Raila Odinga: third time unlucky for Kenya’s top job

In all, Odinga spent almost eight years in prison without trial before briefly being granted political asylum in Norway at the beginning of the 1990s/FILE

In all, Odinga spent almost eight years in prison without trial before briefly being granted political asylum in Norway at the beginning of the 1990s/FILE

NAIROBI, Mar 9 – At 68, Raila Odinga, son of Kenya’s historical opposition leader Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, failed in his third and probably final stab at Kenya’s top job.

The prime minister in the outgoing government, Odinga is a Luo from the western region of Nyanza who likes to say he was “born into politics” and claimed as he voted in Monday’s presidential election that he could win outright in the first round of the key election.

Often known by his first name Raila to distinguish him from his father Jaramogi, a prominent post-independence political figure, and his brother Oburu, also a politician, he has pursued his political ambitions undeterred by beatings, persecution, exile and several spells in jail.

In all, Odinga spent almost eight years in prison without trial before briefly being granted political asylum in Norway at the beginning of the 1990s.

His admirers point out that while most Kenyan politicians have their constituency in the town where they were born, Odinga is an exception, being a Nairobi MP. He voted in his constituency on Monday, looking exhausted by months of campaigning.

“Raila is a Luo without question, but he is instinctively and ideologically a genuine nationalist as well,” one advisor says.

On the walls of his suite of offices, portraits of himself, his father, and anti-colonial rebel leader Dedan Kimathi jostle for space with the pictures that late conservationist Joy Adamson painted of the different tribes of Kenya.

Odinga was a contender in the 1997 elections where he came third after Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, now the outgoing president.

In 2002 he backed Kibaki, who won. In 2007 he ran again, against Kibaki this time, and lost, whereupon his supporters accused Kibaki of having rigged the results.

Daniel Branch, an academic and the author of a book on Kenya’s recent history, speaking ahead of Monday’s poll, said Odinga this time round had “no doubt been motivated by a desire to right what he sees as the injustice of 2007, when he and his supporters think he won the presidential vote”.

– Businessman, not communist –

Long renowned as a firebrand speaker able to galvanise any crowd, Odinga, described as stubborn and sometimes short-tempered, has lost some of his skills as an orator.

Some attribute the change to ill-health that started to take hold in 2006; others say it started when he became prime minister in 2008.

Once he became prime minister, “he could no longer criticise things that were wrong in government without having to do something about them”, one of his advisors told AFP.

His energy has also waned — on at least two occasions recently he was seen almost nodding off during an interview.

However his advisors point out that his pre-election schedule was so gruelling it would have exhausted a much younger candidate.

“He’s reached an age where he’s starting to get tired, and then you have to look at his hectic schedule,” said Mwalimu Mati, a prominent civil society figure and anti-corruption campaigner.

One party campaign coordinator acknowledged Odinga’s performance on the campaign trail had been disappointing this time round, saying: “His concentration was not good”.

Married, Odinga has four children: Fidel, Winnie, Rosemary and Raila Junior.

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, in Magdeburg and Leipzig, and he called his oldest son Fidel 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.

In a recent interview before the vote he reminded AFP that he is a businessman. Somewhat controversially he launched his petroleum import company when he was energy minister in 2001 under Moi.

Odinga has “accumulated” wealth during his time in politics, says anti-graft campaigner Mati, “but not on the same scale as Uhuru Kenyatta”, the newly elected president as confirmed in the early hours of Saturday.

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  • mzungu

    Why Mr. Raila, why again …. why not just accept the result? Now everything is peaceful and the elections went without any major problems. ….. do not start now problems. Dont start a fire. Only the population will suffer. Not you! What more do you want in life? You had and have everything. You promised like Mr. Kenyatta, to accept the result. Maybe not everything is correct. But you have no chance to be president. I was a big fan of yours. But what I saw, how you led the election propaganda …. You were sure and slept easy. If the president wants to solve economic and political problems in this way, Kenya is falling into a Dessaster. I do not know if Mr. Kenyatta is better than you. But one thing I have seen. He is a fighter and grabs the problems.

    I wish you a good time

    • Geoff

      I double agree. I think Raila is in denial at how he could have lost, therefore he has to put blame on the IEBC. Yeah, we know that the electronic voting system had an epic fail, and for him to say that it had all been pre-planned is just…wrong.

      The IEBC acknowledged that it was a mess, and after hecklers at Bomas demanding for verification, they scrapped all previous results and began a fresh MANUAL count to appease them. A manual count that took days.

      Now after all that, they’re saying that votes were stolen etc etc. This is bullcrap coming from a camp that can’t accept defeat. I didn’t vote for either Raila or Uhuru, but I believe that the IEBC was fair and professional. This matter may drag us through the mud for a time that could be spent devoted to nation building.

  • KenyanBrit

    Mr Odinga, please just accept the results and get on with your life. Contesting the results will only result in ordinary Kenyans suffering. None of the rich will suffer. If not for yourself, then please, for all the ordinary Kenyans who you claim to care for, accept defeat with dignity and live to contest next time round and offer your services in the opposition to keep a check on the ruling government.

  • ali mohamed

    Raila is a looser

  • kibokoni

    I think Mwalimu Mati should elaborate his claims rather than just fret ! Not to0 forget why he was chased out of office.

  • http://twitter.com/JAKADAWA PAUL OTIENO ONYANGO

    of all the comments i see here, it is very unfortunate that when Raila complains during the tallying of the votes everybody was saying that he should for the result to be announced and then go to court. now that the result has been announced and has decided to go to court everybody is now complain and demanding that he accepts the results. what do we want kenyans? second many people do not apreciate the role raila has played in this country we are where we are today because of his contribution as a person and in colaboration with others. anyway one day kenyans will come to apreciate this fact.

    • Gabby

      Raila was positioning himself ALL the time while using reforms as a reason to keep brow-beating his opponents and trying to secure the highest office in the land……

      • tsuj

        i hope so not please kenyans let us shun tribalism that is the only deficiency we are suffering from

      • http://twitter.com/JAKADAWA PAUL OTIENO ONYANGO

        you might be true in what you are saying and thanks be to God that positioning as you call it, has had a positivie impact on the contrary. how i wish many kenyans could also position themselves.

    • tsuj

      we are where we are because of our creator and our beloved parents and well wishers but in fact raila is one Kenyan leader just like jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Arab moi and mwai kibaki despite the fact raila has never won the presidency

      • http://twitter.com/JAKADAWA PAUL OTIENO ONYANGO

        remember this that the God who created you cannot save you without you and others. i think i have responded suficiently to comment.

  • schinzophrenia

    Great history.. but if u read the chronology of the story, by the time it ends, you agree that he needs to rest now, relax and leave politics. So the people of Kenya did him a big favor to spare his age the agony and give younger and energetic modern leaders a chance.

  • Gids

    It is unfortunate that History repeats itself