Thursday, February 21, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Maputo, Mozambique

Jim Hayo has been my good friend for many years. He is fun to be with particularly when one feels a bit under the weather. In his moments of excitement Jim Hayo can be extremely funny and entertaining.

A few years ago, soon after the 2002 elections, I met Hayo and a few of my friends at a night spot. True to his character, he took the center stage to give us a few sideshows besides what took us there. He started talking about life after death. He also intimated to us that he was a firm believer in reincarnation. Fortunately, the four of us around his table were all Luos therefore we easily followed the sequence of his jokes.

Hayo confessed to us that he was a very happy man. He was happy because he had come to terms with the reality of his condition! We got a little concerned and uneasy! What condition was he talking about? Did he have the big one? Two ladies sitting next to us were even more agitated. We held our breath. The usual Jim wasn’t bothered by our changed mood. He was laughing his head off. Then he looked at us. He didn’t understand why we wore gloomy faces.

Undeterred, he continued with his story. He told us that, he had only one wish to ask God the day he would die. He would tell God that should he be given a second chance to come back to life after death, and by mistake, God wanted him to come back as a Kikuyu, Luhya, Mkamba, Kalenjin, Indian or Muzungu, he would look God in the eye and say, “ Sir, thank you for the offer but I cannot accept your generosity. I would rather remain here dead than go back to earth in any form except as a Luo!”

Why was Jim Hayo so happy that night to tell us he was proud to be a Luo? In his analysis, being a Luo allowed him to enjoy his freedom of thought and expression as an individual. He was a free spirit. He liked living his life to the full without worrying about primitive accumulation of wealth which he would die leaving behind anyway. Being a Luo had made him love his parents, siblings, wife and children unconditionally.

As a Luo, he had suffered so much vilification by other tribes and successive regimes in Kenya such that he had accepted his condition. He had lost so many good jobs and opportunities on the basis of his tribe that he no longer cared being one.

In his working career, he had helped and even employed so many non- Luos in an attempt to be more Kenyan only later to be undermined by the same ungrateful charlatans.

He had grown up following Luo politics and witnessed so many tragedies befalling Luo politicians that he no longer felt sorry being a Luo.
This series of stigmatization, being branded negative, oppositionist, rebel and anti- system had hardened his feelings and given him rare freedom only a Luo could enjoy!
He had accepted and learnt how to cope with his condition.

Jim Hayo is a very happy man. He is a proud and happy Luo. He is not rich but owns a car and a roof over his head. He has a beautiful professional for a wife. His children adore him. These are the little things that make Jim a happy man.

Of late I have been reading so much about Luo vilification in the local press so far away from home. As I read these articles from the likes of Makau Mutua and other commentators, I feel sad for Kenya. I feel sad that as other nations jostle for positions at international forums, our intellectuals and egocentric politicians preoccupy us with village politics that have no sense or direction.

As I sat down to write this article, I came across some exchanges between Gordon Teti of Winnipeg and Makau Mutua of Boston. The exchanges was about Raila Odinga, the enigma of Kenyan politics. Then I wondered why! Then it dawned on me that being in Mozambique was no reason to forget that I would soon go back to ethnic Kenya; where our tribe meant everything to us. Then I remembered something else; an old adage that says that ‘you can get the man out of the village but you can never get the village out of the man!’

What I am saying is this: The people on the front line against Raila’s election to the presidency are no peasants nor are they fools. These are the same people who shared in the struggle with the man, saw him vilified and tortured by past regimes and shared platforms with him during the heady days of the second liberation. On the other hand many of the so called liberators like Makau were merely masqueraders. They took off at the slightest opportunity. If anything they are economic exiles seeking fortunes in greener pastures, running away from their past and poverty back home.

Looked at another way, opposition to Raila presidency is a grand scheme to disenfranchise the entire Luo community in national politics. I have yet to hear any one of the Raila oppositionists say “I will support any other Luo except Raila”. To this brand of politicians, a Luo presidency is bad for them because they know they will be unmasked and their true colors will be exposed to the public. They are in no hurry to have the presidency occupied by principle, character and resolve.

If today Ruto, Uhuru, Kalonzo and Mudavadi can come together just four years later to unblinkingly declare Raila Odinga unelectable on account of his tribe, then it is possible that we haven’t seen the last of Judases in our own life time. If it is true Odinga lost his cool and shed tears for being branded an unelectable Luo politician, who can blame him for that especially if those utterances came from the same people he has rehabilitated and built up in the last four years? Why is it so difficult for any of the so called electable politicians from the good tribes to back Raila up for a change?
Who among these politicians can to day be elected without Raila Odinga’s backing?
Is it Kalonzo Musyoka, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto or Musalia Mudavadi? May be any one of the can or cannot. That will be for the Kenyan voters to decide. But in my opinion, it is the height of hypocrisy and base morality wrong to use public forums like the media to denigrate and demonize a whole community on account of one family.
What right do these Raila haters have to decide for Kenyans who to elect president of Kenya or not? Aren’t these types of labeling and stereotyping the cause of the Darfur conflicts? Didn’t Rwanda bleed because of these ethnic biases? What of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq? Can we afford to have short memories of yesterday’s tragedies?

Those who are vilifying Raila Odinga for being a Luo have really failed Kenyans and the second liberation. They have no moral authority to question Kibaki’s or Moi’s leadership. They have truly come out in their true colors for what they are; wolves in sheep’s clothes.
They are leaders who left their villages but the village in them remained intact in their souls.

At another level, it is about time ODM aspirants faced the reality that the coming elections are theirs to lose if they don’t stop playing cheap politics now. The reality is that none of the aspirants has ever mounted a presidential campaign except Raila and Uhuru. Uhuru by all accounts is already out of the race. He had no choice but to back out for obvious reasons. This race needs a candidate with some semblance of primary constituency. Uhuru with Kibaki around does not have that primary constituency. He has to bid his time in 2012 assuming there will be no stronger Mt. Kenya candidate to challenge him.

As things stand, ODM’s best bet is Raila because he has the capacity to mount an election campaign single handedly. He is also capable of forging fresh alliances in almost every province without depending on his detractors who pretend to be his comrades in ODM K. You cannot say so for any of the presidential aspirants. That is the bitter truth.

Finally, if you are an eye that once ailed and needed treatment, never frown at the eye of he, who cleaned you up, dressed you up and removed residue from you! If you do so, it may come back to haunt you one day.