Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Raila Odinga: The President Kenya may never have

Raila Odinga could now be described as the President Kenya may never have after losing his fourth stab at the presidency.

The country may now never know how a Raila presidency would look like after suffering another painful defeat. Those who have supported him over the years do so fiercely and he enjoys a near fanatical following from some of his strongholds in Nyanza, Western, Coast and parts of Nairobi.

On the flip-side, those who don’t support the 72-year-old mechanical engineer also do so with equal measure of finality that it is not too hard to predict how they will vote.

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Nevertheless, majority of people from both camps agree on one thing. That, there is hardly any politician currently in active politics who has sacrificed more than the man who is described as the Enigma of Kenyan politics.


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Raila, who has been a major political force in the last four decades has enjoyed as many successes as he his losses in various political duels.

But it is the just concluded election in which he came second after President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta that promises to be the most painful given the finality that it portends. In an uncharacteristic turn for him, Raila did not say a word to the public more than 12 hours after the results were announced. He had not conceded nor indicated if he will go to the courts.

He only let men in his inner political circle give hints on his next cause of action. The 2017 presidential bid was largely seen as his ‘last bullet’ and he seemed to be aware of this as he traversed the country and asked Kenyans to join him on the ‘political journey to Canaan.’

This is the second time he has lost to Kenyatta in an election also seen as the final round of battles that the Odinga and Kenyatta dynasties have fought, inherited from their fathers. As historians and political analysts settle down to start rewriting why he lost the most important political battle he was left with, it will be difficult to ignore his contributions to Kenya’s second liberation and the statesman he is. Raila points out his seven month house arrest in 1982 as the beginning of his detention.

He was later charged with treason following the attempted coup in 1982, the year that he describes as agitation for wider democratic space. This coup has remained a dark spot for him over the years. He was detained without trial for six years.

Raila lost his mother, Mrs Mary Ajuma Odinga, while in detention but it took the prison wardens two months to inform him of her death. He has on several occasions openly termed this experience as one of the most traumatising in his life. The man who later graduated with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering thought his troubles were over when he was released in February 1988.

But he was rearrested in September 1988 for involvement with human rights and pro-democracy activists pressing for multi-party democracy in Kenya, which was then a one-party state. After this it was a game of in and out of prison. For instance, he was released in June 1989, only to be incarcerated again on July 5, 1990, together with Kenneth Matiba, and former Nairobi Mayor Charles Rubia.

After his release in June 1991, he fled the country four months later to Norway for fear of assassination. In his absence, a new movement to agitate for the return of multi-party democracy in the county, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), was being born.

He would return in February 1992 to join FORD, then led by his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Raila was elected Vice Chairman of the General Purposes Committee of the party. In the months running up to the 1992 General Election, FORD split into Ford Kenya, led by Raila’s father Jaramogi and FORD-Asili led by Matiba.

He became Ford-Kenya’s Deputy Director of Elections. It was the same period he was elected MP for Langa’ta Constituency, previously held by Philip Leakey of Kanu. But it was until the death of his father in January 1994 that Raila’s political star started to shine. After the senior Odinga died, he was succeeded by the late Michael Wamalwa Kijana as FORD-Kenya chairman. Raila challenged Wamalwa for the party leadership. He resigned from FORD-Kenya after he lost to join the National Development Party (NDP). It is through NDP that he first contested for the presidency in the 1997 General Election and came third after President Moi, and Democratic Party candidate Mwai Kibaki. But he retained his position as the Lang’ata MP. The events that followed have been widely captured in various books. That is after he shocked many people and decided to support the Moi government which he had fiercely fought. NDP merged with Moi’s Kanu party and this saw him appointed Energy Minister from June 2001 to 2002. In the subsequent Kanu elections held later that year, he was elected the party’s secretary general, replacing the late J J Kamotho. Months later, he was back in the cold after former President Moi pulled an unexpected political punch and endorsed Kenyatta, setting him up for the political battle that was settled on Friday.

Moi publicly asked Raila and other leaders to support Kenyatta

Raila and other Kanu members, including his current running mate, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, the late George Saitoti and the late Joseph Kamotho, opposed Moi’s decision arguing that the then 38-year-old Kenyatta, was politically inexperienced and lacked the leadership qualities needed to govern. This saw the birth of the Rainbow Movement which was joined by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which later teamed up with Kibaki’s National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK), a coalition of several other parties, to form the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) that eventually defeated Kenyatta. This remains the only contest against Kenyatta that Raila’s side has won. It was at this point that he earned various nicknames among them “Agwambo”, which means the mysterious one and “Jakom”, meaning Chairman. He has gone on to get other names such as Baba and now Joshua, whose journey to the political Canaan appears to have been cut short. Raila’s fallout with President Kibaki came after he (Kibaki) failed to honor a pre-election agreement regarding political equity among the stakeholders in Narc. The perceived “betrayal” led to an open rebellion and a split within the Cabinet, which culminated in disagreements over a proposed new Constitution for the country. The first time he fought Kibaki publicly was during the constitutional referendum. Kibaki was infuriated by the loss and sacked the entire Cabinet three days later. When the Cabinet was formed two weeks later, Raila and the LDP group were left out. This was when the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was born from an Orange which was the symbol for the “No” vote in the constitutional referendum. But just like the previous parties, this too went on to split and before the 2007 General Election, Raila led one faction of the ODM while ODM-K, was headed by Kalonzo. With Musalia Mudavadi as his running mate, he went on to lose the election to Kibaki in the hotly contested election that was followed by Kenya’s worst post-election violence. Raila has used this party to date and it is the second most popular party in the county after the ruling Jubilee Party.

In the presidential results released on Friday night, which he has disputed, Raila seemed to have lost more ground than he had in the 2013 election, despite now having support from two other principals in Moses Mudavadi and outgoing Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto. In the 2013 election, he ran under the umbrella of CORD. Kenyatta won the presidency in the first round. But Raila disputed the election and contested the result in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court issued a ruling dismissing the petition on March 30, 2013.


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