PHILIP ETALE: This is how Raila chipped in when Lady Maureen fell sick. Let’s not vilify him without facts

I feel bad when people bash Hon. Raila Odinga without facts especially following the death of Ohangla queen Lady Maureen, so I’ve decided to explain what kind of a person he is.

I first came to know Raila on the day of the merger between KANU and NDP in the afternoon of 2001. The convention at Kasarani had just ended and delegates from both parties had begun leaving the venue.

I was a budding journalist at the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). I had been assigned by my supervisor Mr. Joseph Towett to cover what many in newsrooms refer to as ‘colour’. Colour in journalism lingua means a story that depicts the picture of the main event. It could be sideshows or any other happenings.

There was ululation, there was joy, there was colour, and there was ‘mourning’. Mourning in the sense that some people like the then Vice President Prof. George Saitoti, the vocal KANU mouthpiece J.J. Kamotho among others had felt shortchanged.

President Daniel Moi and his entourage had just left the venue. Some bigwigs in KANU had been left with wounds as a result of the day’s happenings.

Many people loathed Raila. Owing to his days in detention and his style of politics, journalists feared even approaching him.

I was a young tiny boy from Lugari, trying to learn the ropes and to practice my young journalistic skills taught by the great Mr. Ndirangu, Mr. John Kamau (RIP), Mr. Gichuki, Mr. Mbugua, Mr. Chrisanthus Otuoma (late father of the former cabinet minister Dr. Paul Otuoma), Mr. Ochien’g, Ms. Joyce Kamau, Mr. Wycliffe Buhere et’al at the KIMC.

For those who do not know, most top journalists in Kenya today and around East Africa went through the Kenya Institute of Mass Communications based in Nairobi’s semi -leafy suburb of South B.

Mr. Ondeko Aura, Ms. Catherin Kasavuli, Mr. Linus Kaikai, Mr. Emmanuel Juma, Mr. Emmanuel Talam, Ms. Beatrice Marshall, Ms. Betty Dindi, Mr. Richard Chacha, name them all went through KIMC.

I gathered the courage to approach Mr. Odinga as he was about to get into his vehicle. There were many people milling around him trying to catch his eye. There was song and dance outside the Kasarani gymnasium, a venue political parties prefer holding meetings of big multitudes.

Need I say that KBC was the only ‘nusu ya kuonana’ then. Although there was the Kenya Television Network (KTN) which had begun gaining ground but only broadcasting in Nairobi and its environs and the new kid on the block the NTV, KBC was regarded highly by politicians who wanted visibility across the country.

I was holding the microphone with the KBC label. “Excuse me sir”, I shouted because there was too much noise. He stopped and looked at me. “I would like to have an interview with you”, I requested.

“There is too much noise here”, he said. “Get in the car and tell me what you want me to talk about”.

He sat on the passenger seat and so I jumped on the back left. I was frightened, I was shaking. I had never entered into a politician’s car and more so, a big machine. We cruised through the dilapidated Thika road, passed through town centre then on to Mombasa road.

I remembered I had left the rest of the crew at Kasarani but knew they would just proceed to the broadcasting house on Harry Thuku road. Shortly, we branched off Mombasa road through a corridor slightly past where Airtel headquarters is currently located.

Then the driver stopped. It was my first time to enter the East African Spectra limited. That was where his private office was. Mr. Odinga ushered me. We took tea as we talked. I told him since I had left my cameraman at Kasarani, I wouldn’t mind inviting him to KBC studio at night for a live interview during the prime time news.

He accepted the request. He told me of how KBC had been anti-opposition leaders and never had anyone in the opposition being invited for a live interview in their studios. “It was a taboo for anyone at KBC to ever imagine of hosting me, Martha Karua, Kiraitu Murungi, James Orengo, Martin Shikuku, James Anyona, Charity Ngilu, Henry Obwocha, Musikari Kombo, Mwai Kibaki et’al at their studios, In fact they would be sacked”, he said mockingly as he laughed. You know how he laughs.

After about 30 minutes, he called in the driver and told him to drop me at KBC. He even gave me something for lunch and promised to be at KBC by 8:45pm. He did.

We became friends and today I work as the Director of Communications in the party he leads.

He is a down to earth man. A very understanding man and a listening leader. He does not dismiss anyone’s opinion. He is approachable and has a big heart.

On numerous occasions, Mr. Odinga has sent me to represent him in fundraisers of bereaved friends and funerals and besides a written speech, he gives me cash money to give as ‘pole’. Many at times he goes in person.

At social events like fundraisers, he attends or even sends people. I have been sent to some of these events and given his cash donations.

When I see some people venting their anger on social media calling him names and branding him ungenerous, it pains me.

I feel bad when people choose to go on social media to brand him all sorts of names. When Lady Maureen, the queen of ohangla music fell sick, her family and friends reached out to Mr. Odinga for help. He sent money to have her taken to hospital for treatment.

His wife Mama Ida Odinga has been more than a mother to Lady Maureen. She has visited her in hospital and all through her sickness, Mama Ida has been keeping tabs on her to find out how she is fairing on.

We have seen prominent musicians and artistes die in other regions, no one blames leaders from those regions for their deaths. I find it unfair judgment by a section of Kenyans on the person of the former Prime Minister.

Yes, he is the natural leader of the Luo community. But he can’t possibly bear all the burdens for everyone in the region. He is a national leader too. He can’t carry the whole nation on his back.

I vividly remember on 14th January 2014, the day my mother passed on after a short illness and I felt like my whole world had crumbled on me, my party leader and boss was the first person to call me. I was on a cab headed to the airport. I was broken. I cried on phone like a baby. He consoled me and told me of how his mother died when he was in prison and the system refused anyone to inform him of her death. He told me that he came to learn of her mother’s death years after he was released from detention.

He told me to proceed to the village and immediately sent me some money to help in the initial preparations for my mum’s funeral.

In general, Mr. Odinga is a good man. A compassionate man. A caring man. Let us desist from vilifying him without facts. He is a human being just like you and I.

Spare him unnecessary wrath.



The writer is the Director of Communications of the ODM Party.

Twitter:  @Etalephilip