Raila Odinga: Kenya’s tenacious, veteran politician
Nairobi, Kenya | AFP | At an age when most would be retired, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s veteran opposition leader and one-time prime minister, is to run again for president — his fourth bid to become head of state.
The 72-year-old has been a mainstay of Kenyan politics since the 1980s but has never achieved his presidential ambition, his career emulating that of his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who led the opposition for three decades but never the country.
On Thursday he was named standard- bearer of the National Super Alliance coalition which hopes to overcome traditional opposition divisions to defeat incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, 55, and his ruling Jubilee Party in the August poll.
The Kenyatta vs. Odinga battle is set to be the last in a generational political rivalry between the two families that began when Jaramogi Odinga lost out to Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first post-independence leader.
– Political royalty –
Born into political royalty, a member of Kenya’s western Luo tribe, Odinga entered parliament in 1992 during the rule of president Daniel arap Moi and after spending much of the previous decade jailed or in exile during the struggle for democracy.
Odinga vied for the presidency in 1997, 2007 and 2013.
Many observers agree with Odinga’s view that the 2007 election was stolen from him, triggering widespread politically-motivated tribal violence which left more than 1,100 dead.
To stop the killings international mediators forced a deal that saw the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, continue as president with Odinga taking the specially created position of prime minister in a power-sharing government.
He held the post until 2013 when he lost the presidential election to Kenyatta.
The violence of 2007 looms over Kenya’s politics a decade on, adding fuel to the smouldering fire of tribal resentment, with many Luos believing they — through Odinga — are being denied political power by a cabal of Kikuyu elites currently led by Kenyatta.
Already, Odinga and others have said their supporters might take to the streets if this year’s vote is stolen and suggested that anything short of an Odinga victory will be proof of rigging.
Supporters regard Odinga as the social reformer Kenya needs, while detractors say he is a rabble-rousing populist unafraid to play the tribal card.
Long renowned as a firebrand speaker able to galvanise a crowd with his growling oratory, Odinga, described as stubborn and sometimes short-tempered, seems to have lost a bit of his rallying skills with some attributing the change to ill-health and advancing years.
With speech notes in hand he often stumbles and labours his words — especially in English — but speaking off-the-cuff and in his native Swahili he still has the ability to inspire.
– No communist –
Married, Odinga has three surviving children: Rosemary, Raila Junior and Winnie.
Odinga grew up an Anglican and later converted to evangelicalism, being baptised in a Nairobi swimming pool by a self-proclaimed prophet in 2009.
He studied engineering in communist former East Germany, and he named his eldest son Fidel, who died in 2015, after the Cuban revolutionary.
However, observers say the “socialist” and “communist” labels he was given were more an attempt to discredit him by the Moi regime than an accurate reflection of his leanings.
After returning to Kenya in 1970 Odinga set up as a businessman before following his father into politics.
In a recent televised interview he described himself as a social democrat who wanted to fight inequality.