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Who is Raila Odinga?

by simonndunda

Posted on Wednesday, January 04, 2012 08:18 PM


Raila Amollo Odinga (born January 7, 1945), also popularly known to Kenyans as Agwambo, is the Prime Minister of Kenya in a coalition government. Odinga, a Member of Parliament for Langata since 1992, served as Minister of Energy from 2001 to 2002 and as Minister of Roads, Public Works, and Housing from 2003 to 2005. He was the main opposition candidate in the 2007 presidential election. Following a violent post-electoral crisis, Odinga took office as Prime Minister in April 2008, serving as supervisor of a national unity coalition government.

Odinga is the son of the first Vice President of Kenya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga; Raila's brother, Oburu Odinga, is also currently a Member of Parliament (MP). Raila is commonly known by his first name due to coincidence: he was an MP at the same time as his father between 1992 and 1994, and is currently in the House with Oburu. Raila was a presidential contender in the 1997 elections, coming third after President Daniel arap Moi of KANU and Mwai Kibaki, the current president of Kenya and then a member of the Democratic Party. Odinga campaigned to run for president in the December 2007 elections on an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket.

On September 1, 2007, Raila Odinga was elected as the presidential candidate of the ODM. He garnered significant support in the 2007 General Election, with majority of the votes in Rift Valley, Western, his native Nyanza, Coast, Nairobi (Capital) and North Eastern provinces. Kibaki led in his native Central province and beat Raila in Eastern province. Out of the 2007 elections, his party, ODM, got 99 out of 210 seats in the parliament, making the ODM the single largest party in parliament.

On December 30, 2007, the chairman of the Kenyan election commission controversially declared Raila's opponent, incumbent president Kibaki, the winner of the presidential election by a margin of about 230,000 votes. Raila disputed the results, alleging fraud by the election commission but refused to adhere to the constitutional procedure and present an election petition before the courts. Most opinion polls had speculated that Odinga would defeat president Kibaki. Independent international observers have since stated that the poll was marred by irregularities favouring both PNU and ODM, especially at the final vote tallying stages. Many ODM supporters across the country rioted against the announced election results.

Raila Odinga was born at Maseno Church Missionary Society Hospital, in Maseno, Kisumu District, Nyanza Province on January 7, 1945 to Oginga and Mary Juma Odinga. He went to Kisumu Union Primary School, Maranda Primary and High School where he stayed until 1962. He spent the next two years at the Herder Institut, a part of the philological faculty at the University of Leipzig in East Germany. He received a scholarship that in 1965 sent him to the Technical University, Magdeburg (now a part of Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg) in the GDR. In 1970, he graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. While studying in East Berlin during the Cold War, as a Kenyan he was able to visit West Berlin through the Checkpoint Charlie. When visiting West Berlin, he used to buy goods not available in East Berlin and bring them to his friends in East Berlin.

On returning to Kenya in 1970, he worked as a lecturer at the University of Nairobi. In 1971 he established the Standard Processing Equipment Construction & Erection Ltd (later renamed East African Spectre), a company manufacturing liquid petroleum gas cylinders. In 1974, he was appointed group standards manager of the Kenya Bureau of Standards, in 1978 he was promoted to its Deputy Director, a post he held until his 1982 detention.


Raila was placed under house arrest for seven months after being suspected of collaborating with the plotters of a failed coup attempt against President Daniel arap Moi in 1982. He was later charged with treason and detained without trial for six years.

A biography released in July 2006 indicated that Raila was far more involved in the attempted coup than he had previously claimed. After its publication, some MPs called for Raila to be arrested and charged, but the statute of limitations had already passed and, since the information was contained in a biography, Raila could not be said to have openly confessed his involvement. His mother died in 1984, but the prison warders told him about it only two months later.

Released on February 6, 1988, he was rearrested in September, 1988 for his involvement with human rights and pro-democracy activists pressing for multi-party democracy in Kenya, which was then a one-party state. To his political followers, he is also referred as "Agwambo" meaning difficult to predict, or "Jakom" meaning Chairman.

Raila was released on June 12, 1989, only to be incarcerated again on July 5, 1990, together with Kenneth Matiba, and former Nairobi Mayor Charles Rubia. Raila was released on June 21, 1991, and in October, he fled the country to Norway alleging government attempts to assassinate him.

Multi-party politics

At the time of Raila's departure to Norway, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), a movement formed to agitate for the return of multi-party democracy to Kenya, was newly formed. In February 1992, Raila returned to join FORD, then led by his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. He 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 Oginga Odinga, and FORD-Asili led by Kenneth Matiba. Raila became Ford-Kenya's Deputy Director of Elections. Raila won the Langata Constituency parliamentary seat, previously held by Philip Leakey of KANU.

When Jaramogi Oginga Odinga died in January 1994, and Michael Wamalwa Kijana succeeded him as FORD-Kenya chairman, Raila challenged him for the party leadership. The elections were marred by controversy after which Raila resigned from FORD-Kenya to join the National Development Party (NDP). In the 1997 General Election, Raila finished third after President Moi, the incumbent, and Democratic Party candidate Mwai Kibaki. He retained his position as the Langata MP.

After the election, Raila supported the Moi government, and led a merger between his party, NDP, and Moi's KANU party. He served in Moi's Cabinet as Energy Minister from June 2001 to 2002, during Moi's final term.

In the subsequent KANU elections held later that year, he was elected the party's secretary general. In 2002, the then President, Daniel Arap Moi, pulled a surprise by endorsing Uhuru Kenyatta – a son of Kenya's first president Jomo Kenyatta to be his successor. Moi publicly asked Raila and others to support Uhuru as well.

Raila and other KANU members, including Kalonzo Musyoka, George Saitoti and Joseph Kamotho, opposed this step arguing that the then 38 year old Uhuru, was politically inexperienced and lacking leadership qualities to lead government. The Rainbow Movement went on to join the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which later teamed up with Mwai Kibaki's National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK), a coalition of several other parties, to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) that eventually defeated Moi's protege, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Dissent from within

President Kibaki did not appoint Raila Odinga Prime Minister on assuming office as perceived to have been agreed in the memorandum of understanding (Kenya's current constitution does not recognize a Prime minister); neither did he give LDP half the cabinet positions. He instead sought to shore up support for his NAK faction by appointing MPs from the opposition parties (KANU and FORD people) to the cabinet.

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 government-backed constitutional committee submitted a draft constitution that was perceived to consolidate powers of the presidency and weaken regional governments as had been provided for under an earlier draft before the 2002 Elections. Raila opposed this, and when the document was put to a referendum on November 21, 2005, the government lost by a 57% to 43% margin. Following this, President Kibaki sacked the entire cabinet on November 23, 2005. When it was formed two weeks later, Raila and the entire LDP group were left out. This led to the formation of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) - an Orange was the symbol for the "no" vote in the constitutional referendum.

In January 2006, Raila Odinga was reported to have told police that he believed his life was in danger, having received assassination threats.

2007 presidential election

On July 12, 2007, Odinga alleged that the government was withholding identity cards from voters in places supportive of the opposition and that the intended creation of 30 new constituencies was a means by which the government sought to ensure victory in the December 2007 parliamentary election.[14]

In August 2007, the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya split in two, with Odinga becoming head of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) while the other faction, the ODM-K, was headed by Kalonzo Musyoka.[15] On September 1, 2007, the ODM elected Odinga as its presidential candidate in a National Delegates Conference held at the Moi International Sports Centre in Nairobi. Odinga received 2,656 votes; the only other candidates receiving significant numbers of votes were Musalia Mudavadi with 391 and William Ruto with 368. Earlier, Najib Balala had withdrawn his candidature and endorsed Raila.[16] The defeated candidates expressed their support for Odinga afterward, and Mudavadi was named as his running mate.

Odinga launched his presidential campaign in Uhuru Park in Nairobi on October 6, 2007, which saw a record attendance in this or any other venue in independent Kenya. The police estimated an attendance of close to 50,000.

Following the presidential election held on December 27, the Electoral Commission in controversial circumstances declared Kibaki the winner on December 30, 2007, placing him ahead of Odinga by about 232,000 votes. Jeffrey Sachs (Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and Special Advisor to former UN Secretary General) faulted the United States' approach to the post-election crisis and recommended an independent recount of the vote.

Odinga accused Kibaki of fraud, and violence broke out in the country as ODM supporters attempted to make the country ungovernable.[20] Following two months of unrest, a deal between Odinga and Kibaki, which provided for power-sharing and the creation of the post of Prime Minister, was signed in February 2008; it was brokered by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Odinga was sworn in as Prime Minister, along with the power-sharing Cabinet, on April 17, 2008. Previously the post of Prime Minister had not existed since 1964, when it was briefly held by Jomo Kenyatta following independence; Odinga is thus the second person in Kenya's history to hold the position.

Political role

Raila Odinga has progressively transcended beyond his original base support among his native Luo mainly occupying Kenya's Nyanza province, to wield considerable support in the Coast, Western, North Eastern, Rift Valley and Nairobi provinces. A Gallup/USA poll taken in September 2008 found him to have an 85 percent approval rate.[22]

Further to this, there have been recent calls from the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Martha Karua, for Raila to answer allegations regarding impropriety in the purchase and subsequent sale of land on the Kisumu Molasses Plant.

Political positions


Odinga has called for the arrest of homosexuals. In November 2010 he said "If found the homosexuals should be arrested and taken to relevant authorities". He also stated that homosexuality is unnatural and it is mad for men to fall in love with each other while there are plenty of women available. Odinga retracted his statements days later, saying he only meant that same-sex marriages are illegal in Kenya.


Due to an economic downturn and extreme drought, Odinga suspended taxes on fuels and certain foods that disproportionately impact the poor.

Personal life

Baptised as an Anglican in his youth Odinga later became a Born-Again Christian through an Evangelical church in Nairobi.

Odinga is married to Ida Odinga (born Ida Anyango Oyoo). They live in Karen, Nairobi (but have a second home at Opoda Farm, Bondo District). They have four children—two sons and two daughters: Fidel (born 1973), Rosemary (1977), Raila Jr (1979) and Winnie (1990). Fidel is named after Fidel Castro and Winnie after Winnie Mandela. Winnie is currently studying Communication and International Area Studies as a double major student at Drexel University of Philadelphia, PA.

In a January 2008 BBC interview, Odinga asserted that he was the first cousin of U.S. president Barack Obama through Obama's father. However, Barack Obama's paternal uncle denied any direct relation to Odinga, stating "Odinga's mother came from this area, so it is normal for us to talk about cousins. But he is not a blood relative."[31] Obama's father came from the same Luo community as Odinga.

He briefly played soccer for Luo Union (later known as Re-Union) as a midfielder.

Raila Odinga is an industrialist with interests in liquefied gas cylinder manufacturing (the East African Spectre), industrial ethanol production and Petroleum import and distribution.

Mr. Odinga has been appointed by African Union to mediate in Ivory Coast between Outarra and Gbagbo.


During his premiership Raila appointed Prof Miguna Miguna as Adviser on coalition affair who he later Suspended (Aug 2011) citing "gross Misconduct". Daily Nation quoted reason for suspension as... " accused of misrepresenting the Office of the Prime Minister, possibly a reference to his having aired strong views which may have embarrassed the PM."

His suspension came at a time when electoral body (IIEC) was in is in uproar and unsettled by anonymously authored complaints which the commissioners characterise as a hate campaign but which raise troubling questions on corruption and nepotism. Later Miguna MIguna after suspension issued a statement that "I was instructed to write my article on the IIEC chairman and the position he had taken with respect to the party's decision to kick out rebellious MPs and Councillors." He later denied According to the Nairobi star

In 2001 December, Raila incited resident of Kibera to stop paying rent until the it was reduced by 50%. what followed was clashes between tenant vs Landlord. score were injured and many died


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