By Jerry Okungu
September 26, 2012
It is election season again both in the United States and here at home in Kenya.
This was the scenario in 2007 when Kenyans were gearing up to elect a new president as President Obama and Hillary Clinton battled for the Democratic nominations for the following year’s winter presidential elections.
Whereas the American 2008 elections galvanized Kenya and indeed the whole world like never before, it is a different story this time round. The euphoria of the first ever black man to occupy the White House was phenomenal. And what added to Obama’s awesomeness was the fact of his roots in Kenya. Being the son of Obama Sr., most Kenyans and indeed the rest of Africa considered Obama one of their own. Now if Obama retains his residence at the White House, it will be taken as a given; not as earth breaking as being a first time black president in American history.
However, like in 2007- 2008, this year offers Kenyans and Americans a peculiar situation where an American with roots in Luo land is fighting to retain his seat just when a Kenyan Luo is the leading presidential contender in Kenya.
This year, American politics among the Kenyan Diaspora is not as acrimonious as it was in 2007. At that time, even the Diaspora was divided between Kibaki’s PNU and Raila Odinga’s ODM. This age old Kikuyu- Luo political rivalry came alive at that time and even spilled over into Obama’s campaign among the Kenyan American citizens. Tribal politics on the PNU side could not fathom the idea of Raila Odinga winning elections in Kenya while Obama became the most powerful man in the world.
Obama’s roots in Kenya are real. He may be an America but the blood of his Luo father still runs in his veins. More importantly, he has a special interest in Kenyan politics because he rightly believes that bad politics that Kenya has practiced for 50 years has stifled Kenya’s advancement.
Therefore when he recently sent Johnny Carson, his representative in Africa and Hilary Clinton to deliver terse messages about Kenya’s impending elections, there were loud grumbles in Kenya’s corridors of power. In fact many presidential hopefuls took the messages to mean that Obama wanted to control who was getting elected president in Kenya. Because Raila and Obama share Luo blood, other presidential hopefuls pointed accusing fingers at Raila Odinga as the possible beneficiary of the Obama interference.
At 48, Barrack Obama became the first Black American to run for president and won the race in a predominantly white racist society. Despite threats to his life by racist extremists, he reached the White House and four years later, the man still sits pretty in the oval office.
Raila Odinga on the other hand first ran for president at the age of 52 way back 1997 and came third after Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. Ten years later at the age of 62, he again ran for president against Mwai Kibaki, a race that was too close to call with many observers believing that he won the race. The dispute culminated in one of the worst post election violence in Kenya’s history.
This year, as Obama turns 52, Raila has turned 67 and both are in the race again.
As Obama looks forward to retaining his residence at the White House for another four years, Raila must fight to win the presidency on March 2 2013. For him, it will be a do or die because age is definitely not on his side. If he loses this time, he will be 72 in five years and will bear the unpleasant tag of a perennial loser, notwithstanding the fact that the 2007 elections were disputed.
Obama’s victory in November this year will probably be celebrated in Kenya but not to the level it was euphoric four years ago when there was even a mock election in Kisumu town in 2008 being covered by CNN and beamed worldwide.
The reason why Raila Odinga must win this time is because his loss of the election will be a community loss and a blot on his character as the enigma of Kenyan politics. This is because his quest for political leadership did not start with his first elective post in 1992 as the urban MP for Langata Constituency in Nairobi. Prior to that, he had spent nine years in various jails in Kenya as a political detainee under Daniel Moi’s authoritarianism including his involvement with the 1982 coup attempt against Moi’s regime.
Many observers believe that if Raila loses out to any other opponent this year, he will quit politics and concentrate on running his business empire.
However, one thing is for sure. If Obama and Raila win elections, Kenya and especially Nyanza will explode. Many bulls, rams and goats will lose their lives in celebrations.