Following the infamous August 1982 attempted coup, Raila Amolo Odinga was accused of complicity, charged with treason and subsequently detained for six years by President Daniel arap Moi’s government. A biography released in 2006, as Odinga was gearing up to contest the presidency in 2007, indicated that he was more involved in the attempted coup than he had previously admitted. When the book was published, leaders, especially those on the side of his political nemesis, Mwai Kibaki, called for his arrest. But the statute of limitation had already passed and the information was contained in a biography so it did not amount to an open confession.
Odinga’s route to the Cabinet and beyond started when he joined elective politics after the re-introduction of multipartism in 1992, the year he was elected as Member of Parliament for Lang’ata Constituency in Nairobi. He would go on to win the seat again in 1997, when he also vied for the presidency but lost to Moi. He retained the Lang’ata seat in 2002 and 2007.
Odinga was identified with the country’s so-called second liberation; notably, he was in jail for treason between 1982 and 1988, when the agitation for change was at its peak. He was released in June 1989 but incarcerated again in July 1990, together with Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, for calling for the return of multiparty politics. He was released in June 1991 after which, fearing for his life, he fled to Norway.
In February 1992, Odinga returned to Kenya and joined the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) party, which was led by his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Later that year, when FORD split into FORD-Kenya (led by the senior Odinga) and FORD-Asili (led by Matiba), he was elected as the former’s Deputy Director of Elections.
In his first bid for the presidency in 1997, Odinga finished third after President Moi and the Democratic Party candidate, Kibaki. In the lead up to the 2002 elections, he ditched a fragmented Opposition to join Moi’s party, KANU, in the hope that the President would anoint him as his successor.
So in March 2001, having joined the National Development Party (NDP), he merged with KANU to form New KANU.
To solemnise the marriage between the two parties, Moi gave Odinga and a few other NDP leaders Cabinet positions. He was appointed Minister for Energy, a position he held from June 2001 to late 2002. When Moi eventually revealed his preferred candidate for the New KANU 2002 presidential contest, it turned out to be Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
Odinga resigned on 13 October 2002, on the eve of a New KANU meeting in Kasarani, Nairobi. It was the meeting at which Moi would officially announce his choice of successor. A previous meeting at the same venue when NDP joined KANU in 2001 had made Odinga the new party’s Secretary General, in effect sidelining Joseph Kamotho who had held that position for many years.
In his first bid for the presidency in 1997, Odinga finished third after President Moi and the Democratic Party candidate, Kibaki
On resigning from the Cabinet, Odinga accused Moi of reneging on a pact reached when NDP joined KANU by imposing Kenyatta as the presidential candidate. Moi had apparently promised to back Odinga’s bid for the presidency once his term expired.
During the 2007 presidential election campaigns, claims came to the fore that Odinga had made billions of shillings during his tenure as Minister for Energy. It was alleged that he had been introduced to a rich Saudi family that had interests in the petroleum business and which initiated him into the lucrative oil trade. It was also alleged that during this time, the minister had re-established his links with the Libyan government and did some business in oil imports.
Towards the end of 2002, Moi publicly asked him and other presidential hopefuls in New KANU to support Uhuru’s campaigns, but this was unpalatable to them. When Odinga left the party in a huff, he took with him his NDP brigade and a host of KANU ‘rebels’ who had also expected to be named heirs to the throne. They included Musyoka, Kamotho and Professor George Saitoti. The group went on to form the Rainbow Movement, which would later merge with Kibaki’s National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), the political machine that defeated Moi’s ‘Project Uhuru’ in the 2002 General Election.
As soon as he joined NARC, Odinga declared “Kibaki tosha” (Kibaki is enough), thereby endorsing a candidate who had already been chosen by other opposition leaders. This would be the declaration that signalled the defeat of ‘Project Uhuru’ and hopefully ensure Odinga’s entrance into State House later. Odinga traversed the whole country campaigning for Kibaki, and when the presidential candidate was involved in an accident that left him indisposed just before the elections, he took the lead and ensured that Kibaki was elected with an overwhelming majority of 67 per cent.
Prior to the 2002 elections, there was apparently a memorandum of understanding that guaranteed Odinga the post of Prime Minister and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) wing of government half the number of Cabinet posts once Kibaki took over power. But this did not happen. Instead, the Cabinet was occupied by NAK and even a number of MPs from opposition parties (KANU and FORD-People). However, between 2003 and 2005, Odinga and some of his lieutenants held key portfolios – he was Minister for Roads, Public Works and Housing, while James Orengo was appointed the Minister for Lands.
The perceived betrayal of LDP by NAK started a simmering disquiet, which in time led to an open rebellion and a split within the Cabinet. A key point of disagreement was a proposed new constitution for the country, which was a major campaign issue that had united NAK and LDP in the lead up to 2002 General Election.
Kibaki’s government instituted a Constitutional Committee that submitted a draft constitution that was perceived to consolidate presidential powers and weaken regional administrations, contrary to the pre-election draft. Raila opposed this and when campaigns for putting the draft constitution to a referendum kicked off, he and his LDP colleagues campaigned on the ‘No’ side, opposing the President and his ‘Yes’ side. When the document was put to the vote in 2005, the government lost by 43 per cent to Odinga’s 57. A disappointed President Kibaki sacked the entire Cabinet on 23 November 2005 and when it was reconstituted two weeks later, Odinga and the LDP group were left out.
He then formed a new opposition outfit, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and went straight into campaigning for the 2007 presidential elections (the orange fruit had been the symbol of the ‘No’ campaign during the referendum). However, in August 2007, ODM suffered a setback when it split into two – he became the head of ODM while Musyoka led the ODM-Kenya splinter faction.
At the ODM National Delegates Conference held at the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani in September 2007, Odinga was elected the party’s presidential candidate when he garnered 2,656 votes against his opponents, Mudavadi who got 391 votes, and William Ruto, who had 368. The defeated candidates expressed their support for the winner and Mudavadi was later named as his running mate.
On 30 December 2007, the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Kibaki the winner of the presidential election, placing him ahead of Odinga by about 232,000 votes. The Opposition, led by Odinga, rejected the results and what followed was mass action that resulted in widespread violence and death. Over the next one month, more than 1,300 Kenyans were killed and more than 250,000 others displaced. The tragedy attracted the attention of the international community. With the former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, acting as mediator, a power-sharing deal created a Government of National Unity with Odinga as the Prime Minister. He became the second Kenyan Prime Minister after Jomo Kenyatta, who had held the position from 1963 to 1964.
Later, Odinga would face the wrath of Kalenjin community leaders because of his stand on those being investigated for crimes against humanity arising from the 2007-2008 election-related violence. Ruto and two other Kalenjins were among those being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Odinga would contest the presidency in 2013, this time under a new constitutional order that adopted a presidential system of governance. Under the new winner-takes-all format, those vying for the President and Deputy President positions were not allowed to compete for any other political seats.
Observers thought this was Odinga’s best chance as his opponents, Uhuru and running mate Ruto, were facing charges at the ICC for their alleged role in the 2007-2008 violence. Despite their pending case, the duo had been nominated by the Jubilee coalition, while Raila’s ODM merged with Musyoka’s new Wiper Party and Moses Wetangula’s FORD-Kenya to form the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) for the presidential race. Odinga was the presidential candidate and Musyoka was his running mate.
Uhuru won the election held on 4 March 2013, garnering 6,173,433 votes (50.51 per cent) against Raila’s 5,340,546 votes (43.70 per cent). Uhuru was declared the President-elect on 9 March 2013 by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and was set to take office as Kenya’s fourth president, but Odinga filed a petition at the Supreme Court of Kenya citing “massive failure of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits”.
Chief Justice Willy Mutunga rejected Raila’s second affidavit comprising 900 pages on the basis that it amounted to “new evidence”, which was not permissible. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition on 30 March 2013 but while declaring Uhuru the next President, it also ruled that the IEBC should not have included the invalid/spoilt votes in the calculation of the final figures. Uhuru’s inauguration on 9 April 2013 marked the end of Odinga’s tenure as Prime Minister.
On 27 April 2017, he was endorsed by the National Super Alliance (NASA) to vie for the presidency, once again with Musyoka as his running mate. When the 8 August General Election results were announced, Uhuru was declared the winner with 54 per cent of the votes cast against Raila’s 43. Again, the results were contested in the Supreme Court, which under Chief Justice David Maraga made a finding that the presidential election had not been validly conducted. The election outcome was annulled and the Supreme Court ordered a fresh vote for the presidency. But on 10 October, Odinga announced his withdrawal from the repeat election. Uhuru won again and was installed as President for a second term.
Over the course of his political career, the 74-year-old Odinga has been given several nicknames, including ‘Nyundo’ which means hammer in Kiswahili, ‘Tinga’ which means tractor (the symbol for NDP) and “Mtu wa vitendawili” meaning man of riddles, which is often how Deputy President William Ruto refers to him.