Raila Odinga - the man Kenyans either love or loathe

Image source, Reuters

Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga announced that he was pulling out of the presidential election re-run set for 26 October in a media briefing surrounded by sullen and resigned faces.

This was in stark contrast to the wide grins and jubilation that had greeted him after the Supreme Court annulled President Uhuru Kenyatta's victory in the August poll.

The court's decision was a high-point for a career politician who many analysts had started to write off.

The decision to withdraw from the election however is a typical move from a man who has been nicknamed the enigma.

From his schooling to detention after the 1982 coup attempt against retired President Daniel arap Moi, Raila Amolo Odinga, 72, has remained a mysterious figure in many ways.

Who is Raila Odinga?

  • Aged 72, son of Kenya's first Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga
  • Nicknamed Agwambo (act of god) by supporters
  • Trained as medical engineer in former East Germany
  • MP for Africa's biggest slum, Kibera, for 20 years
  • Plotted coup in 1982
  • Holds record for being Kenya's longest-serving detainee
  • Also for switching political parties - currently standing for Nasa

A son of Kenya's first Vice-President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, this year's unsuccessful bid for the presidency was his fourth and most likely his last.

Mr Odinga evokes mixed emotions in Kenya - he is loved and loathed in equal measure. No politician divides opinion like him.

To his supporters, he is a democrat who has sacrificed a lot in his fight against dictatorship but others see him as a scheming and selfish person, who will do anything to gain power.

Former Vice-President Michael Kijana Wamalwa once described Mr Odinga's supporters as suffering from "Railamania" and those who hated him as suffering from "Railaphobia".

His strongest following is among his Luo community in the south-western region of Nyanza, where he was born and went to school.

They have given him several nicknames over the years, including Tinga (tractor), Agwambo (act of god) and Baba (father).

After qualifying as a mechanical engineer in the former East Germany, Mr Odinga had a short stint as a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

A wealthy man by Kenyan standards, he has interests in liquid gas cylinder manufacturer, the East Africa Spectre, and ethanol production through the Kisumu Molasses Plan.

He also has interests in the importation and distribution of petroleum.

Long-time prisoner

Mr Odinga's first attempt at the presidency was in 1997, when he performed dismally, coming third.

Media caption,
Raila Odinga: "The election (on 26 October) will be worse than the previous"

He stayed out of the presidential race in 2002, backing Mwai Kibaki to trounce Uhuru Kenyatta in elections that saw the Kanu party lose power for the first time since independence in 1963.

Mr Odinga and his supporters believe that he was robbed of victory in 2007 when he ran on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket, this time against Mr Kibaki.

It was that election that deteriorated into nationwide ethnic violence, which left 1,300 Kenyans dead and more than 600,000 displaced.

More on Kenya's elections:

Media caption,
Kenya Election 2017: What you need to know

Mr Odinga became prime minister under a power-sharing deal to end the post-election violence.

His struggle against one-party dictatorship saw him detained twice (from 1982 to 1988 and 1989 to 1991) and he holds the record for being Kenya's longest-serving detainee.

He was initially imprisoned for trying to stage a coup in 1982, which propelled him on to the national stage.

While he denied his involvement in the coup at the time, he conceded in Enigma, a book authored by Nigerian Babafemi Badejo in 2006, that he had played a central role in it.

Man of many alliances

He also holds the record as the Kenyan politician who has changed political allegiances the most times.

Each time he has moved, Mr Odinga has fashioned himself as a reformist.

Odinga's political odyssey - Ford, Cord, Narc and Nasa

  • Forum For Restoration of Democracy: Before 1992
  • Ford-Kenya: 1992 - 1994
  • National Development Party: 1994 - 2002
  • Kenya African National Union (Kanu): 2000 - 2002
  • Liberal Democratic Party (LDP): 2002 - 2005
  • National Rainbow Coalition (Narc; LDP was a member of the coalition)
  • Orange Democratic Movement (ODM): 2005 - present
  • Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord): 2013 - present
  • National Super Alliance (Nasa; ODM is a member of the alliance)

In the August election, he ran on behalf of the National Super Alliance (Nasa), which includes all of Kenya's main opposition groups.

It is a big achievement that he has convinced other political heavyweights to sacrifice their own ambitions to support him in what is likely to be his final stab at the presidency.

He had promised that, if elected, he would serve only one term in office.

The astute politician that he is, Mr Odinga has been using allegory and riddles to tell his supporters how the electoral commission denied him of victory.

He has referred to Mr Kenyatta as a "computer generated leader" to push his point that the commission's system were allegedly compromised to steal the election.

He says that his decision to withdraw from the race was based on the commission's refusal to make changes to its systems and to fire the officials he blames for bungling the election.

The commission however says that Mr Odinga's name will be on the ballot unless he fills in and submits a form which the opposition leader has said he will not do.

His move to withdraw from the election has so far not alienated his supporters. They back his slogan that "no reforms, no election."

And Mr Odinga has called for massive protests on election day.

In Kenya's ethnic based politics Mr Odinga enjoys the backing of key communities - the Luo (to which he belongs), Luhya and Kamba.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Several political heavyweights backed Odinga's candidacy

He has managed to get supporters of Musalia Mudavadi, who ran for the election in 2013, but now backs him, to boost his numbers and avoid splitting the opposition vote.

Kalonzo Musyoka was once again Mr Odinga's running mate.

Oranges and bananas

Mr Odinga's move to change parties has been driven by his willingness to form alliances, even at one time entering into a coalition with former President Daniel Moi, under whom he had been detained.

But he has stayed with the same core party, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), since 2005.

The party got its name from a referendum campaign Mr Odinga led against a proposed constitution in 2005. The nays were denoted by an orange while supporters were given a banana symbol.

Mr Odinga's more creative supporters still adorn themselves with bunches of oranges.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Mr Odinga formed the Orange Democratic Movement in 2005

But alliances are not always easy and he broke up with former President Kibaki after the 2002 election because Mr Kibaki reneged on a pre-election power-sharing deal.

An astute politician and avid campaigner who is known to move crowds using parables and football commentary, Mr Odinga represented Lang'ata constituency in the capital, Nairobi, uninterrupted for 20 years.

And he refused to accept that he had lost again on 8 August to Uhuru Kenyatta, the same man who beat him in the 2013 election and is the son of Kenya's first President, Jomo Kenyatta.

Mr Odinga's father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, served as Jomo Kenyatta's vice-president but the pair fell out and Mr Odinga quit in 1966, sparking a political rivalry that is yet to be settled.

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