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Raila Odinga, a veteran politician

His supporters affectionately call him ” baba Kiswahili for “dad”. At 77, Raila Amolo Odinga is a veteran of Kenyan politics. Presidential candidate of August 9, it is the fifth time that he has tried to win the supreme magistracy.

From our correspondent in Nairobi,

Figure of the opposition, with some passages to the government, ” his footprints are visible throughout the Kenyan political scene”, underlines the political analyst Dismas Mokua. During his long political career, he has built up a base of loyal and unconditional support, especially among the Luos, a community in western Kenya from which he originates.

If he denies it today, Raila Odinga is perceived as being part of these Kenyan political “dynasties”. His father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was vice-president under the mandate of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first head of state after independence and father of the current president, Uhuru Kenyatta.

During the campaign, he tried to position himself as a father figure, close to the people, by defending social measures such as “Baba care”, supposed to provide affordable health care for all, or even the establishment of monthly financial aid of 6,000 Kenyan shillings (about 48 euros) to the most vulnerable households . He also announced his willingness to negotiate debt relief and placed the fight against corruption at the heart of his program.

Physical consequences of his years of detention

Some call him populist, others “socialist”, referring in particular to his engineering studies in communist East Germany or the first name of his eldest son Fidel, a tribute to Fidel Castro, but Odinga is also at the head a solid economic heritage, having done business mainly in the ethanol and petroleum sector.

His political involvement dates back to the early 1980s when he campaigned against the one-party rule then in force in Kenya, which earned him several years of detention. He was arrested for the first time in 1982, suspected of being involved in an attempted coup against Daniel Arap Me, President of Kenya at the time. He will spend six years behind bars before being released in February 1988, then held again twice. He ends up going into exile briefly in Norway.

From his years of detention, Raila Odinga still has physical consequences. He always walks around with a handkerchief in his hand. ” The tears from the torture chamber keep flowing “, he justified himself in the past, specifying to carry “ with pride the scars of liberation ».

Back in Kenya in 1992, he did not give up politics despite everything and entered Parliament. There followed several decades in opposition during which he ran for president, but failed four times, in 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2017.

Prime Minister from 2008 to 2013

In 2005, Odinga decided to form his own political party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), under whose banner he was a presidential candidate in 2007, whose Mwai Kibaki victorious fate. The result is strongly disputed, in particular by Odinga, leader of the Luo community. Several weeks of ethnic violence during which more than 1,100 people lost their lives and several hundred thousand were displaced. Martha Karua, Odinga’s current running mate for the presidency, had at the time accused his party, the ODM, of having incited a ” ethnic cleansing “.

The crisis is resolved by a power-sharing agreement between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, who becomes Prime Minister. He will remain so from 2008 to 2013. During this period, he is one of the architects of the 2010 Constitution.

Raila Odinga stands again for the presidential elections in 2013 and 2017. He fails twice against Uhuru Kenyatta, and challenges the result before the Supreme Court. The latter does not give him reason in 2013, but recognizes “ irregularities in 2017 and cancels the ballot. A new one is organized, but Raila calls for a boycott. Kenyatta won with 98% of the vote and a turnout of 39%.

Odinga does not recognize the result and goes so far as to hold an investiture ceremony in January 2018 where he declares himself ” People’s President “. To end tensions, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga shake hands in March 2018, a gesture, dubbed “ the handshake »which has become very symbolic.

Puppet of power, according to its detractors

It was the start of a political partnership between the two men. Together, they are notably campaigning for a reform of the Constitution, the ” Building Bridges Initiative », nicknamed “BBI”, which aims, among other things, to create a post of Prime Minister. The Supreme Court, however, put a stop to it, declaring the project illegal. Raila Odinga also benefits this year from the support from Uhuru Kenyatta, which cannot represent itself. The party of the latter, the Jubileeis part of the coalition Azimio la Umoja (“Quest for Unity”) under which Odinga is a candidate.

With this alliance, the image of eternal opponent carried by Odinga was weakened. His detractors even accuse him of being a puppet of power and denounce an opportunistic union between the two political “dynasties”. The veteran denies it. Speaking to the press in July, Odinga said he was ” an independent person with strong convictions “.

His most loyal supporters still see him as a defender of democracy and already call him “ Baba the Fifth “. To become the country’s fifth president, Raila Odinga must, among other things, convince the voters of Mount Kenya, Kenyatta’s stronghold and the country’s main source of votes. He who is recognized for his strong capacity for mobilization also appeared aged in the countryside, sometimes speaking with a confused elocution. This did not prevent this grandfather of five grandchildren from continuing to animate his political meetings with his trademark, the ” Raila Dance “, dance steps in slow motion punctuated by notes of reggae, one of his passions with football.

Martha Karua, an “iron lady” for running mate

Raila Odinga has chosen Martha Karua as his running mate. At 64, she would become Kenya’s first female vice-president if the pair win. At the head of her firm, this lawyer defended many human rights defenders under the Moi regime, including Raila Odinga. At the same time, she fought for several causes, including the introduction of multiparty politics in Kenya, better protection of women in the law, their recognition in a very masculine political scene and the fight against corruption.

Recognized for her firmness and her outspokenness, Martha Karua quickly earned the nickname of “Iron Lady” in politics. In 2009, she notably stood out when she resigned from her post as Minister of Justice, citing frustrations in the exercise of her functions. A former MP, she was also a presidential candidate in 2013. Originally from Mount Kenya, the one who now calls Odinga “my captain” could help her win over voters in the region.


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