• Irungu Houghton

Raila Jnr triggered what we need from patriotic youth


Raila Odinga Jnr touched a nerve nationally this week. He reminds us that a single tweet can call a nation to re-examine its’ conscience. Sadly, most failed to comprehend that political re-imagination often emerges in unexpected spaces.

Early in the week, Raila Odinga Jnr challenged the Orange Democratic Movement party to raise its’ ambition. The famous now deleted tweet argued that ODM was not just about private jets, slay queens and abusing rival politicians. It had a development agenda that was clearly outlined in their manifesto. The backlash was immediate. Rather than agreeing with him (which might have been the logical response), ODM stalwarts accused him of ill-motives, unfairly profiling un-named ODM leaders and some even declared him a supporter of the Deputy President.

Within a few days, he tweeted an apology and reminded Kenyans of the obvious. He was not an office-bearer and by implication, spoke not for his father and namesake. His second point seemed less grounded, given what had just happened. He thanked ODM for the democratic space to debate diverse views and apologized to any leaders who might have been offended.

Alongside his siblings, Junior had a very difficult childhood. Unlike many of those leaders that found his observation controversial, he first met his father at the age of ten. Let me quickly add, Raila Odinga was no dead-beat dad. Rather than fathering Junior, Odinga Senior was in detention for courageously fathering a democratic and free nation. It is the consequence of his and other efforts that all four of Raila and Ida Odinga’s children got to reach adulthood and raise their own children.

Perhaps it was the trolls and digital warriors that turned a clear call for ODM to return to greatness that did it. As the lens shifted to who fitted his description best, egos were pricked, calls were made and an apology and tweet delete demanded. In apologising sadly, we may have lost the power of Junior’s call to his party to return to their primary mission.

Despite the efforts of millions, the country is in crisis and we are losing the imagination that has made this country great. From COVID-19 patients gasping for air without ventilators to police officers arresting public land defenders at the instruction of land-grabbers. County Governments shutting their doors while we continue paying untransparent foreign loans. Court orders being treated like public services announcements. Agreements being reached to allow American military drones operate on Kenyan soil when online classes only work for 25% of our children. The nation is crisis.

If crisis is the mother of change, then opportunity is the child of imagination. There are two primary qualities of active patriotic youth. Young people hold an optimism beyond their current context. Secondly, they assert as their responsibility to consistently challenge us. By shutting them down, we create an environment that makes it psychologically unsafe for them or us to speak up. By doing this, we quickly conclude that criticism is futile or there will be retribution, so why bother?

The catastrophic edge we all lean on, needs nothing less than a cultural revolution. It requires us to intensify one clear demand. Nothing less than the highest of ethical standards must become the norm. We must, as Ron Carucci argues, become ruthlessly intolerance of anything less. If we do this, we might make it through this dark tunnel many of feel we are walking through.

There are many Juniors across this country. We must seek them out and invited them to be brutally honest and tell us what we need to transform our organisations. We would never have seen the dazzle of Nobel Laureate Wangari Mathai without Lillian Wanjiru Njehu. Global human rights icon and Christian Minister Martin Luther King Junior would have been less strategic without his gay political strategist Bayard Rustin. Nelson Mandela would not have taken up arms and led a nation past apartheid without his mentor Walter Sisulu. They, like disciples Peter and John were to Jesus, consistently called these extra-ordinary men and women to greatness through criticism.

We must create spaces in our political parties for new ideas and fearless political debate. It will ruffle some feathers but only chickens need to be afraid. For the party and the constituencies they serve, they might just find, a renewed energy and clarity of what really ails us and how to fix it. It seems to me that this would be a more productive way of preparing to seek our attention, patience and votes in 2022.

Also published Saturday Standard, 19 September, 2020.

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