Who is Raila?

By G. A. Ojay

Once one wades into the pool of Kenyan politics, it becomes clear that you cannot do without an education on the person of one Raila Amollo Odinga. The Odinga name is one of historical importance in Kenya, stamped first into public conscience by the first Prime Minister of the newly formed republic in 1963 in the person of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Kenya had just shaken off the independence struggle and stood on the edge of a promising future. On one hand she had produced Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who was secured at the head of the government and on the other she had given Jaramogi Odinga who was leading an invigorated opposition. What could not be known was the quasi-dynastic struggle that had been kicked off as forty years later the sons of these two great men would be, as it were, playing into a similar script. One son embodying the die-hard opposition, the other the subject of his rivals’ efforts and 50 years after independence one, Uhuru Kenyatta (son to Jomo) would bear the title President and Raila Odinga (son to Jaramogi) would cling to the title Prime Minister in respect to an office held faithfully in service of Kenyans for five years prior.
Raila Odinga, however, is more than a former holder of high office. He is a political maverick with involvements tracing back to the upheaval of the 1982 failed military coup with some suspecting a direct involvement by him in planning or agitating for it. It remains an allegation to which he seldom speaks and yet from this failed grab for power by some elements in the military, Kenya experienced some severe changes. Overnight, Kenya developed into a dictatorship under the vice like terror of Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, a terror that prevailed for the better part of 24 years.

But from within this darkness the rattling of Odinga could be heard. He pushed for the restoration of multi-party politics in Kenya alongside notable names as Kenneth Matiba, Koigi Wamwere, Kijana Wamalwa and President-to-be Mwai Kibaki. They suffered exile, harassment by the authorities, unlawful detention and threats against their lives. But they persisted in their stand against Moi’s unchecked rule. More patriots got up and joined the fight. Nobel Peace Prize winner-to-be Prof. Wangari Maathai whose notoriety was pegged on stopping the construction of Nyayo era buildings in Uhuru Park and Rev.Timothy Njoya became targets for repression within the dictatorship.

Their persistence bore fruit when, in 2002, the duo of Raila and Kibaki engineered the ouster of President Moi and secured Mwai Kibaki as Kenya’s third democratically elected president in what was seen as a peaceful electioneering and transition period. The political alliance between Kibaki and Raila would be broken on account of the proposed constitution which Raila had agitated for and promised while on the campaign trail leading up to the 2002 elections. He however, became convinced the draft document was not in the interest of majority of Kenyans and should be looked at again.

Failing to reach an agreement, a referendum was called on the proposed constitution. The pro-constitution side led by President Kibaki argued that a new constitution was necessary and desired changes could be made after it had been accepted. The anti-constitution side was led by Raila and insisted it would be too late and too difficult to change the constitution once accepted. In 2010, the referendum was held by way of popular election. The draft constitution was accepted by the people of Kenya by a narrow majority and was promulgated later in the same year.

Defeat, however, is not something new to an Odinga and in the aftermath of the constitutional referendum Raila rallied his forces, adopted the symbol of the constitutional rejection (the electoral body had indicated on the ballot paper an orange for those opposing the draft constitution and a banana for those in favor of adopting it) and formed a political party. This he used to charge into the furor of the 2012 general elections.

Here he went up against Uhuru Kenyatta and lost the contest but not the hearts and minds of many Kenyans. So influential is the character of Raila that even four years out of government has not dulled his effect on active politics. He is still referenced as the second ever Prime Minister of the republic and more potently the official leader of the opposition in Kenya.

With the 2017 general elections looming on the Kenyan horizon, it would be amiss to assume the Odinga effect will be missing from the proceedings. He will form opinions, he will advise strategy, he will unite and divide. But above all, he will be the undisputed son of Jaramogi and a continuation of the political history of Kenya.

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