According to Aristotelian ‘Poetics’, a tragic hero evokes in the audience a sense of pity or fear, or a mixture of both. This tragic hero is normally a person of noble birth with heroic or potentially heroic qualities. No one fists this definition more than R.H. Raila Odinga, being the son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the first Vice President who was also feted for leading the alternative ideological standing in Kenya, hence reverence of the old man as the “doyen of opposition” or the “best president that Kenya never had.” Then Raila was detained for nine years for wanting to overthrow Moi’s dictatorship, which was interpreted – rightly or wrongly – as his commitment to democratization of Kenya. When he came out he has engaged in what many Kenyans have interpreted as heroic political adventures, sometimes with high political and personal risks. This has over the years endeared him to many, myself included.
But like the mythical Oedipus and Thyestes, R.H. Raila Odinga seems to be fated by the gods or by some supernatural forces to doom and destruction or at least to great suffering in his struggles. Aristotle avers that the tragic hero “must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous … who is not eminently good and just, (and) whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.”
While Aristotle does not expect the hero to be entirely good so that he can do no wrong, he contends rather that the tragic hero commits a fatal injury or a great wrong which eventually leads to his misfortune and total destruction.
This seems to be the fate that keeps befalling R.H. Raila Odinga. He climbs almost to the very top of Kenyan politics, again and again, but seems to always make fatal tactical errors, one after another, errors that have cost him the Presidency thrice.
Although he has securely earned his position as a national hero, a position on which he has no competition, he has repeatedly sets himself on a fatal self destructive mode from which no one can save him.
In the sense of all tragic heroes, R.H. Raila Odinga has been struggling heroically against this tragic fate that he seemingly finds himself in and this cosmic conflict has always won the admiration of many Kenyans including yours truly. He invests time and energy – his entire life – in this cosmic struggle to overcome his tragedy in order that he may achieve his objective of leading Kenya (or is it liberating Kenya?). But since, like all tragic heroes, R.H. Raila Odinga simply cannot accept the reality of a diminished view of the self resulting from being worn out by many years of battle after battle, most of them ending in failure, our national hero R. H. Raila Odinga is most likely destined to end up a bitter and frustrated failure in this epic struggle against fate, just like all tragic heroes.
This tragic theatre of the absurd that has become R.H. Raila Odinga’s political epic seems to be his choice or free will. He has always chosen the paths that have led him into, initial sterling victories, but later embarrassing failures.
The paradox therefore is whether R.H. Raila Odinga’s past and current heroic misfortunes are matters fate or whether they are results of his free will. It is important to appreciate that these misfortunes have brought misery and suffering not only to the life of R.H. Raila Odinga and his family, but also to the lives of many of his followers and many others to whom these misfortunes have resulted in personal tragedies.
Though he seems to be fated, those of us who consider R.H. Raila Odinga an invincible national hero keep getting appalled every time he makes choices which bring about not only his suffering and continued destruction, but also the suffering of his followers, supporters and Kenyan public in general.
Could these tragic theaters of the absurd have revealed the true identity of R.H. Raila Odinga which was hitherto unknown to many Kenyan’s? It should be remembered that Oedipus – instead of being the proud savior of Thebes was revealed in tragic events to actually be the cause of the city’s plague, the killer of his father and the husband of his mother.
By Joshua Nyamori