Sunday, December 15, 2013

TORMENTS FOLLOW RAILA OUTSIDE GOVERNMENT

How times have changed for Raila Amolo Odinga.

Not too long ago, the son of the legendary Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was the second most powerful man in Kenya. He occupied an imposing office block, opposite the Office of the President, that cost one billion shillings and featured the latest high-tech gadgets, including a computerised shower cubicle.

A designer water fountain in front of the building and a huge pompous sign: Office of the Prime Minister, left no doubt who occupied the seven-storey building.

He enjoyed the most elaborate personal security rivalling only that of President Mwai Kibaki - with chase cars and motorcycle-riders. His homes were guarded 24 hours a day and members of his family were on around-the-clock watch by armed security.

He carried the aristocratic title: the Right Honourable, a honorific prefix bestowed on members of the British Privy Council. Never before had such a title been used in the country.

Yes, he was the Right Honourable Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya.

Thanks to the National Accord reached after protracted negotiations following the violence-prone 2007 elections, Raila was approaching the pinnacle of his career - a breathe away from State House yet so, so far away.

Even after agreeing to share power with the celebrated former democracy champion, Kibaki was not prepared to give Raila space to perform his duties, one of which was to coordinate government ministries. Kibaki often made critical decisions involving ministries without consulting his partner. On many occasions, Raila complained about the (mis) treatment from Kibaki's side of the coalition but no one in government really cared.

When the situation threatened to bring down the Grand Coalition, the two leaders and their entourages went on a retreat deep in the Tsavo National Park to try to find solutions. However, the meeting collapsed following disagreements over the agenda. Raila also complained that his room was not as lavish as the President's and it was located far away from that of the Head of State.He was not being treated right, he lamented.

On the ground, provincial officers got the cue on how the government treated Raila and refused to spread out red carpets whenever he visited their areas. Once in Mombasa, top officers disappeared altogether leaving juniors to bring along a tattered carpet to one of his meetings. In the process of mounting the "nusu mkeka," as Raila himself called it, they forgot to provide a "Johnnie" at the back of the podium for short-call use by the Prime Minister. Raila was livid and accused the government of disrespecting him.

Raila had to work for months without a salary because of disagreements over his salary scale. There was also a protocol wrangle over who between him and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka was senior. Government functionaries tended to side with the latter.

And all that was happening when Raila was the Right Honourable Prime Minister.

In his book, the Flame of Freedom, he described his period in the Grand Coalition as "five years of torment."

After losing out to Uhuru in 2012, Raila's political life took an even more miserable turn. Some of the first things the government did was to trim down his security; confiscate most of his official cars, and evict him from his posh offices along Harambee Avenue. He has also been denied his pension, unless he fulfills certain conditions.

As if that is not enough, he was denied use of VIP lounges at airports through a simple directive from the Office of the President that invoked "security and strategic" reasons. Seeing a pattern of embarrassing events trailing him, Raila climbed down and used common arrival and departure areas at airports.

Reports said Raila yearned for an opportunity to serve as a presidential advisor of some sort. When President Uhuru Kenyatta ignored his interest, the former political detainee travelled to Uganda and sought the intervention of President Yoweri Museveni. For a while, Kenyans believed the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) would be  assigned to arbitrate over troubling issues affecting the East African Community. However, when the government denied there was a problem that needed fixing, Raila's hopes were dashed.

Today, Raila would be lucky to be acknowledged at official functions. Last week at the @50 celebrations at Kasarani it was the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan who recognised him and talked of his contributions to Kenya. Government officials were not willing to do that.

Raila is now left to beg for chores to do. Recently after he was excluded from the commissioning of the standard-gauge railway line in Mombasa he talked about it publicly. As a gesture of appeasement, the government gave him the  "honour" of opening a railway station in Nairobi, a job normally reserved for the transportation cabinet secretary.

In recent days, we have seen the humiliation of Raila Odinga coming, not from the government side, but from his own party. Reports that he was not properly recognised during an ODM Governor's function, prompting him to "walk" out, is further evidence that power lasts only when one is in power.

To make matters worse, his once close allies are deserting him in droves and quietly throwing their support behind Uhuru and Ruto. One ODM Senator even told him not to expect an automatic party presidential nomination in 2017.

What all this tells me is that Raila is no longer the "enigma" of the liberation struggle nor the "unbwogable agwambo" of the Orange Movement who for years sent shivers in the spine of former President Daniel Arap Moi. True, he still commands support in certain areas of the country, but the man who has failed thrice to become president is certainly humbled.

In the next five years, as he tries to remain politically relevant, the 69-year old leader should expect many more torments at the hands of both his friends and foes.

And that is my say.