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By Mthulisi Mathuthu

I HAD just come through a dispiriting three-hour long drive in rush hour traffic when I found myself at the Millimani Hotel Ground Floor Bar, convinced that Nairobi was a boring and chaotic city.

What with the dicey driving and endless horning of the Matatus (local people carrier) and the ceaseless flow of traffic through criss-crossing roads, controlled not by traffic lights, but men and women?

That was in September 2003.

While these prejudices were running through my head, something happened which channelled me through a new line of thinking.

Ordering a Tusker beer in English announced me as a foreigner, and a certain man sitting in ear shot at once swivelled on his chair to extend his hand for a greeting. I obliged.

‘I am Raila Odinga,’ he said.

For a moment, I was confused, wondering if indeed this was him, the vibrant and populist politician and son to veteran nationalist, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Six months earlier, when I was still a political writer at the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, I had spoken to him over the phone and that was after the MDC had proposed to forge a relationship with their Kenyan counterparts, the National Rainbow Coalition, who had routed the ruling party in the December 2002 elections, bringing to and end a two decade-long march of tyranny.

When I reminded him of this he threw out a long, loud and free laughter.

Seemingly in high spirits, he let go: ‘What a coincidence! So what brings you to Kenya and to my drinking hole?’

‘I am here for a conference and am now a correspondent for an Ecumenical News Agency, but I am privileged to have met you,’ I said.

He bought a round, and when later on I threatened to ‘revenge’, he held my hand. ‘In Kenya we welcome visitors in style. Hakuna Matata, we say. Do you know what that means? It means in Kenya there is no problem so feel free.’

We both chuckled.

A long conversation ensued. It not being a strictly intellectual discussion but a cursory glance at the African body politic and global politics in general, the conversation freely wandered into the world of humour and topics like women and football.

We touched on the old nationalists who brought about the African independence, including his father who wrote one of my first radical reads Not Yet Uhuru, Jomo Kenyata and the assassination of Tom Mboya.

He even broke the news of Vice President Muzenda’s death to me as he had just been watching the BBC! We touched on Hugh Masekela’s song on veteran dictators like Daniel Arap Moi and Robert Mugabe.

By the time he left, he had made me fond of Kenya. At a time when I was allowing prejudice to run through my head, because of the chaotic traffic flow of the matatus, he welcomed me warmly and showed me the positive side of the East Africans.

Drinking at the Millimani instead of the Hilton or Intercontinental hotels announced him as a man from the masses, which is perhaps the reason why he is the MP for the Langata constituency which is home to some of the dirtiest slums and the poorest people in the world.

Even though happy and hopeful that Kenya had pulled itself out of the jaws of the grinding machine of tyranny, he came out as a skeptical person, reminding me over and over again that the National Rainbow Coalition victory against Uhuru Kenyatta under Moi’s tutelage was not supposed to be seen as an announcement of an arrival in Canaan.

It was breakthrough yes, but had to be vigilantly guarded.

‘If we relax and just cheer on, people will get corrupt along the way. That is what happened in Zimbabwe and Mugabe can’t believe that he is now unpopular when all along he was a star,” he said.

This was a cabinet minister in the newly elected government imploring people to be critical and sceptical about his own government! I was amazed, and thought I had met a genuine democrat.

Over and over again, throughout my stay, I would hear the Kenyans singing proudly the song Jambo (Hakuna matata).

I will never forget the elegance and pride displayed by the gyrating corpulent women at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre under the reverberating sound of the song.

When a few years down the line I heard that Odinga had cut ties with Mwai Kibaki, I convinced myself that he was right. What with Kibaki interfering with the work of the anti-corruption task force, dolling out lucrative jobs and other related niceties to his inner circle and tribal cabal.

Then a fortnight ago, Kibaki stole an election! Thanks to his snake-oil salesman ways, Kenya has slipped into an abyss of matata with the machete-wielding gangsters on the loose, hacking each other to death as an expression of frustration at the brazen theft of a vote by a supposedly level-headed African statesman.

It was shocking to see the rouble rousers sharpening their machetes on the tarmac amid high rising columns of billowing smoke from the slums immolated by fire.

But how is it possible that a supposedly democratic leader will brazenly steal an election under the watchful eyes of the international observers, international media, UN officials, the EU and a hundred other international NGOs headquartered in Nairobi?

A No 10 Downing Street and Washington influence is not missing here. Kibaki is a London School of Economics graduate with a direct connection to Western diplomacy and capital. Moreover, his government has committed itself to working with the USA and Britain in the fight against international terrorism. Hence the British soldiers being trained there and the reason the USA is about to open a military command base known as Africom.

Needless to say, Kenya plays a balancing factor in the East African turbulent region and is the centre of many international spying networks camouflaged as, business, humanitarian work and journalism.

So a Kibaki defeat was unthinkable to the grand masters in London and Washington as it could have upset the status quo. Following a number of surveys, it became clear that Kibaki was going and would loose cleanly to Odinga.

But Odinga’s credentials are generally not pleasing to international machinations. Consider this: He is the son of a man who wrote an influential book which called for economic independence. He was educated in East Germany at the height of the Cold War and has gone on to name his children Fidel Castro and Winnie Mandela! Aren’t Winnie and Castro populist leaders whose ideas are scary to the international community?

As the Langata MP, Odinga enjoys support of the volatile slums of Nairobi meaning he is a mover of that part of the population which could upset the status quo as overseen by the economists from the London School of Economics.

The speed with which Kibaki was sworn in amid complaints suggests a conspiracy. It was as if some grandmaster from the First World prodded him to rig the election and whispered into his ear: ‘Just rig the election and if there are complaints and violence, we will then say talk to each other. Don’t worry we will mediate.’

Meanwhile, the desired result was that Odinga should not be anywhere nearer power hence the haste in announcing Kibaki as the winner so that when the talks start, he begins from a strong point as the President and not just a feuding partner.

The idea was that as violence ensues, the international community would lament the blood shed and apportion blame, largely to Odinga’s supporters. Electoral rigging will then be down the scale as what will be important will be for bloodletting to stop, and through negotiation. Election fraud has been drained of its meaning.

Now the push for calm borders on the call for a dialogue and a coalition, and anybody who has other views as Odinga seems to have become a villain.

‘I want to see the possibility explored where they can come together in government,” said Gordon Brown.

There it is in a nutshell. The master has said it.

This is to say that Odinga should agree to serve under Kibaki, a man whose victory is being doubted even by the Kenyan electoral body’s boss! A man who fired John Githongo for exposing corruption!

This is shambolic.

Mthulisi Mathuthu is The New Zimbabwe news editor and can be contacted on e-mail:

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