Dear Mr Odinga, Allow Gen Z To Stand On Your Shoulders, Do Not Stand On Theirs! 


Dear Mr Odinga, Allow Gen Z To Stand On Your Shoulders, Do Not Stand On Theirs! 

Dear Mr Odinga,

As someone who prides themselves as being an avid student of history – at least that’s the impression we get from your perpetual recitation of this or that bit of Kenyan history whenever you get an opportunity to speak, you must beware that across the breadth of history, in Kenya and elsewhere, change in any society is always driven by the youth. 

Nelson Mandela, one of the men whose history you like to revisit, borrow from and deploy, alongside his comrades such as O.R. Tambo and Walter Sisulu (with whom your comrade James Orengo is posing with on his Twitter/X header), changed the history of the South African anti-apartheid struggle in 1944 when they founded the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANC), against the wishes of seniors within the ANC, who reportedly feared the youth’s militancy. In fact it was Anton Lembede, who was elected leader of the Youth League, who radicalised Mandela, making him embrace militancy as a strategy. It is little wonder that it is out of that Youth League that the Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC’s military wing, was founded.

To Mandela, Sisulu and others, the old folk, including future Nobel Laureate Chief Albert Luthuli, had made their contribution in the liberation struggle, but it was now time for new tactics and strategies, it was now time to inject new valour and vigour in the struggle, it was now time to organise the youth and simultaneously take up arms. And so whatever strides the ANC and the struggle made thereafter – including building an army that fought the apartheid government, credit has always gone to the 1944 Youth League, which changed the course of history.

Yet Mandela, Sisulu and their youthful comrades didn’t have an easy ride making this raft of history-altering changes. The old guard, as is always the case, got jittery (and everyone has been hoping that Gen Z haven’t made you and others jittery) and made various attempts to either subvert or slow down these changes. Winnie Madikizela Mandela (whom you’ve named your own daughter after) tells a story of how ANC president James Sebe Moroka showed up at Mandela’s home one evening in 1949 and angrily told Winnie, “Who does that Nelson think he is? Does he think he owns the ANC?” Moroka then left in a huff, having registered his strong displeasure with the radical path Mandela and the Youth League were taking the ANC. 

But maybe we don’t even need to travel far and wide to borrow historical lessons, because the part of your own history which you like taking so much pride in, the Young Turks era when yourself and other comrades – in your 20s and early 30s – powered the second liberation while coalescing around a number of old men, including your own father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and his comrade Pius Henry Masinde Muliro. 

Yourself, Paul Muite, Gitobu Imanyara, James Orengo, Mukhisa Kituyi, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Kiraitu Murungi, and others like Michael Wamalwa Kijana who joined you later in the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), and others like Martha Karua and Wangari Maathai who weren’t in FORD, and many others such as George Anyona, literally lay your lives on the line in the push for the return of multipartism (President William Ruto, with whom you are now highly suspected to be working in cahoots with to subvert Gen Z’s historical and generational mission and pacify the will of the people, was on the opposite side of this struggle as part of Youth for KANU 1992, meaning he may not relate to Gen Z’s clamour for change. But will you, as someone who claims to have been on the right side of history in 1992, side with him or Gen Z?).

We are sure you remember, more than we do, that as Young Turks, much as you operated under your father’s and Muliro’s wings, you had autonomy, and made an independent choice as to whether to breakaway from Jaramogi and Muliro or stay with them and push for change. Of course stories are told of how you and your father had moments of disagreement, expectedly (there’s actually a newspaper headline doing the rounds reporting about your disagreement with your father as regards the manner in which FORD was to pick its presidential candidate). 

However, what Jaramogi and Muliro did not do was they never usurped your agency as Young Turks. Of course stories are told of how moderate Muliro was, such that when things were heating up and you and your comrades were planning serious protests and such, Muliro would walk to the Holy Family Basilica to seek counsel from Maurice Cardinal Otunga, the Archbishop. But whatever they did, Muliro and Jaramogi did not seek to overshadow you, or take advantage of you. Why, then, Mr Odinga, do you appear to be wanting to derail the Gen Z movement?

You know better than us that Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, just like our immediate neighbour Yoweri Kaguta Museveni were once popular liberation heroes in their respective countries. It didn’t end well for Mugabe and we all know what our immediate neighbours are going through under the leadership of someone who was once waxing lyrical about his Marxist credentials in the corridors of the University of Dar es Salaam. The mistake Mugabe and our immediate neighbour made was to imagine that nobody else other than themselves can lead the revolution, and anyone else who dared challenge them was considered a counter revolutionary. 

Do you, like Mugabe and Museveni, belong to the school of thought that only you, yourself and you can be an agent of change, or do you believe that there can be and there are others even greater than yourself who are equally up to the task? Would you like, like Robert Mugabe, to risk your legacy by insisting on being the almighty leader when other leaders and leaderships have emerged in the same manner that you emerged decades ago? Don’t the Gen Z elicit in you the feelings you had as a Young Turk, and if so, why wouldn’t you allow them to travel the full course of their journey in pursuit of change as opposed to your seemingly looming intention to short circuit the Gen Z movement in the pretext of national dialogue? Haven’t you, Mr Odinga, had enough goes at national dialogues, and isn’t it time for Kenya and Kenyans to try something different? And much as you have your own agency as a Kenyan, must you be the one at the forefront at a time when your grandchildren’s agemates have risked and lost their lives asking to be heard? Will you not allow them to be heard in the manner they wish, or must you be the one to midwife such a hearing? Are these questions on your mind at all, dear Mr Odinga?    

Some may argue that we are preaching to the converted, that you are a seasoned politician who knows how to read the mood of the country, but if that were the case, then why are you acting as if you are radarless about this particular moment in Kenyan history? Would you like the one stroke that wipes away whatever contribution you’ve made to this country to be that you openly usurped the Gen Z movement and sought to stand on the shoulders of your grandchildren’s agemates instead of allowing them to stand on your shoulders as they seek to reimagine Kenya? Wouldn’t your political weight break Gen Z’s shoulders, dear Mr Odinga?

Lastly, because we know sometimes realpolitik wipes away conscientiousness, please allow us to ask, what would your late comrade George Anyona, whose name you like to invoke, and who like many others died before they could enjoy the fruits of the liberation your lot suffered heavily for (you and others who are alive have been lucky enough to enjoy some of these fruits on their behalf) say about your actions at this moment? What would Chelagat Mutai, who lived and died in deplorable conditions (and whom you assisted) for doing exactly what Gen Z are doing and getting crushed by the Daniel arap Moi dictatorship, say about your actions today?

Will you, Mr Odinga, allow the sun to shine on Gen Z, or will you block the sun from shining on Gen Z and cover them with your dark political shadow? Whatever choice and decision you make, dear Mr Odinga, please do not say you didn’t hear any voices at this dark hour in our country’s history. Here’s an opportunity for you to write the evening chapters of your story. Whatever you choose to do with it is up to you. But remember, your comrades died, children have died, and for what? Robert Mugabe. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. The list is growing. 

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