Former Prime Minister and presidential candidate Raila Odinga recently proclaimed himself Kenya’s Joshua kicking off a debate on whether Kenya needs that type of leadership given the strides the country has made since independence.
For those who lived in the 1970s, 1980s or even as recent as the 1990s, they will tell you that Kenya has come a long way. For example, the country does not have a single political detainee and Kenyans can express themselves more freely than in the darker past. Unfortunately, even with the progress we have made, Kenya is still ranked one of the poorest countries in the world.
To put it into perspective; at independence, Kenya’s economy was at par or better than that of South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia. Today, however, these countries have become major world economies while Kenya is struggling to feed its people. More disheartening recently Transparency International rated Kenya as the third most corrupt country in the world. Moreover, the reforms that were ushered by the 2010 constitution have either stalled or been rolled back.
Therefore, when the National Super Alliance (NASA) presidential candidate Raila Odinga proclaims himself the biblical Joshua, he believes that Kenya needs no ordinary leadership but one of the magnitude of biblical Joshua to confront the dire challenges the country faces today. But who was Joshua? Joshua is one of the most revered leaders in the history of the Jewish people. When God wanted to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land, He chose Moses, a strong, tested, and God fearing leader to execute the plan. Moses would however die before delivering the Israelites to the Promised Land paving the way for Joshua to take over. Joshua would fulfill God’s promise when he led the Israelites to cross River Jordan ultimately settling in Canaan.
This exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Promised Land was not easy. Moses had to confront a pharaoh who didn’t want the Israelites to leave, the Jewish people had to fight many hostile tribes along the way, and the hot desert climate was too harsh for the people. Additionally, in the face of endless obstacles, the Israelites started to give up to the extent that they wished they remained in Egypt. It took forty tumultuous years to reach Canaan.
Almost all countries, especially those that have realized critical milestones in their nationhood have had their Joshua moments. For example, after independence, for eleven years, the United States was a loose conglomerate of thirteen states without a national government, a president, or an army until the emergence of George Washington who led his compatriots to craft the current US constitution. The US constitution, the best governing document in the world provided for a strong national government and opened the way for George Washington to become the first president of the US.
George Washington’s vision laid the foundation that catapulted the US into the most powerful and wealthiest country on earth. Make no mistake, the US is no paradise. In it’s over two hundred year history, it has produced other Joshuas. Abraham Lincoln to unite a country that faced imminent disintegration, Franklin D. Roosevelt to save the country from a catastrophic economic recession, and Martin Luther King to deliver civil rights opportunities to African Americans and other minorities in the country.
Raila is right that since independence Kenyans have fought for a better country but it seems that whenever they make one step forward, they also take five steps backwards making the country have little to show fifty years after independence. It is therefore time we got a leadership that will truly transform the country into one with strong institutions, that is fair, and prosperous. The son of Jaramogi played a major role in the defeat of dictatorship and deep rooted bad governance in the country. Indeed Kenyans across the political divide agree that he played a pivotal role in the repeal of section 2a of the old constitution which provided for a one-party state, hence paving way to multipartism. More recently Raila was also pivotal in the passing of the 2010 constitution. But, if Raila wins the presidency in the forthcoming general elections, then his history about his role in the transformation of the country is yet to be written.
Recently, I watched David Ndii discuss Raila’s vision for the country. I felt that Raila clearly understands that invoking the Joshua leadership metaphor to define his vision puts into perspective that Kenya is in dire need for extraordinary leadership. It also shows that he will pursue policies that are significantly different from those that have led us to the current situation. Raila will also stay focused on the reform agenda that will establish strong governance institutions that will protect individual liberties, civil rights, ensure equitable distribution of resources, and lay a foundation for a prosperous nation.
One American historian said “if Washington was the father of his country and Madison the father of the constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government.” History has been kind to the founding fathers of the United States of America because they laid a firm foundation that has helped the US to keep growing from strength to strength. If many years down the road historians looked back at Kenya’s history what will they say about Raila Amolo Odinga’s role in the founding our country?
By Dr. Bernard Manyibe. Dr. Manyibe Teaches at Langston University and is a founder of EduMonitor, an education technology startup based in the USA