NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 7 – Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga was extolled as a family man on Sunday as he launched his auto-biography, The Flame of Freedom.
At the launch former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo described Odinga as the rare politician who was also a, “responsible family man.”
“From my distant observation, and Ida if I’m wrong just raise up your hand and say stop it there, I see Raila as a good husband and a good father. These are very important because most politicians, whatever else you describe them as you may not be able to describe them as responsible family people,” he said.
Raila Odinga Junior verified Obasanjo’s observations testifying that his father had sought to instil a love of family in his children.
“Our father would ensure we kept strong family ties taking us to our home upcountry during school holidays and taking us through the homesteads as he explained how we were related,” Odinga Junior recounted.
Odinga himself took the time to introduce his wife and three of his children to the invited guests while explaining that his last born daughter Winnie was away in America pursuing higher education.
“Ida has been by my side through everything, the good and the bad because when we went to the altar we said for better or worse and the majority of it has been for worse. And she has stood there rock steady,” Raila said of his blushing wife adding, “of course you’re going to read the story in the book.”
He went on to describe his eldest Fidel as a gentle soul despite his great height and broad frame, “When I went to visit him in the college in the United States and we went into a restaurant the first question was does he play basketball and when I’d say no they’d say what a waste,” Odinga recalled eliciting laughter.
Apart from the good times Odinga reflected on the more sombre theme of his time in detention, as he has in his auto-biography, and revealed that The Flame of Freedom was not his first attempt at chronicling his life experiences.
“When I was rotting in detention I decided to spend some of that time writing and after a lengthy request, it took years, they finally allowed me to do some writing and gave me exercise books to use to write and I wrote a lot of material and when I was being released they told me these documents will remain here, they will first be censored and then they will be forwarded to you in the normal way,” he recollected, “up to this day I have never received any of them.”
Odinga Junior also reflected back on his father’s time in detention and the toll it took on their family in his address, “I first came to meet my father when I was nine years old. This is when he first came out of detention in the 1980s…It was a whirl-wind of activity, we had been allowed to leave school early that day, and our house in Kenya High was filled with journalists.”
“As a child this was a bit overwhelming for me as this stranger with a heavy beard picked me up and gave me a big hug. I wondered to myself what was going on. What’s all the fuss about? Who is this man who everyone is so interested in?”
And it is these questions that Odinga attempts to answer in The Flame of Freedom, a joint effort between him and columnist Sarah Elderkin covering everything from his and his father’s struggle for multi-party democracy to sharing power with Kenya’s third President, Mwai Kibaki.