• Saturday, 22 June 2024
Echoes of Titanic battle in the new Ruto-Raila flare-up

Echoes of Titanic battle in the new Ruto-Raila flare-up

Greek mythology is filled with stories of great heroes, though they all get hurt sooner or later. We observe the spectacle of human life being exalted by high rank — and then toppled.

A recurrent theme is one where fathers are killed by their sons. War was the ultimate contest, an avenue of fulfilling the hypermasculine ideal of fighting and, if necessary, dying in battle.

One of the fiercest contests was the Battle of the Titans which was fought on Mount Olympus for a period of 10 years.

It pitted the Titans, a powerful race of elder gods against the Olympians, the younger generation. Both sides brought strategy and pride, causing many deaths. The earth quaked, lightning flared, thunderbolts struck, and flames raged. In the end, the younger generation of Olympians won — the old was defeated by the new.

The battle between President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is in some ways akin to the Battle of Titans. The Battle of Titans shows us the havoc that can be caused by the power struggle between two generations and is a warning to us that the unending Ruto-Raila conflict could cause untold damage to our country.

This was evident on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, because parts of Kenya were burning as Mr Odinga renewed his anti-government protests. Raila’s contrarian streak has soured into a new, all-out political battle with President William Ruto and that battle could become catastrophic.

For about two weeks, there was a chill, a premonition, a whiff of danger hovering over the land as Mr Odinga called for a temporary ceasefire in protests to allow for dialogue with the President.

Then on May 2, the flames of protests erupted again, and the country was caught in the path of the drifting embers. Roads were closed and vehicles burnt — their charred remains a jarring reminder of how fragile peace can be and how easily we can slide into anarchy.

The new Ruto-Raila flareup has all the characteristics of the Battle of Titans. One of the characteristics of the Battle of Titans was that it was a battle for supremacy of the cosmos within the family: the Titans were the parents of the Olympians so they were all from the same extended family tree.

Generational differences

The differences are mostly a matter of generation (the Titans being older and the Olympians younger). In that way, they aptly symbolise the Ruto-Raila conflict in their battle for supremacy in Kenyan politics. Mr Odinga is not only older than Dr Ruto but in fact, it could be argued that he mentored the president in a number of ways so they are from the same “political family”.

In the battle between the Titans and the Olympians, the odds were against the Olympians as the Titans were gigantic. In the same way, in the battle between Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto during the 2022 elections, the odds were against Dr Ruto and his mostly younger allies because then President Uhuru Kenyatta and his older, battle-hardened allies were supporting Mr Odinga who ended up losing the election.

Mr Odinga now looks cornered. And like the Greek heroes who got hurt sooner or later, Mr Odinga looks hurt and vulnerable. Even in his press conferences, he sometimes looks up at the cameras as if in agony, and with deep, sorrowful wistfulness — his gaze seems far away and with something like the painful longing of one who regrets missing the fairy-tale grandeur of the presidency — probably swarmed by nostalgia, echoes, shadows, history, struggles and tears.

And he runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. For Greek heroes, when their honour was slighted and their pride damaged, they lashed out in uncontrolled anger, hurting allies, enemies, and even themselves. So far, Mr Odinga’s protests haven’t availed what he wants. Is Mr Odinga using old tricks in a changed political system that no longer responds to his antics and nostalgia of the past?

Has he misread President Ruto and his mostly younger lieutenants who may not hold the former Prime Minister in as much reverence as the old guard? Do they see Mr Odinga as a knight in broken armour and therefore vulnerable?

The answers to these questions will hold the key to what path Mr Odinga now takes. Already, some are wondering whether, finally, Mr Odinga’s political strategy of protests is unravelling. The younger politicians in Dr Ruto’s camp seem to want “to teach” Mr Odinga a lesson. And Mr Odinga would also like to teach these young Turks a lesson or two.

The result is this blazing, horrible, bitter row. Nobody will come of it smelling good. The Titans (represented by Mr Odinga) and the Olympians (represented by Dr Ruto) have to amicably redefine their relationship with each other for the sake of the country. Unless some accommodation is reached, the struggle between Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto will persist, leaving our nation and its economy vulnerable through periodic street protests.

For lasting peace, President Ruto and Mr Odinga have to somehow create an atmosphere of trust and goodwill for meaningful dialogue and way forward. When the younger generation wins, it should remember that it could gleam the wisdom of the past from the older generation. The old and the new need each other.

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