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I am not dying to be president

By Andrew M. Mwenda

Former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga spoke to The Independent’sAndrew Mwenda about life after losing the presidential election.

You are no longer in Parliament, no longer a prime minister, are we seeing the last of Raila Odinga the politician?

Raila Odinga the politician is still around but we should remember that politics is not only about elective Positions. It’s a way of life. It’s about working with and serving people. I was first elected to parliament in 1992, but before that I was in detention three times for a period of over eight years.


Even then, although I was not in elective politics, I was in a political struggle. I am still a leader of the largest political party; the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). And the ODM is in a coalition with other parties, which together form the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD).

We have 135 members in the National Assembly and 27 members in the senate. So we are still a very active and vibrant movement. My role is to continue organising our coalition. I am right now also engaged in writing a book- my autobiography. It should be coming out in the next two months.

So, should we brace ourselves for another ‘Still Not Yet Uhuru?’

No, no, (laughs heartily). We are talking of a movement that is progressing. Today it’s like a torch being handed over as we strive to realise the dreams of our nation’s founders as heard in the words of our anthem; ‘A land that is blessed, with Justice as the Shield and defender. We live in Unity, Peace and Liberty.’ That is the Kenyan dream.

So are you organising ODM in preparation to run for Presidency in the next election?

Not really. ODM is a movement with a particular objective. It is timeless. If you look at the Labour Party in the UK or the Democratic Party or even the Republican Party both in USA, they have stayed for hundreds of years, with or without power.

Power comes and goes, but such parties remain. I was recently in the UK, and I met former Prime Minister Gordon Brown the Leader of Labour Party. He is still a formidable member of the House of Commons. So am not doing whatever I am doing so as to run for President. The history of our country has always been dominated by two forces; one for the mentainance of the status quo and the other for change.

So where do you belong?

Change. The aim of Independence is yet to be attained. Once colonialism was defeated, the movement split between those who wanted to capture power and to maintain it the way it was and those who stood for change.

Your father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, stood for Change while Uhuru’s father, Jommo Kenyatta, stood for maintenance of the status quo. But there are claims you have also become trapped by the fortunes of Kenyan Politics. Your family, like the other Kenyan political families is a very wealthy political aristocracy, and the distinction of the 1960s has been eroded.

People tend to think that progressive politics means poverty.  On the contrary, progressive politics should reflect prosperity. The question is how that prosperity shared in society? There are those who just flaunt the figures; the economy is growing at 7 or 10 percent, but then you find there is a big gap between the haves and the have-nots that continues to widen. Others ask that as the society becomes more affluent, there should be more people coming from the bracket of poverty, to that of affluence. That is where we differ.

I thought the argument should be about creating an equal enabling environment for success, and not the government determining who will win. Which the Kibaki government did, and which the Uhuru government continues to advance. Do you disagree?

We differ in this manner. In a laissez-faire economy, where the only forces at play are those of demand and supply, there must be a deliberate government intervention to cushion the extremely poor against the vagaries of market forces.

So what are these interventions that ODM has been thinking about?

We looked at India, where the society is profiled and the poor are given special coupons to access special shops, which they call fair price shops. We also looked at Brazil; basically a cash transfer system where the urban poor are given cash to purchase basic necessities.

We opted for the Brazilian programme, but ultimately, the status quo rejected it. I then liaised with the Japanese government, to carry it out on an experimental basis. We started in Mombasa and it was supposed to move to Nairobi and Kisumu. The programme is one and a half years old. This can help the urban poor access decent housing and food.

But now that you have a sizeable number of MPs, can’t you use them for such policies to sail through even when you are not President?

Ultimately, it will still end with the executive because Parliament cannot run government. They have more numbers in the House. And they have their own manifesto to implement.

You claim your programme benefitted the majority poor, how come they voted for Uhuru and not you?

I really wouldn’t want to go back there, because I have said it a number of times. Officially, I got 5.43 million votes; that is half of Kenyans that went to the polls. So, it isn’t true that Kenyans voted against me. And that is assuming that the figures by the electoral commission were right. But that was also contested, we went to court, and you know what happened. We no longer talk about that now.

Twice, you have run for president, in 2007, many people believe you won the election but you were rigged out, and in 2013, you came close again. How does it feel to be robbed of victory?

That is why am struggling for more reforms. I think that multiparty politics will continue to be completely meaningless if people campaign and at the end, results are manipulated. It becomes a real sham. And as usual you will see congratulatory messages to Uncle Bob (Robert Mugabe). That is a complete farce. It shows how far we are from becoming real democracies. You still have the ills of the single party dictatorships that we fought hard to outgrow.

But most people attribute your loss in 2013 to you breaking up with William Ruto, who controls a big block vote of the Kalenjin community, and that when he threw his weight behind Uhuru who already had the vast Kikuyu vote, there was no way you could have won since Kenya usually votes in ethnic blocks.

Kenya consists of about 42 ethnic tribes. The Kikuyu and the Kalenjin combined constitute only 30% of the Kenyans. So where are the other 70%? I got majority votes from all the other communities. The Masai, the Akamba, Turkana, the Luo and all the other coastal people including Nairobi. In other words, I won six out of the eight former provinces.

The Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, the Meru and the Embu cannot beat the remaining 38 tribes. The Kalenjin and Luo are almost equal in number. The Kikuyu are not far away from the Luhya. But then there is still the Akamba, which together with the Luhya, Luo, Kikuyu and Kalenjin constitute the big five. And I won three of the big five, in the Luo, Luhya, and the Akamba.

Let’s say they rigged; you rig from a position of strength not weakness. They could not have been at 31%, and then reached 51%.

I don’t want us to go through this because it is like refreshing the wounds that are beginning to heal. But Kenyans know what happened. What happened is not a secret.

Many people believe that Kenyan politics with its aristocratic political families has become deeply corrupt. The salary of a Kenyan MP is higher than the salary of his or her British, French and Dutch counterpart, whose countries’ GDP is 40-times that of Kenya. You have been Prime Minister and that has not changed. What’s your take on that?

I want to correct the notion of the aristocratic politics. I am not in politics because of my father. I was in politics with my father. I am possibly among the few people in history to have served in Parliament with their fathers. So am not a protégé of my father. I was in prison, when my father was under house arrest.

People don’t vote for me because am so and so’s son. So don’t put me in the other category. On the issue of privileges, the record is clear. I have been among the people who have been opposing the excessive remunerations for MPs. I have advocated that MPs should pay taxes.

I lined up at the Kenya Revenue offices to pay tax arrears when the tax body requested that MPs pay taxes. Even this time round, I was amongst those who advocated that MPs should negotiate with and not disband the Salaries Commission. But as a country, we also need to change our culture.

In Kenya, you have a culture called ‘harambee’ which is basically a culture of extortion.  People wait for MPs at Parliament to ask for help for basically everything, be it fees, transport, food, church contribution, name it. So you find that more than a third of his salary goes to harambee. So while we advocate for reduction in salary, we should also advocate for the end of the harambee culture too.

But if you had public policies that benefit the local peasant, wouldn’t this reduce the burden of the politicians?

Yes, I agree with you completely, 100%.

You were Prime Minister, why couldn’t you implement this?

We were running a coalition government. You have different policies you want to implement. So you try to make compromises, which ultimately call for concessions.

But the issue of predation is a collective challenge to all politicians, what is it that stops you to agree on a collective challenge?

You are now talking of a social programme. Remember our partners are of a laissez-faire economy; the survival of the fittest. We prefer a social market economy as opposed as a pure laissez-fare economy. So people who say that as Africans, we have no ideologies miss this fact.

Do you usually meet and talk with President Uhuru and do you consider him a friend?

We’ve met only once but we have a good personal relationship. He was my deputy prime minister for five years and we had a good working relationship. We are in fact family friends. My father and his were friends. They later had political differences and fell out. But they still maintained good personal relations.

So how come you have not been in a coalition with him before?

Remember when Uhuru ran against Kibaki in 2002, I supported Kibaki against Uhuru, so Uhuru became Leader of Opposition. When the new constitution was drafted and approved, Kibaki opposed it, and we went into a referendum. In that referendum, I was together with Uhuru. Together we formed ODM.

He only left ODM towards the elections because of the polarisation. The central province was voting for Kibaki, and he knew that he could not win a seat in Parliament while in ODM. So we were together all this time. And then of course you know what transpired during the election, when he was in the Kibaki camp while I was on the other side. It’s unfortunate that they both ended up in The Hague for different reasons.

On the issue of The Hague, many of your critics accuse you of colluding with western powers to have your two main opponents indicted so they could be eliminated from the political process.

Absolute nonsense. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When we felt rigged of victory in 2007, we asked our supporters to come out and demonstrate peacefully. There was an order from the government to shoot on the demonstrators. The demonstrators also turned violent, and other militia organisations like the Mungiki came up.

We protested the move by the police to fire on demonstrators and when they persisted, we wrote to the ICC to investigate the mass killings. Then PNU (Kibaki’s party then) also decided to write to the same court accusing our camp of promoting the violence. A team of eminent African Persons led by Kofi Annan recommended that commissions be set up to investigate the cause of the post-election violence.

The Waki Commission recommended that a special tribunal make further investigations and produced a list of several names that it thought were behind the violence. The list was sealed and handed over to Annan, who promised to keep it secret until the special tribunal had finished its work. The Waki Commission report was taken to cabinet, passed, taken to parliament where it was also passed.

The then Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister was tasked with coming up with a constitutional amendment Bill that would provide for the establishment of the special tribunal to investigate and try those found responsible for the post-election violence. When this Bill was brought to cabinet, it was passed, but when it was taken to Parliament, it was heavily opposed.

I and Kibaki were told to rally our troops to support the Bill, because Kofi Annan had advised us against allowing our people to go to The Hague saying that an internal tribunal would resolve the differences. But that was not to be. The men behind the frustration of the Bill in Parliament were none other than Uhuru and Ruto.

They were saying that the local tribunal would be manipulated and that they would only get justice in The Hague. So the Bill was defeated in the house. But Annan came back and told both Kibaki and I that he was still not convinced that a home solution was impossible. We embarked on drafting a new Bill, but this time, it never even passed the Cabinet.

Then (Imenti Central MP) Gitobu Imanyara moved a private members Bill in Parliament but it could not go very far. Annan had no option but to refer the matter to ICC. (ICC Prosecutor) Ocampo after receiving the names first kept them and said he was ready to give Kenya another chance to resolve their own issues. After four months, we still had no tribunal. So he started and completed the investigations in October.

He then came to Kenya and told us that he could not prosecute all the names on the list, because it could create turmoil in the country. He zeroed down on six names with the greatest responsibility; three from ODM, and three from PNU. He announced the names. It’s then that the culprits now forgot all that history and started saying that it was Raila who was victimising his rivals.

But what was the impact of that perception on your political fortunes in the recent election?

I think the biggest impact of the ICC issue is that it earned them sympathy from their ethnic communities. The perception that look, if you don’t vote for me, I am going to be hanged was so pronounced that their communities saw winning the presidency as the only way to save their sons.

So the Kalenjin voted for Uhuru, not necessarily because they liked him, but because they saw it as the only way to save their son, Uhuru’s running mate, Ruto. And so was the case amongst the Kikuyu. They knew that the only way to save Uhuru was by voting him president, even when they may not have liked his running mate Ruto.

Finally, Kenya will spend 19 billion dollars; 437 dollars per person per year this year but such expenditure is not reflected in the quality of services to the people largely because the political class is extremely corrupt. Your take on that?

This disparity in income levels has a lot to do with the governance system in place, because it is purely centralised. That is the reason we came up with the new constitution. We now have a devolved system of government, where some resources can remain at the centre, while the rest trickle down to the counties. We believe and hope that this new system will help solve the problem. Social services; like roads, water, health facilities, will be worked upon and maintained by the county governments.

Is that decentralisation of services or decentralisation of corruption?

We are aware of this problem and we are very cautious that it does not happen. There have been no cases of corruption so far in county governments because there are many checks and balances. We are also supposed to reform the police to be able to deal with this petty vice. We had set up a police service commission, and a police oversight commission.

But the new administration threatens to water down the powers of the service commission which was tasked with recruitment, training and transfer of olice officers. Right now there is a Bill in Parliament which seeks to transfer some of those powers to the Inspector General of Police, to create the bureaucracy and nepotism that we sought to overcome in the process.

But if your reforms seem against the interests of the majority political class, aren’t you going to face strong opposition from the same group in your bid for the presidency?

I am not dying to become president of Kenya. I am striving for a better Kenya. That is why I was willing to suppress my ambitions this time round. If I had disputed the results, and rallied my supporters to do the same, the violence in Kenya would have been worse than that of 2008.

And Kenya would certainly be a different place today altogether. Kenya is greater than Raila, and so Kenya should not suffer because one man- Raila has been treated unfairly in the electoral process. That is the sacrifices we have to make if we want democracy to take root in Africa.

I was very concerned in the last AU summit at the jabs thrown at the ICC, saying that it is unfairly targeting Africans when in actual sense Africa has taken itself to the ICC.  Almost 80% of the cases handled by the ICC involving Africans have been self-referrals. So if our leaders are sincere, they should set the record straight.

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