NAIROBI – Outgoing Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga is an icon of the country’s opposition politics and a champion of democracy. This is not only in Kenya but across the African continent and on the world stage where he lobbied western countries to help Kenya dismantle the one party dictatorial leadership under former President Daniel arap Moi.
Known for his daring political moves that surprised many, Odinga is a go-getter who has ruffled many feathers in his elaborate political career. Like his late father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who took on Jomo Kenyatta by the horns when he wrote a book Not yet Uhuru, the outgoing prime Minister is leaving behind a rich history full of many sacrifices he made in his quest to fight for democracy in Kenya and as a true African statesman.
Born Raila Amollo Odinga on January 7, 1945 in Nyanza province of Western Kenya, Odinga inherited the mantle of protest politics from his father, Jaramogi , a one – time vice president who in 1969 fell apart with Kenya’s founding president and President elect Uhuru Kenyatta’s father, Jomo.
Before parting with a man he had stood for when he demanded from the British colonial government that there was no way the country would attain her independence unless Jomo Kenyatta was released from detention. But it was not a bed of roses for the two founding fathers of the nation as the behest of political antagonism in the then independence government leaning towards the West as Jaromogi’s communism ideals led him to the East during the cold war.
When Jaramogi formed the Kenya People Union (KPU) after breaking ranks with the Jomo Kenyatta in 1969 and after writing his book that critiqued Kenyatta’s administration soon after independence, there has been no love lost between the two leading country’s political families that had immense sway on the political platform.
Like his father’s dream of ruling the country even if it meant one day went without that wish coming to fruition, his Raila Odinga whose petition against the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as president in the March 4 presidential election was thrown out by the Supreme Court jolted his dream of becoming the country’s fourth president. The court which validated Kenyatta’s election appeared to have given him a severe political blow in his political career.
It is however not yet time for any political pundits to start writing Odinga political obituary at this time or condemn him to the dustbin of political rejects. He is on record as saying in a BBC interview last week that his CORD coalition would exploit other avenues after accepting the Supreme Court’s verdict although he said he did not agree with the ruling in its entirety.
Whichever ways or means there may be as an option for Odinga and CORD Coalition, Odinga goes down into the annuls of history as a shrewd politician who dared the powers that be even if it meant putting his own personal life on the forefront.
He was charismatic in style and organization which mesmerized many by the way he pulled out the masses in his political rallies with comical satire. At best, one can describe Odinga as a true democratic crusader who never weavered in his quest to fight for a just society and a level the playing ground. With him were the late Martin Shikuku, James Orengo, Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, Masinde Muliro, and many others who received the wrath of Moi’s regime in the drive for political space in the country.
When pockets of resistance in the Kenya Airforce tried to topple Moi’s government on August 2, 1982, Raila Odinga accused of having been one of the mastermind. He was immediately arrested and placed under house arrest for seven months. The government accused and suspected him of being a collaborator with the plotters of a failed coup. He has since acknowledged this in a book by Dr. Babafemi Adesina titled Raila Odinga: An Enigma in Kenyan politics, in which the author traces the Odinga’s, the treacherous political terrain of the man in as the most influential and controversial actors on the contemporary Kenyan political scene, commented Dr.Jeremy Matam Farrall, University of Tasmania, Australia.
A few months later in September, 1988, he was re-arrested for his involvement with human rights and pro-democracy activism at the height of the country clamour for multi-party democracy from the Moi one party state but was to be freed again on June 12, 1989 after almost a year in detention.
But as strong opposition grew against Moi’s regime with several activists fleeing abroad into detention, the man, who perhaps is one the country’s longest serving detainees was on July 5, 1990 arrested together with Matiba, and the former Nairobi Mayor Charles Rubia only to be released a year later on June 21, 1991 before he fled the country to Norwary through neighbouring Uganda after he claimed that state agents were out to eliminate him.
But as the wind of change swept across Europe into the Africa continent, Raila Odinga returned in February 1992 to join FORD – Forum for Restoration for Democracy – then led by his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenneth Matiba, Charles, among a host of other opposition giants out to force Moi’s government embrace democracy.
Subsequently, he was elected Vice Chairman of the General Purposes Committee of the party. During the run-up to the 1992 general elections, KANU at the behest of senior politicians in the party like its former powerful secretary general Joseph Kamotho formed the Youth for Kanu (YK 92) whose propaganda against the opposition saw FORD split into two with Ford Kenya, led by Raila’s father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, and FORD-Asili led by Kenneth Matiba and late Martin Shikuku.
Raila Odinga became Ford-Kenya’s Deputy Director of Elections following that split and went ahead to win Langata Constituency parliamentary seat, previously held by Richard Leakey of KANU who was a former Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the cabinet in Moi’s government.
Dr.Leakey had earlier served as Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). During the 1997 general elections, Raila Odinga despite losing in the presidential elections after coming third after Moi and outgoing President Mwai Kibaki, he was later to join forces with Moi whom he served in his government between June 2001-2002 as Energy Minister.
This was a short-lived marriage of convenience a things went haywire in their political marriage with Moi after the former President endorsed Uhuru Kenyatta as hire apparent in the 2002 general elections which led Odinga, the late Prof. George Saitoti and outgoing vice president Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka trooping out of Kanu to form the Liberal Democratic Party.
As a result, a new alliance was formed which saw the Rainbow movement come into existence after the breakaway Kanu forces in LDP later teamed up with Kibaki’s National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) and a coalition of several others parties that had to hand down KANU’s death knell to its 40 years of political supreme.
Come during the clamour for the referendum on the new constitution during which the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was founded, the party later split into two with ODM headed by Raila Odinga and ODM-Kenya by Kalonzo Musyoka, his running mate in the March 4 elections. The rest is history!
The duo of Odinga and Musyoka with the Ford Kenya chairman Moses Wetangula did not attend Uhuru’s inauguration a at the prestigious Moi International Sports Center (Kasarani where twelve African heads of state and government attended as they were in South Africa on a private visit.
Odinga who has epitomized himself as a true five star cadet of the country’s politics went to Maranda Primary and High School, Nairobi University, and Herder Institut, a part of the philological faculty at the University of Leipzig in the then East Germany.
He later worked as a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and founded Standard Processing Equipment Construction & Erection Ltd (later renamed East African Spectre and now Spectre International) as a family business venture, manufacturing liquid petroleum gas cylinders that was recently a scene of robbery in which property millions of shillings was stolen and vehicles vandalized soon after the supreme court ruling.
All said and done, Odinga remains one of the best African crusader for democracy and statesman per excellence. Many who thought that the Supreme court’s validity of Kenaytta as the president in the March 4 elections would lead the fiery and shrewd politician into summoning his troops to the streets and cause mayhem worse than the 2007-2007 post lection violence in the country were muted when Odinga called for calm among his supporters even after the court threw out his petition.
He has left many mesmerized as to the next course of his action to remain politically relevant if the constitution bars him from the 2017 elections on matters of age.