Reckless statements that repel those Raila should be wooing

Monday June 19 2017

Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga addresses the media at his office in Nairobi

Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga addresses the media at his office in Nairobi on June 19, 2017. The number crunchers should advise Mr Odinga that he will not penetrate fresh territory if he is busy scaring away the very voters he should be wooing. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MACHARIA GAITHO
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One can’t sometimes help but conclude that Mr Raila Odinga suffers a serious case of foot-in-mouth disease.

Twice in just the past week, the National Super Alliance presidential candidate has had to deny or clarify statements that were interpreted as dangerous incitement on the tinderbox issues of land, inequality and ethnic relations.

There is no need repeating here what he said in the Times of London interview on white-owned ranches in Laikipia County, and at a campaign rally in Kajiado County, where he addressed issues of land ownership and settlement.

'EVICT OUTSIDERS'

Suffice to say that many read in Mr Odinga’s statements support for violent land invasions, and advocacy for the eviction of “foreigners”, “outsiders” and “invaders” in the two regions.

Mr Odinga responded to the baying Jubilee mobs with a detailed explanatory piece, first debunking the narrative that Nasa has no respect for private property, commercial contracts and the sanctity of land titles; and then justifying the contentious statements in the context of his well-known support for redress on historical land injustices and implementation of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report.

RESPONSIBLE LEADERSHIP

He also gave a reasoned treatise on the steady loss of communal grazing lands in Maasailand.

But the very fact that he had to explain himself stands as proof that Mr Odinga knows that what he said has caused him problems.

One can brandish the slickest campaign manifesto drawn up by the cleverest policy wonks around, but all the good things will easily be undone by a few reckless utterances.

Mr Odinga’s penchant for crowd-pleasing antics and the tendency to latch onto any populist cause or local grievance may make for good political theatre, but would bode ill for a person who needs to demonstrate sober, dignified and responsible leadership.

ETHNIC VIOLENCE

One can excuse and ignore toxic and reckless utterances from the likes of Moses Kuria and other serial purveyors of hate speech desperate to catch attention.

A serious presidential candidate with millions of followers, however, should be more circumspect in his choice of words.

This is especially so in the regions of fragile peace blighted by recent or past ethnic-political violence, where just a few thoughtless statements can incite conflagration.

ICC
Sometimes, it seems, Mr Odinga is doing his best to justify the virulent Jubilee propaganda that works overtime to paint him as a dangerous demagogue.

It was no wonder that his utterances spurred President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto to excitedly accuse their main rival of plotting something akin to the 2007-2008 bout of post-election violence that nearly dismembered the country.

Now, that is surreal: Two of the leading figures who were charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court over their alleged roles in the post-election violence accusing somebody else of being violent?

NON-MAASAI
Just as objectionable as Mr Odinga’s utterances were, President Kenyatta’s was an equally toxic response.

The reference to “kimundu” and “ugali eater” would be no less an example of ethnic profiling slur than the “uthamaki” label Mr Odinga’s camp would hurl in the other direction.

But then Mr Odinga can only have himself to blame for statements that his opponents have so gleefully seized on for political capital.

Shortly after the contentious statements, leaflets were circulated in Kajiado, ordering non-Maasai communities to vacate the county before the elections, supposedly in compliance with Mr Odinga’s caution.

PROPAGANDA
The leaflets could only have been the handiwork of the Jubilee administration’s very active dirty tricks propaganda machine, but then Mr Odinga brings it on himself with messaging that can only play into the hands of his enemies.

It is true that there are communal tensions and land issues in Kajiado, Laikipia and elsewhere crying out to be addressed.

Mr Odinga, however, would be better advised to offer tangible solutions rather than stoking the flames with incendiary comments.

It is also perhaps time he began to appreciate that what he communicates will play a very big role in shaping perceptions amongst the groups he needs to win.

JUBILEE TERRITORY

Mr Odinga commands a captive and fanatical fan base, but forever preaching to the converted achieves nothing when the premium should be placed on reassuring those who have a reflexive fear of his politics.

Nasa strategists must know that the only way the campaign will attain the 10 million votes target is to hold on to the 2013 base, and then successfully raid Jubilee territory in a big way.

The number crunchers should advise Mr Odinga that he will not penetrate fresh territory if he is busy scaring away the very voters he should be wooing.

Email: gaithomail@gmail.com Twitter: @MachariaGaitho