Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Like the New Raila I See!

With this contribution I want to go against the mainstream belief that Raila Odinga has become comfortable in his current position of the Prime Minister of Kenya and abandoned his revolutionary charisma.

Believe me I like the new Raila I see. I would like to think that Raila has matured as a politician. He has become a statesman, a Prime Minister of all Kenyan people and abandoned political activism. He has changed tactic from the confrontational revolutionary fire spitting politician to politically engaging and even disarming statesman. His silent engaging politics are more effective in the current political landscape than his cries of lack of toilets, carpets and consultation. Consultation is a mutual exercise. One has to be ready to go into it with good faith for it to produce good results.

Instead of imputing bad faith in Raila, I think the civil society and media should see the light and change tactic too. There is time for everything. There is time for revolution and confrontation and there is time for evolution and engagement. This is time for evolutionary and engagement politics and Raila has read the writings on the wall correctly. The civil society, media and a large section of the society in Kenya is still living in the past.

In 1992 Kenya changed from one-party state to a multiparty state. But the opposition leaders, civil society and media did not change. They approached politics in the same old way of confrontation. In 1997, the opposition embraced engagement and the interparty agreement was reached. The outcome was a seemingly independent election commission that organized the 2002 general elections. Perhaps without this agreement the successful 2002 general elections that overturned tables for Kanu would not have been possible. But immediately in 2003 the confrontational politics resurfaced with wars on the Narc Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and the constitutional process. The standoff culminated to the 2007 post-election violence as the main political parties and their leaders refused to yield way to each other. The ensuing Grand Coalition Government in 2008 was characterized by confrontation in the first year in office. But now the so called Principals seem to have realized the futility of their obstinacy and inflexibility. Because of the lack of flexibility in civil society, some politicians, the media and a large section of the society, Raila is readily labeled a traitor and having betrayed the revolutionary path.

Learning from history, we see that the Kenyatta and Old Odinga confrontation in the 60s plunged the country into a paradigm of confrontation politics that has consumed the country for the last 45 years. Isn’t it time to shift paradigm and build on the things people agree on and not devour each other on real or perceived differences? Is it not easier to build on the already achieved reforms rather than whining over an empty glass? Kibaki and Raila in their new found cooperation can propel Kenya to greater heights in terms of political reforms and economic growth if they were given full support rather than being criticizes from all corners. This is time for talking with each other rather than to each other. It is not time to draw lines between reformers and anti-reformers. Divide and rule tactics will only destroy the good faith that is required to see the reforms through. The saying that, it is easier to swim downstream rather than upstream, is apt here. Raila and Kibaki have opted to swim downstream by choosing to be bigger than their revolutionary and conservative selves respectively and by engaging each other in the reform paradigm.

It is easy to be tempted into rubbishing the already accomplished work on reforms by invoking the seemingly impossible work ahead, but little progress will be made without painstakingly laying down the legislative and institutional building blocks for the reforms to take off. The various legislation that have established institutions such as the election commission, the constitution committee, the election boundary reform commission, the truth, justice and reconciliation commission, and the national cohesion and integration commission are not baby steps given where Kenya was January last year. Now is upon Kenyans to give these institutions the moral support they need in order to carry out their work effectively. On land reform, the adoption of the National Land Reform Policy by the Cabinet is also another milestone. The parliament should move very fast and adopt it too. On the infrastructure such as roads anybody living in Kenya today will attest to the work done and still going on. Other areas are those involving socio-economic development and on these one too the CDF, Kazi kwa Vijana, women and youth development funds are also not small things.

There are still areas where the government needs to do more especially as regards impunity and corruption. Reforms in the judiciary and police need more momentum. But confrontation will not achieve much. The reality is that impunity, corruption and insecurity are endemic and must be dealt with decisively for stability and security to return in Kenya. But what one hears from the civil society, media, a section of politicians and foreign diplomatic missions is prophesies of doom and hopelessness. What is required is courage in engagement and not in confrontation. Raila and Kibaki are showing leadership here while the rest of the society is droning. The Parliament need to be tough but at the same time it should see beyond its current war on supremacy with the Executive. It should not be pursued at the expense of necessary reforms.

Comprehensive and sustainable reforms are possible before 2012 but the entire country should move in the same direction. It should be on the same wave length. I think Raila believes in this, Kibaki believes in it too. Kenyans should also believe.