In the heat of the American presidential campaign last year Donald Trump threatened to jail his opponent Hillary Clinton if he became president. He accused her of endangering national security through “careless” handling of official e-mails while she was Secretary of State.
The reaction from the media was one of shock and condemnation. Some compared the Republican Party candidate to Russia’s Joseph Stalin; others to ‘Third World’ despots; others called him a ‘tin-pot dictator’ saying democratically-elected leaders do not intimidate their opponents.
We have heard many similar threats from African dictators, but for a man like Raila Odinga to express similar thoughts if he wins the August elections defies imagination. The unvarnished remarks raised eyebrows last week and caused ripples in the pond among good-spirited nationals.
Speaking in his Nyanza stronghold the leader of the broad-based National Super Alliance, NASA, said he would not spare those linked to plunder and corruption and pointed his finger directly at the ruling Jubilee leaders. He said he would prosecute them.
I understand Raila’s concerns. In normal circumstances that would be the way to go. But let us look at the broader picture.
If there is one Kenyan with the strongest democratic credentials in the country that man is Raila Odinga. He has spent all his life fighting for a level playing ground, and paid for his troubles with three detention stints totalling almost nine years – the longest in the country’s independent history
He knows about revenge because he experienced it during Jomo Kenyatta‘s and Daniel Arap Moi‘s regimes when his father and himself were punished just for opposing one party rule.
He is a pugnacious democrat but also an unflinching patriot. Like many Kenyans he means well for the country. But as noted above democrats don’t do such unconventional things.
That corruption is rampant in Uhuru‘s Administration is not in question, but the same can be said of the previous regimes, one of which Raila served as Prime Minister.
If we are to talk about prosecuting people in Uhuru’s government we must do the same to all the others starting with those who served in Jomo Kenyatta’s regime. We must round up all the land grabbers, the looters, and the thieves of the past. And not just in government but in all sectors of society.
We must go through the Ndungu Commission on Irregular Land Allocations; the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, all reports on land clashes, all massacres, all extra-judicial killings, all political assassinations, all corruption scandals, examine all county executives, scrutinize every member of parliament, and so on, and hold the culprits accountable.
In a nutshell, we must indiscriminately prosecute and jail all those found guilty from day one of our independence.
Singling out the leadership of Jubilee is discriminatory, selective, and counter-productive. It percolates turmoil and incites hatred.
Kenya is thoroughly divided at the moment. Suspicion and angst have permeated our society so much so it is a miracle we are still one nation. In such an environment the country would be wise not to resort to political revenge or retribution.
It is easy in the vicissitudes of politics to make populist statements like the one Raila made, but bringing charges against opponents in a manner that looks vindictive is not a smart move. It smells of hate.
Even Trump – after a second thought – walked away on his threat against Clinton, worried the move could further divide the nation.
So, while I understand the need to correct mistakes of the past, such a move must be broad-based and all-encompassing, and not restricted to the incumbent leadership.
In my view, therefore, Raila went off the mark on this one.
And that is my say.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.