The big interview with ODM leader Raila Odinga by veteran journalist Joseph Warungu on Sunday night did not disappoint.
Perhaps due to his international exposure from many years at the BBC World Service, Mr Warungu was not overawed by Mr Odinga’s larger-than-life stature — as happens with most Kenyan journalists, who tiptoe around the Opposition chief as if walking on egg shells during interviews.
Kenyan journalists and columnists normally spare Mr Odinga the searing and aggressive scrutiny they reserve for his political contemporaries — like retired President Mwai Kibaki, President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka and the DP, Dr William Ruto. On Sunday night, however, it became clear to media sceptics that Mr Odinga was all along never shy of fielding unflattering questions and even seemed to relish responding to them without hesitation.
Mr Odinga came out powerfully as someone whose mind was well plugged in Kenya affairs — from contemporary history to the economy, politics and future prospects. His command of figures, dates and historical events was particularly refreshing at a time when the political field is replete with personalities — including professional lawyers — who can hardly recount a coherent narrative about anything of note about our country.
The seasoned politician left no doubt that it is his past interviewers who usually did him disservice by pretending to babysit him and avoiding such touchy questions as his net worth, the role of the Odinga ‘dynasty’ in Nyanza politics, what’s in it for him in his ‘Handshake’ pet project and his inability to keep ‘friends’ (political allies) for long.
The NTV interview gave the impression of a man who is the loudest and most consistent mouth against impunity and corruption, was not afraid to respond to probity questions in a society where public figures live in mortal dread of being called upon to account for anything about their lives.
Many talk show hosts and columnists often highlight perceived shortcomings, misses and slip-ups about Kenya’s fortunes but never acknowledge its dramatic progress and transformation.
Bearing in mind that Mr Odinga is among the foremost players in shaping the country’s contemporary story of phenomenal change, at the next opportunity, the interviewer ought to prompt him to upraise the nation on what he thinks the country had got right — if at all. Otherwise, the interview would cast a false perspective of all grim, doom and gloom.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) president Christine Lagarde, for instance, acknowledged in 2018 Kenya’s phenomenal feat of expanding its economy at above five per cent consistently for over 10 years, which had enabled the government to fund rapid expansion of social safety net programmes.
These include the 12 years of free basic education (8 primary and 12 secondary) with an additional 350,000 children who joined the free secondary education programme in 2020 (2019 KCPE cohort) being allocated Sh22,000 each in state school fees subsidy in 2020 alone. Others include the universal health coverage programmes, Inua Jamii monthly stipends for senior citizens and bursary funds from the Ministry of Education, county governments and the constituency development fund (NG-CDF).
Kenya has also earned international accolades for the most rapid deepening of infrastructural connectivity in the past two decades than at any period.
Mr Odinga was a Cabinet minister for roads and public works (2003-2005) and prime minister (2008-2013). These two offices were in charge of both coordination and laying foundations and fundraising for the expansion and modernisation of the road network, the conception of the modernisation of the rail, ports and harbours programme now under implementation among others.
The roads and railway modernisation has eased the cost and efficiency of doing business locally and regionally by drastically cutting back on time taken to evacuate cargo at the Port of Mombasa from over 21 days to under six days. Many new neighbourhoods and corridors have been opened up by new roads for residential and businesses premises, decongesting existing urban centres, reducing property and rental prices among others.
As a political economy, Kenya is a work in progress. Mr Odinga’s voice is important, and hearing his balanced rendition that includes an appraisal of Kenya’s accomplishments would be widely welcome.
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