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In the cottage with: Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga – On Death, Regrets & Women

By Yvonne Aoll | Tuesday, Feb 9th 2016 at 10:10
Raila Odinga with Yvonne Aoll during the interview

Question: How does one plan to meet up and chat with the former Prime Minister of Kenya in a casual setting?

Answer: You don’t. You don’t plan. Sometimes, things just happen. And when they do, you make as much out of them as you possibly can.

My session with Hon. Olago Aluoch was ongoing, when his phone began buzzing endlessly. A guest  was on his way to the island for lunch, and preparations needed to be finalized.

“Sorry, we have to wind this up soon,” Hon. Aluoch said. I asked another two questions and our session was up.

Twenty minutes later, there was movement within the island. Trees were swaying vigorously from side to side, tied up cows were aggressively and fearfully attempting to pull off from the trees they were attached to, and guests were all gathered a few meters from the island’s helipad.

The helicopter was landing, and in it, was Rt Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga.

Raila disembarked with some comrades, a few fellow politicians-cum-friends. The politicians looked eager, to shake the hands of the unexpecting wananchi who were in the island. To indulge the children who would probably never forget this day. This one day, when they got to meet and say “hello” to Raila, a Statesman whose family lineage exists in all of Kenya’s History books: in schools and in archives and in homes.

After saying hello to “the people,” Raila and team were shown around the island. Hon. Olago being quite the host, took them around the chalets, the fishponds, the artistically and meticulously landscaped path walks and finally, to the main block of vacation suites.

And then, they disappeared.

This team of politicians settled at the suites’ balcony, with a beautiful view of the picturesque island, they indulged in their drinks and their stories. What kind of stories do a group of politically-inclined men share when by themselves, and in a relatively far away island? I wouldn’t know, but it’s probably a mixture of stories: on 2017, on the weather, on Cyril Ramaphosa, on cows, on KDF, on tusker, on Donald Trump, on wives, on West Pokot and perhaps even on their barbers. Do men talk about their barbers? Do they share barbers? Or do they get pitifully territorial like women?

As they told stories and waited to be served their meals, RAO, as he’s affectionately known by his fans and followers, got up to take a short walk and it’s at this stage, that we bumped into each other, heading towards opposite directions.

This time, RAO, who was once the Deputy Director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards, was only accompanied by two of his colleagues. We shook hands, exchanged greetings. He said he’d been told I’m a journalist. I confirmed that I was, then I enquired if, by virtue of being a profile writer, I could ask him some questions. (I really had no idea what about. I, on that day, hadn’t woken up expecting to interview the son of Kenya’s first vice-president).

He said yes. No questions asked. He said, he’d go back to the balcony, and once he’d had his lunch and my crew and I were ready, we could have the interview.

This, was however, under one condition: that the interview would take no more than 10 minutes. I was allowed to ask him two questions or 500 questions if I liked, but I could only ask them in 10 minutes. I agreed. And then I panicked.

Four years, in a highly accredited Journalism School, and not once, did they ever teach us how to conduct an interview with a country’s former Prime Minister in less than 10 minutes. What a tragedy. But then again, if teachers taught us everything, what would life teach us?

And speaking of life, my interaction with Raila, who was, according to various publications,  only informed of his mother’s death after a couple of months, left me with a lot to ponder on. Among them was the biggest lesson of all: people who really want to do something will always find a way. This notion of “friends” always being “too busy” to call back or to show up in a time of crisis is absolute nothingness.

Sit down and hold a conversation in a café with the phone in your pocket. We don’t need to see your Samsung Galaxy S6, IPhone 6 and Tablet displayed on the table for a catch-up that’s not work-related, because you’re a “very busy person.”

Look, we get it, you work for Deloitte. We are happy for you. Now, please get over yourself. This self-imposed need for personal importance ought to be done away with. People are mostly only half as “busy” as they claim to be. Raila, the head of the government’s Opposition had a sitting with a stranger, and not once, did he take out his phone. I, in fact, do not know what color his phone is. If Jakom, can make time, what is this you do, that makes you “busier” than him? Eh? Shamwari.

With his chopper serving as the backdrop for our interview and, with the 10 minutes I was granted, I looked for some answers. It is almost impossible, to have an interaction with a man of Raila’s caliber, his past, present and future, and not include politics, but we tried not to dwell on it.

What really happened to Fidel? What does he think of women? What’s his retirement plan? With remarkable poise and grace, here’s what he said…

First things first, 2017, what’s the plan?

I’ll vie for presidency… but, detailed plans can never be revealed.

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