesting relationship — their friendship went from firm to fluctuating to tragic.

“No one can deny that Chief the Honourable M.A. Nanga, M.P., was the most approachable politician in the country. Whether you asked in the city or in his home village, Anata, they would tell you he was a man of the people”.

These words from A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe remind one of the extents to which the main candidates in the upcoming presidential elections are bending backwards to outdo each other as “a man of the people”.

Impulsive, volatile and capricious, politics bristles like the spikes on a pestered porcupine and, right now, Kenya is bristling. And as the political temperatures rise with deplorable heat, the frontrunners are employing masterly self-portraiture in smooth talk and suave appearance, hiding their claws as a cat does and painting a picture of complete innocence which makes them non-candidates even in a contest to kill ants.

But Niccolò Machiavelli saw beyond all this and wrote in his book, The Prince, that these politicians “use cleverness to befuddle the minds of men”.

Money, power and fame

From Achebe’s A Man of the People, politics changed M. A. Nanga from a simple school teacher to Minister of Culture and a charming man of the people. And like in Kenya, of course, his financial situation changed overnight — this is arguably one of the things that pulls many into politics and the reason they work so hard to be “men of the people”.

As Achebe writes further, the narrator visits the minister’s house and is in awe: “All I can say is that on that first night there was no room in my mind for criticism. I was simply hypnotized by the luxury of the great suite assigned to me. When I lay down in the double bed that seemed to ride on a cushion of air, and switched on that reading lamp and saw all the beautiful furniture… I had to confess that if I were at that moment made a minister I would be most anxious to remain one forever. And maybe I should have thanked God that I wasn't. We ignore man's basic nature if we say, as some critics do, that because a man like Nanga had risen overnight from poverty and insignificance to his present opulence he could be persuaded without much trouble to give it up again and return to his original state. A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body and put on dry clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors all the time”.

It would be unfair to conclude that all people running for MCA, MP, senator, governor or president are doing it for the money, power or fame. There must be people who see those positions as a calling to serve humanity. However, we can’t help but wonder, from what we have seen, how many are genuinely in office or running for office to serve.

On the national scene, when it comes to the battle for being the foremost “man of the people”, the battle seems to be shaping between the Deputy President Dr William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. These two have had an interesting relationship — their friendship went from firm to fluctuating to tragic.

William Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto and Sirisia MP John Waluke during the constituency’s annual sports day at Mayumba Stadium in Bungoma County on December 31, 2021.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Somewhere along the way, there was a break in the chain of their friendship due to whatever cause and effect. With supreme political gifts, great fluency of style and military confidence, they both have a flair for revolution, rabblerousing, braggadocio and a measure of political ruthlessness; when the two go against each other, the result is fireworks.

Both are good political communicators with nervy vehemence of tone even though they elicit a lot of laughter as they call each other names from thief to magician and other epithets in between.

The Deputy President has been flying with the speed and force of a bullet in transit, and with dazzle and brilliance. He seems to be running an insurgent campaign to topple the status quo through what he calls “bottom-up” economic approach that detractors have had fun days with; playing with words to come up with naughty versions of the tagline. The former Prime Minister is rock solid with a great accumulation of losses: his imprisonment that left him with a tearing eye and years of fighting in the trenches for various causes. He still seemingly has support in great swathes of the country. To answer Dr Ruto’s bottom-up economic approach, the former Prime Minister launched his rural transformation blueprint. He said recently that, “Transforming Kenya from a poor to a prosperous country will require a very deliberate focus on turning around the fortunes of rural Kenya. It has been done in other countries. I believe it can be done in Kenya”. 

It’s clear that the Deputy President, the former Prime Minister and other presidential contenders are all gunning for the title of “a man of the people”. Maybe they should all read what Chinua Achebe had to say about that. And Kenyans will also glean a lot of insight by reading A Man of the People with its colourful characters and unpredictable twists and turns of plot. 

May the best man of the people win.