In his Closing Statement in the August issue of The Nairobi Law Monthly, Ahmednasir Abdullahi makes such sweeping assumptions about the motivations of the doyen of Kenyan opposition politics that it is difficult to know where to begin in setting him straight (Raila Odinga needs a job urgently!) But it is in his assertion - more of an accusation - that Raila Odinga is speaking as he is speaking and doing as he is doing to remain relevant that must be rebutted, even if imperfectly.
I am on record that Raila Odinga has taken many missteps in his abortive journeys to State House. He has made the wrong friends and alliances and has made decisions that have continually denied him the presidency. However, the claim that he is now irrelevant is simply not accurate. It is wrong on the face of it and it is wrong at a fundamental level.
To demonstrate its inaccuracy one need only witness the froth-mouthed reactions of the likes of Muthui Kariuki and every UhuRuto apologist every time Raila Odinga speaks to a national matter. Even the sentiments he expressed at the funeral of the fifteen children killed in a road traffic accident in Kisii were not so far off the mark as Mr Abdullahi would have the readers of The Nairobi Law Monthly believe. The proof is in the manner in which the Jubilee supporters reacted. Rather than challenging his words with counter-facts of their own, they went to great lengths to demonstrate that it is monstrous to turn a funeral into a political venue. They seem to forget that in Kenya, since the dark days of Operation Jock Scott and Operation Anvil, funerals have been where Kenyans, especially politicians, have taken their sub rosa battles against the State to the people. Even President Kenyatta's miffed supporters must concede this point.
To whether Mr Odinga must exit the political stage, matters are much more complicated as the author of the Closing Statement refuses to concede. For ill or good, Mr Odinga has been the x-factor in Kenyan politics since the 1990s, especially in the waning days of his late father's navigation of the opposition boat after Baba Moi's triumphal return to State House in 1992. For whatever reason, Mr Odinga has been painted as a power-mad socialist out to "make the Kikuyu pay" for unmentioned slights that have been visited on the Odingas specifically and the Luo in general. But everything he has done, especially since the day he uttered the fateful "Kibaki Tosha!" belies this easy narrative.
Whether Mr Odinga retreats from politics is as much his decision as it is that of the legions of supporters who want him to stay. For whatever reason, millions of Kenyans still repose their faith in Mr Odinga's stewardship of the Minority Party even if he holds no official position in the Parliamentary Party. While his mistakes have ensured that ODM is seen as a Luo party, no one can deny that CORD still enjoys broad national acceptance save in the citadels of the Rift Valley and Central Kenya. The elected representatives of Kenyans in the remaining parts of the country, especially in those counties where CORD rules the roost, continue to believe that Mr Odinga can offer them leadership in navigating the ever-changing and treacherous waters that are Kenyan politics. Who are the likes of Mr Abdullahi to decide whether Mr Odinga's sell-by date has arrived?
I do not think that Mr Odinga has another presidential campaign in him. Politics is now a young man's and woman's game and the clamors of the next generation of politicians in both CORD and ODM will only grow as the next general elections draws near. Mr Odinga has the opportunity to steer the Minority Party to victory if he takes time to fine-tune its strategy and promote the ambitious among the next crop of its political leaders. If he selfishly listens to the voice of those who need his gravitas to survive and fails to ensure the rise of his successor, then the carping of the Jubilee supporters will be seen as oracular prophecy than the insensate twaddle that it is.