Dear Mama: Mother’s Day message from Raila Odinga

Dear Mama,

“Stand strong and smile,” I said to myself as I stood in the courtroom, my hands handcuffed before me as I listened to the Judge read my fate in 1984. My mother sat in the third row. She was a strong, powerful lady that rarely showed weakness but today I could see she was hurting. In the courtroom packed with bodies, I frequently peered in her direction and tried to smile to make her know that everything was going to be alright, but all those bodies couldn’t mask the sound of the silent slump of her heavy heart as I was declared an enemy of the state, charged with treason and sentenced to death.

That was the last time I saw mother.

Growing up my mother was the backbone of our family.Marrying my father before independence, I reminisce in awe how she managed to manage family life, be a confidant and partner of my father and offer frequent support to those fighting for the independence of this country. She was tall and slim and a fiercely detested mediocrity. There was no “half done” with her. Things were either to be done right, or not to be attempted at all.

It was through George Anyona, a close confidant confined to a different block at Shimo la Tewa prison that I learned of my mother’s death on November 5th, 1984. I had never believed in a sixth sense, but my time in detention showed me that it does exist and that it is very powerful, particularly when use of other senses is denied.

One night my mother’s image came strongly to my mind. The next day I did not feel like eating at all, I just stayed lying on the cold floor of my cell and told the warders that I had had a bad dream. I had seen my mother talking to me as if she were in pain. She seemed to be bidding me farewell and telling me to be strong. I knew something was not right. I got to know what happened when a note from George, written on a piece of toilet paper informed me that Mama had gone to be with the Lord. My grief knew no bounds.

I was angry that I had not been there to see her and depressed over her loss.

I could not let the warders know that the news had reached me and therefore had to hold myself together. My brother Oburu sent a telegram informing me that our mother had died through provincial officer Kilonzo, a message that did not arrive for two months after her death.

I see my mother’s character in a lot of the women in my life. My sisters, all strong women in their own right, have had to face many battles in life for bearing the family name but just like my mother, little seldom frightens nor deters them from their beliefs. I am proud of their achievements and how far they have come.

Ida, the love of my life, a teacher and disciplinarian whose life story is similar to my mother’s in many ways. Both having to look after political families, both their husbands being arrested and sent to detention, both having lost children. I’ve watched her mentor our children, grandchildren and many young girls in this country. She has been an excellent example of strength, integrity and principle and I wish her joy and happiness on this Mother’s Day!

**

Last Wednesday night I sat with members of Parliament of my party, ODM, explaining to them the importance of the gender bill and why we must support it. The following day I sat in Parliament peering down on all the women parliamentarians present. I felt for them. I felt their pain. The extra struggles they must endure because of their gender. They must overcome daily chauvinism, self image, balance family life as well as the endless painful needs of the electorate.

I watched many of their male counterparts snicker at the announcement of the vote. It shocked me at how blind they could be. Many, if not all of them come from polygamous communities. Communities in which mothers are the centre and have the heaviest task of raising children. In polygamous communities, the children call all their father’s wives, “Mama”.

Taking care of the needs of the children is a communal effort that traditionally has been left to the mother.

Therefore, it seems only befitting to me that we need more in Parliament to take care of the needs of the 45 million children of Kenya. Our children are suffering and to assume that only men can handle this is the wrong type of thinking. We need all members of the community to join hands and I will personally speak with President Kenyatta to help whip members of his coalition into action and accompany me to parliament the next time the Gender bill is up for a vote.

In this age of electoral reform, it is important for all of us to join the conversation of reforming the IEBC. Women’s rights and expressions depend heavily on their representation. Many women are rigged out of positions they rightfully won. Reform of the electoral body affects all of us and I encourage mothers everywhere to pay keen attention to the changes that need to occur.

Finally, I would like us all to take a moment and say a prayer for all the mother’s that have lost their children. Take a moment and pray for Mama Irene, A Juma who lost her son Jacob Juma, a courageous, forthright man who lost his life fighting for the rights of Kenyans and exposing the ills of the Eurobond scam. May God grant her strength during this dark time.

Pray for mothers who have lost their children through extra-judicial killings.
Pray for mothers who lost their children in Huruma.
Pray for mothers in other parts of Kenya that are suffering to bring food to the table.
Pray for mothers who lost their children in the PEV of 2008 and mothers of slain ICC witnesses, may their deaths not be in vain and may they find justice.
Pray for mothers of slain Garissa students, mothers whose children perished in Westgate, mothers of soldiers whose bodies have still not been found. May they find peace and strength.
Pray for mothers with sick children in hospitals, may the lord heal them.

I pray for all mothers, may your children grow up in a exemplary, winning Kenya, unified by love and not divided by tribalism and may they fulfill all the dreams and successes you wish upon them.
Happy Mother’s Day to you all!

RAO

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