In the past, I always thought there is nothing that Prime Minister Raila Odinga uttered without a political motive behind it. Certainly, in the last decade, he tried to please anyone who could vote for him and sacrificed any principle that got into the way of his dream to become president. I was therefore wonder-struck when I saw and heard him risk his entire political future on the issue of the Mau Complex. I remembered the conversion of Saul as he travelled to Damascus on his mission to persecute believers.
I possibly would have been suspicious of Mr. Odinga’s motives had we not witnessed the growing divide and misunderstanding between him and some leaders from the Rift Valley over the Mau forest. From what we have read, it is clear that Mr Odinga’s decision to stay on course on his support for the eviction of squatters from the Mau may cost him dearly.
The Prime Minister’s statements open a new dimension in the leadership of this country. For far too long, we have witnessed our leaders sacrifice our interests on the altar of political convenience and expediency. Whether it be on matters of tribal discrimination, ethnic bigotry, corruption, and more recently, post-election violence, our leaders, including Mr. Odinga, have been taking positions based on the political support they expect to marshal in the next elections.
Whenever it appeared as though the leaders were standing up for a principle, we have been later disappointed to realise that it was all a short-term view meant to deceive us. In a feigned attempt to inject conscientiousness in leadership, the government has promulgated the Public Officers’ Ethics Act and drafted a Code of Conduct to regulate the conduct of our leaders. None of these are ever observed.
We have been told there will be zero tolerance to corruption only to see new sacred cows anointed and then protected. We have seen internally displaced persons kept in camps and neglected by the same people for whose support they were displaced.
I particularly remember the passion with which President Kibaki in early 2008 promised to settle IDPs and punish the perpetrators of post-election violence, and I cry to see the timidity with which he has treated both issues recently.
Another disturbing memory is that President Kibaki has been playing politics with the Mau issue since 2003. He has treated this matter as a political seesaw and his commitment to it has depended on the political support he has needed from Rift Valley.
These past experiences make me very impressed by what I heard the Prime Minister say. To me, and most likely to others who think like me on this matter, Mr Odinga’s position gives us a taste of something we have always craved for: To see our leaders serve an ideal that is higher than their own political ambitions and interests.
But at the same time, it makes me very afraid. For we have also seen our leaders wriggle out of positions of principle and revert to their selfish standing. We hope Mr. Odinga will not negotiate himself out of the steadfast position he has taken on this matter.
He should know that his critics expect him to do exactly that. Personally, I expect him to backslide. We have seen him change his positions in the past. The only difference is that this time, he has stated his stand fully aware of the dangers that face him ahead.
I do, therefore, celebrate his impressive position on the Mau with a lot of caution. I fear that when his advisers re-calculate the political mathematics for him, he will freak out and change his position. I fear that after he has harvested the political goodwill that will come from his statement, he will relax his position to placate the enemies he has made.
But nevertheless, I celebrate his steadfastness on this matter with hope too. Hope that he will stand like a rock on this matter of grievous national importance. Hope that when he realises that his political goodwill is not necessarily measurable in increased votes, he will still stay put on the position he has taken.
I hope that he will adopt similar positions of principle on other matters of public interest that he has to deal with in the future.
But most of all, I hope other leaders will emulate this example and be equally conscientious and steadfast on matters of the public interest.
Mr. Mwangi is a lawyer practising in Nairobi.