COVER STORY

OPINION: Raila’s visit to the US was a case of bad timing, wrong messenger

He also met former US ambassador to Kenya Johnny Carson.

By Mwambu Mabonga

NASA Raila Odinga went to Washington Washington DC, hoping to make his usual case that Kenya is in a political crisis that deserves the intervention of the world’s most powerful democracy. Bad timing, wrong messenger.

There is no one in town to hear him; and his case, even if he managed to get it heard by mid-level functionaries, does not rise to the level even of a moderate crisis. The serious people in Washington are focused on keeping the United States on top of the global pack as it faces some of its most uncertain times in living memory.

Lacking a real audience, Raila has, predictably, tried to make a show of it, in his usual propagandistic way, by enduring an exhausting flight for a 72 year old, just to show the boys on the Kisumu streets that Baba’s still got it.

Washington has real worries, and the artificial, and entirely manufactured, crisis that is the NASA “resistance wing” is not one of them. America’s sabre rattling with North Korea could escalate and lead to the wiping out of large parts of Seoul. The fight against ISIS is drawing to a successful close, but this victory, like many other American military victories, will likely be succeeded by extensive political crises, with the US unsure of how to win the peace.

Russia continues to press its information warfare against American democracy. In this matter, at least, DC could learn a thing or two from Raila and NASA, who have deployed misinformation, and the grotesque deformation of language, to injurious effect in their fanatical following. There may be congressmen and -women who want to hear from Raila how the Communist types he spent time with in East German got so good at weaponising information. Raila, in response, would simply point at Babu Owino and say, “this is our advanced prototype 2017, it can curse, threaten and use obscenity as an advanced political weapon. We plan to produce copies, and can share.”

NASA principal Raila Odinga at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies

NASA principal Raila Odinga at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies

The America Raila is visiting is heavily divided. It still hasn’t moved on from the December elections: resentment and deafening quarrels at the very highest political levels are the norm. The Democrats mostly refuse to accept they lost, and spend most of their time also rallying their own “resistance.” Unlike Kenya however, no one there is like Raila and NASA, angling clumsily for a caretaker or coalition government.

In the unlikely event that President Trump were to hear that Raila is in town, he would need to hear only three facts to tweet a terrifying dismissal: that he wants to abolish the principle of private property with his “rationalisation” of land; that he is at war with healthy corporations for political gain; and that he trained in East Germany. President Trump, who loves nicknaming, would probably produce the title “Shakedown Raila” to capture the real direction of the company boycotts. Unfortunately for the rest of Kenya, and fortunately for Shakedown, President Trump won’t even hear about his visit to Washington.

Kenyans will hear a lot about it though. The awesome, and perfectly awful, NASA propaganda machine will make sure of it. What it won’t say is that Raila has been warned sternly by the American ambassador not to mess around and imperil a critical ally in Kenya. Robert Godec’s little lectures will have hurt and humiliated Raila, and we can all sympathise. To have flown so high, and been so significant, only to be brought to earth by a mere ambassador, while not getting the big meetings at your (supposed) level in Washington. That hurts.

 

For some years, especially around 2013, Raila was seen as a possible ally of the United States and the West; and if not an ally, then a useful stooge. They gave up on him. His full political weakness is exposed, as is the destructiveness of his politics of resentment. Now the West just wants to manage him, perhaps use him as a kind of looming threat to keep Jubilee in check. Then there are the journalists who can rely on him to give them the useful quotes for stories of Dark Africa.

All in all, Raila is a goner from meaningful geopolitics. His fate is a truly terrible one; the kind of hell that escaped even Dante’s fertile imagination: cursed to roam from think tank to think tank, boring junior analysts whose minds are on the hors d’œuvres be served after the old man speaks.

* Mabonga is MP for Bumula Constituency and a key observer of international affairs

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