Raila Odinga’s profile and track record
He has been called many names; traitor, reformist, socialist, charismatic, corrupt, riddle teller and political survivor. Raila Amollo Odinga is no ordinary Joe in Kenya’s political landscape. He is a man who has weathered the highs and lows of any man’s political career to create his own identity despite the fact that he is the son of Kenya’s first Vice President, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
Raila 67 is currently the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya, a position that was created in 2008 following a power sharing arrangement with President Mwai Kibaki. He assumed the position after the Kofi Annan led intervention for peaceful resolution of electoral conflict became successful following weeks of talks characterized by stalemates.
He first joined government in 2001 when he was appointed Minister of Energy by President Daniel Arap Moi. Raila had run against Moi in the 1997 general elections and emerged third behind Moi and Kibaki. He served for about a year in Moi’s government during which time he also doubled as KANU’s Secretary General.
This move is one among many a controversy that he has generated over the years. The irony of joining Moi’s government emanated from the fact that he fought the KANU regime with fervor during his formative days in politics in which time he spent several years in Prison.
The longest he stayed in Prison was between 1982 and 1988, a sentence he served without trial under the instructions of President Moi after he was linked with a plot to topple the government in 1981. Working for a regime that jailed him for treason was rather an absurd point of his career to say the least. He later defected from KANU in 2002 when Uhuru Kenyatta was made its flag bearer by Moi.
He was detained twice more times after being released and in 1991 he was forced to seek asylum in Norway for what he claimed was a plot by the government to assassinate him. However, he gained the reputation of being a reformist during this time by involving himself with civil society groups campaigning for multiparty politics in the country.
He joined his father’s party FORD (which later became FORD Kenya after splitting) when he returned back to the country at the dawn of Multiparty politics. Raila easily swept the vote for Langata constituency from KANU and entered parliament to start his political career under a FORD Kenya ticket.
Langata, located on the fringe of Nairobi City, is considered a cosmopolitan constituency which contains a rich diversity of voters who have been faithful to him since 1992 when he first represented them in parliament. This is one of the things that differentiates him from other regional Kingpins like Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto and kalonzo Musyoka who in addition to getting a majority following from their regions also represent them in parliament.
Suffice it to say, in the Presidential elections Raila has been involved in, Nyanza Province which is rich in his tribesmen has always voted as a block for him. He is married to Ida Odinga, with whom they have several children. Ida is from the Luhya Community, a marriage that further isolates Raila from any direct links to tribalism.
During the times he was outside government, Raila was viewed as an effective opposition leader in Parliament. This is highly attributed to the fact that he always took on the authorities bluntly and with defiance.
This character put him in Kibaki’s list of most hated people when he led a strong team to campaign against the 2002 draft constitution which the Kibaki government had edited to bestow sweeping powers on the President during the 2005 referendum on the constitution. During this referendum, Raila formed a formidable movement called the Orange democratic movement to lead the ‘NO’ campaign which trounced the government’s ‘YES’ camp to unequivocally reject the constitution. He was subsequently removed from government by Kibaki, who ironically benefited hugely from a Raila endorsement in 2002.
In 2010, after entering into a coalition with Mwai Kibaki, he spearheaded the campaign for a new constitution in a referendum the government won with a landslide. The powers of the president were heavily scaled down in this new constitution although it still retains a presidential system. Raila has also been credited with the reform agenda of devolution which he called ‘Majimbo’ in his 2007 presidential campaigns. Devolution is now contained in the new constitution where regional governments called counties funnel government revenue down to the grassroots.
His order to have illegal occupants of land in the Mau Complex, Kenya’s largest water tower, evicted cost him his support in the vote rich Rift Valley province where the water tower is located. Politicians like William Ruto, who hails from the province opposed the evictions, but latter changed tact after the government went ahead with its plan, to instead insist that the evictees be resettled and compensated. A committee to oversee the restoration of the Mau forest was formed under the office of the Prime Minister.
On the other unflattering end, Raila has been linked to a scam where he is alleged to have used his position as Minister for energy to purchase land on the Kisumu Molasses Plant at a subsidized price and later selling it at a premium. There have also been links to him concerning a maize scandal involving his PS Mohammed Isahakia, his Administrative Secretary Caroli Omondi, former Agriculture Minister William Ruto’s PS Romano Kiome and National Cereals and Produce Board Managing Director Gideon Misoi. Hundreds of thousands of maize bags were allegedly sold to individuals from the strategic grain reserve at subsidized prices at a time when the reserves were heavily depleted and Kenyans were starving.
The cost of the post 2007 election violence also hangs over Mr. Odinga since he was a protagonist in the longest and darkest hour of the country’s history. His coalition with President Mwai Kibaki presided over hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and a long list of people killed, violated and maimed as a result of the violence that preceded their union.
No tangible justice has been done or seen to be done for the victims of the violence. The International criminal court at The Hague is currently handling cases of four Kenyans it has charged in relation to crimes against humanity committed during that period but Raila’s name does not feature in what could as well be a statement of absolution for him.
According to opinion polls, Raila Odinga is considered by many to be a near certain successor of President Kibaki in the upcoming March 4th 2013 general election. He rides on the platform of issue based politics and as an agent of change in the next phase of Kenya’s history. He has his work cut out though since he faces an increasingly difficult journey ahead with many presidential candidates hinting at forming alliances with a shared agenda to stop his ascent to State House.
For more on Raila’s website and such, read: Online Communities: The new frontier for presidential contest in Kenya