The Unwritten With: FORMER PRIME MINISTER RAILA ODINGA – ON DEATH, REGRETS & WOMEN

In a quiet, glorious, island off Seme, in the Western part of Kenya, arrives an energetic team of politicians. They settle at a large balcony, with a beautiful view of the picturesque Maboko Island, and indulge in their drinks as well as the banter of the day.

As they exchange tales and wait to be served their meals, Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, or RAO, as he’s affectionately known by his fans and followers, gets up to take a short walk and it’s at this stage, that we bump into each other, heading towards opposite directions.

Raila, who was once the Deputy Director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards, is at this juncture, only accompanied by two of his colleagues. We shake hands and exchange greetings. Raila says he’d been told I’m a writer. I confirm that I am, then I enquire if, by virtue of being a profile writer, I could ask him some questions.

Raila says yes. No questions asked. No objections. No public relations person on guard. No requests for a look at the questions beforehand, just, yes.

We quickly create an impromptu plan. Raila says he’d go back to the balcony, and once he’d had his lunch and I was ready, we would have the interview.

My interaction with Raila, who owns one of the heaviest political resumes in Africa and who was, in the past, only informed of his mother’s death after a couple of months, left me with a lot to ponder on. With his chopper serving as the backdrop for our interview and, with the few minutes I was granted, I looked for some answers.

It is almost impossible, to have an interaction with a man of Raila’s caliber, talk about his past, present and future, and not include politics, however, we tried not to dwell on it.

What really happened to his son Fidel? What does Raila think of women? What’s his retirement plan? With remarkable poise and grace, here’s what he said:

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First things first, Raila, 2017, what’s the plan?

I’ll vie for presidency, but, detailed plans can never be revealed.

Why vie for presidency again?

It’s all about the people. I said, if the people want me, I’ll do what the people want. And, so far, the signs have been very clear.

If, God forbid, you passed away tomorrow, what would your greatest regret be?

Not having led our country the way I always hoped to.

Which is?

Giving the people what they’ve always wanted.

Which means? Having you as president?

Yes.

Will you ever retire from politics?

Certainly. No one is immune to old age. In another 50 years, I definitely won’t be in the game. But I hope to have left behind a strong government structure that could serve our people well.

Where do you plan to retire?

I’ve already told Mheshimiwa Olago I’ll be happy to be his neighbor. Somewhere around here, not too far from Maboko Island. Fidel had a piece of land nearby, I’ll be doing the same. I’ll definitely retire around here. It’s a great area to have some investment. Mheshimiwa Olago has done very well.

Speaking of Fidel, are you at peace with his passing away?

(Looking into the distance) Certainly not. It was a big shock. I don’t think I’ll ever be at peace with his departure. A parent should never have to bury a child. Fidel was young and energetic, he had so much life in him. He went too soon.

What was the cause of Fidel’s death?

We don’t know what caused his death. Investigations are still on-going, and we are awaiting the coroner’s report. We, too, hope to find out soon enough, then we can settle the issue.

Does death scare you?

You know, I’m a great student of literature. And in literature they say, death is a necessary evil. It must come sooner or later. There’s no need fearing it.

Any particular fears?

Fear? Oh, there’s nothing I fear. I’ve been through a lot of hardship in my life. I’ve seen things and gone through things. At this stage of my life, absolutely nothing makes me scared.

What do you think of your critics?

You know, thankfully, the people who dislike me are fewer than those who love me. You can’t be loved by everybody, that is human nature. You’ll always have people who detest you, some for personal reasons and others, because their views of the world differ from yours. All you’ve got to do is be very self-aware and pursue your mission with conviction.

What was your greatest worry when you were 18?

Oh, I was adventurous at that age. I had very few worries.  I think I really did try everything I could.

Does this include being rebellious?

(Laughs) Yes, rebellion too.  There isn’t much I didn’t do, if anything. I documented all that in my book, “The Flame of Freedom.”

Do you have any regrets of your younger years?

No, not really. Life is to be lived. I lived my youth.

What has been your biggest lesson in life so far? 

That opportunities are to be embraced. Say yes to opportunities, however small, look at the big picture and go for it.

This country is made up of men and women who are capable of so much more than they realize, if only we made great use of the opportunities that come our way.

Women, what do you think of them?

You know, I’ve interacted with many of them for years under different capacities: personally, in social settings and worked with others in politics. I think women have the capacity to transform a nation. Their diligence and resilience can be remarkable. However, not all women are diligent, some are complete jokers(Laughs)…but then again, so are men.

On a more serious note though, it takes tolerance to work and live with one another for a common good. We are all part of the human race, we should always try and be tolerant.

What does Raila do, when he’s not at Maboko Island and he really wants to unwind?

Raila is generally quite busy. But when he’s not on a schedule, he tries to spend time with family.

Where do you spend time with your family?

Not too long ago, we came back from a 10-day holiday in Mozambique. It was in a very secluded beach, with a lagoon, somewhere out of Maputo.

We had a wonderful time, I make time for my family, when I’m not engaged with politics.

Politics can be really engaging, and I’ve also got private businesses that I attend to, these can take up quite a bit of my time. So when I can, I try and spend time with family.

Seeing as you’re currently not in government, politically, what are these things that take your time?

Apart from being the head of Opposition, I help MPs, senators, governors, MCAs who seek my support, advice and guidance. And I also have personal businesses that require my input. My cup is almost always full.

How would you like to be remembered by Kenyans?

I’d like them to remember me as a Kenyan who lived, at a time of great national transition and difficulty, and who tried his best to transform the society.

What are your words of wisdom to a 25 year old?

In the words of our own Lupita Nyong’o, your dreams are valid. They really are.

Dream big. Believe that you can achieve your ambitions. Believe that it’s possible to achieve your vision, working in a straight forward manner, rather than trying to cut corners. Despite all the obstacles that come along, it is possible to achieve what you aim for.

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