Raila Odinga: Third time lucky in Kenya?
- 1 March 2013
- From the section Africa
A biography written about Raila Amolo Odinga was titled Enigma. And in many ways he is an enigmatic politician.
From his schooling to detention after the 1982 coup attempt against retired President Daniel arap Moi, Mr Odinga has remained a mysterious figure in many ways.
A son of Kenya's first Vice-President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, he will be going for the presidency for the third time and hoping that he will be lucky this time.
His main challenger in the 4 March election will be Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's first President, Jomo Kenyatta.
Mr Odinga's first attempt at the presidency was in 1997 where he performed dismally, coming third.
He stayed out of the presidential race in 2002, backing Mwai Kibaki to trounce Uhuru Kenyatta in elections that saw Kenya's 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.
It was that election that deteriorated into violence leaving 1,300 Kenyans dead and more than 600,000 displaced. Mr Kibaki was Mr Odinga's main opponent.
An astute politician and avid campaigner who is known to move crowds using parables and football commentary, Mr Odinga has been the MP for Africa's biggest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, uninterrupted for the last 20 years.
His struggle against one-party dictatorship saw him detained twice (from 1982 to 1988 and 1989 to 1991) and he holds the record of being Kenya's longest-serving detainee.
Mr Odinga, who celebrated his 68th birthday on 7 January, became Kenya's prime minister under a power-sharing deal to end the post-election violence.
His strongest following is among his Luo community in Nyanza in south-west Kenya, where he was born and went to school.
But he is loathed by his opponents for his populist tactics. 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".
The 1982 coup and his eventual detention propelled him to national politics.
While he denied his involvement in the coup at the time, he conceded in Enigma, authored by Nigerian Babafemi Badejo in 2006, that he played a central role in it.
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.
'Act of God'
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.
He is the only Kenyan politician who has changed political parties each time he has been a parliamentary candidate, leading his critics to conclude that he does not believe in strong party politics.
Each time he has moved, Mr Odinga has fashioned himself as a reformist. This time, he has named his alliance the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (Cord).
His first entry in parliament in 1992 he was on the platform of his father's party, Ford-Kenya.
Following his father's death later that year, Mr Odinga changed parties to launch his National Development Party (NDP), which he used to run for president and MP.
Come 2002, he had ditched NDP and was a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which formed the umbrella National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). In 2007, he was the flag-bearer for ODM.
Between 1997 and 2007, Mr Odinga went into partnership with Mr Moi, his erstwhile political rival and the man who had detained him.
He served as energy minister and briefly as Kanu secretary-general. His alliance with Mr Moi collapsed when he opposed the former president's choice of Uhuru Kenyatta as the party's presidential candidate in the 2002 general election.
He bolted and backed Mr Kibaki, who trounced Kanu and Mr Kenyatta.
Mr Kibaki appointed him as the minister for Public Works. But a pre-election agreement between Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga led to a split in the government.
He opposed a Kibaki-backed draft constitution in 2005. Mr Odinga, a father of four, was sacked as a cabinet minister.
Come the 2007 general election, Mr Odinga positioned himself as Mr Kibaki's main opponent, having mobilised point men in key Kenyan communities - the Luo (to which he belongs), Luhya, Kalenjin and Kamba.
He did not succeed in his presidential bid, as Mr Kibaki was declared the winner.
Mr Odinga is the front-runner in this year's election, despite having been deserted by his key backers in the 2007 general elections.
William Ruto, who mobilised the Kalenjin community to vote for him, is this time round the running mate of Mr Kenyatta, the Jubilee Alliance presidential candidate.
His Luhya community point man, Musalia Mudavadi, is also in the race for presidency under the Amani coalition banner.
But Mr Odinga has a new ally in Kenya's Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka.
Such is their faith in him that Mr Odinga's supporters call him Agwambo (Act of God), and they hope that he will finally rise to the presidency on 4 March.