Mutahi Ngunyi: Who is the revolutionary: Moi, Kibaki or Raila?

In life, we do not see things as they are; we see them as we are. And nothing illustrates this better than the story of this Italian guy who worked for a clinic in Yugoslavia in the early 80s.

Every morning, he would cross the border to Yugoslavia by bicycle and be subjected to a thorough search. The authorities at the border believed that he was smuggling stuff into the country.

They would, therefore, undress him and disassemble his bicycle hoping to find something. For years, the routine continued without success.

After the liberation of Slovenia from Yugoslavia, one of the border guards saw the man in a cafe and introduced himself.

He said to him: “… I used to check you every morning at the border. We were convinced that you were smuggling something, yet we found nothing when we searched you. So, what exactly were you smuggling?”

The man replied: “The bicycles I rode, of course!” Because they were conditioned to think in a certain way, the border guards missed the point.

And this is exactly what we have done with our leaders. We do not judge them as they are; we judge them as we are! The result:

We cannot tell the thugs from the visionaries. Let me use Mr Daniel arap Moi, the former president, as a reference point.

The record must reflect that we misjudged Mr Moi on three accounts. The first regards ‘‘Project Uhuru.’’ On this one, we were wrong and Mzee Moi was damn right.

And not because of one Mr Uhuru Kenyatta; this Kenyatta guy was just a symbol. We were wrong because we rejected an idea whose time had come. At the core of the project were two fundamentals.

One, to retire the likes of Mr Mwai Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga. These politicians were part of the old vision that needed to give way to a new one.

Two, to effect a generational change from the independence politicians to the ‘‘Obama generation’’ in its 40s. And if America is considering the idea today, Mr Moi had seen it for Kenya five years ago.

But because we disliked him at the time, we rejected the man and his visionary project. In its place, we chose an inferior idea sold to us by the political twin brothers: Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga.

Working together or separately, the idea of the two has been a disaster for Kenya.

The second area in which we misjudged Mr Moi regards integrity. I was convinced that Mr Moi would be the one to plunge the country into civil war.

And opportunities to do so were made available to the old man. After the NARC victory in 2002, he could have rejected the results like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe did.

Similarly, he had the option of handing over the government to the armed forces, an idea entertained by some of his cronies.

And either way, he would have emerged the winner as we have seen with Mr Mugabe. But given all these options, the former president chose the country over self.

The same cannot be said of President Kibaki. Faced with a similarly difficult situation in December last year, he did not exhibit statesmanship.

Securing his presidency was more important than the survival of the country. This is why history will judge him harshly.

As for Mr Odinga, we must ask this question: if he loses the 2012 race, will he take it with the dignity of Mr Moi or the brashness of President Kibaki?

Although Mr Odinga is ‘‘Moi-sh’’ in his approach, my suspicion is that he will act like President Kibaki in such an eventuality.

The third account on which we misjudged Mr Moi regards simple people. We laughed at the illiterate cronies around him, and the choir masters he promoted to head parastatals.

But when I think about it today, there was a strategy here and it was two-pronged. One, it was about equalising relations.

Under Mr Moi everybody, especially simple people with talent, had a chance of becoming somebody.

Two, by surrounding himself with illiterate cronies like the late Mulu Mutisya or Kariuki Chotara, the symbolism was that he was one with the grassroots.

And the message to the people was that there was a place for the ‘‘grassroots’’ people in the ‘‘glasshouses’’!

The story is different under the twin brothers in power. For President Kibaki, you have to be posh to gain his favour and to benefit from his enterprise.

But the case is worse for Mr Odinga. While Mr Moi consulted with the Mutisyas and the Chotaras, Mr Odinga’s ‘‘glasshouse’’ is full of mzungu operatives.

The only ‘‘grassroots’’ fellows are his hustlers who, unlike the Moi simpletons, are poverty stricken.

The question we must, therefore, ask is this: between Mr Moi, President Kibaki and Mr Odinga, who is the revolutionary?

The visionary and innovator, in my view, is Mr Moi; the other two are just his copycats. And this is why the ‘‘Obama generation’’ must borrow from him if they are to wrestle power from the twin brothers.

Some of the Moi lessons are contained in a business book I am currently reading entitled Leading the Revolution by Gary Hamel.

The person who will lead the ‘‘Obama generation’’ must be about three things. One, he must have imagination.

According to Mr Hamel, “…(people) fail to create the future not because they fail to predict it, but because they fail to imagine it.” The best example of imagination in Kenya is Equity Bank.

Two, the guy must have a capacity to celebrate the stupid. Wealth and change are created by ‘‘stupid’’ ideas; ideas that people will laugh at as untenable.

Three, this person must be able to win small, win early and win often. Do we have such a person in the house?

Mr Mutahi Ngunyi is a political scientist with The Consulting House, a policy and security think-tank for the Great Lakes region and West Africa.

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