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Biography:Raila Odinga – Former Prime Minister of Kenya

Updated on September 14, 2016

Raila Amolo Odinga was born on January 07, 1945 at Maseno Church Missionary Society Hospital, Nyanza province. He is the son of the first vice-president of Kenya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

He attended Kisumu Union Primary School, later to Maranda Primary School and finally to Maranda Secondary School. After graduating from the high school, he received a scholarship that enabled him to attend Technical School, Magdeburg, Germany. Currently, the college is part of Von-Guericke University, Magdeburg. He graduated in 1970 with Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

Raila returned to Kenya in 1970 and became a lecturer at the University of Nairobi. In 1971 he established his own company, Standard Processing Equipment Construction and Erection Ltd. Currently, it is known as East African Spectre. The company deals with manufacturing liquid petroleum gas cylinders.

Raila Odinga, 2009 World Economic Forum on Africa
Raila Odinga, 2009 World Economic Forum on Africa | Source

In 1974, he was employed at Kenya Bureau Standards whereby he was appointed Group Standards Manager, and was promoted to Deputy Director in 1978. However, he didn’t hold that position for long due to his involvement in 1982 coup which led to his detention.

Raila Odinga was one of the early political and civic activists who pushed for government reforms in Kenya. This was as a result of Kenya ruled by a dictatorship type of government with only one political party functioning – KANU, the government’s political party. Among the issues he was fighting for in the early 70s and 80s was freedom of establishing multi-political parties.

In 1982, he was arrested as he was accused of teaming up with plotters to oust President Daniel Moi. The coup to overthrow the President’s government didn’t succeed. He was placed under house arrest for seven months after which he was charged for treason leading to his detention for six years without trial. During the coup hundreds of Kenyans including foreigners and thousands of rebel soldiers died.

He was released on February 6, 1988 but arrested again on September 1988 due to his involvement with human rights and pro-democracy activists. The activists were pressing for multi-democracy which at the time was a dream. Only one political party was functioning. A one party state – KANU.

He was released on June 12, 1989 to be re-arrested yet again on July 5, 1990. He was arrested together with the former mayor of Nairobi, Charles Rubia and Keneth Matiba. On June 21, 1991 he was released, nevertheless, on October he fled the country to seek refuge in Norway. This as he claimed was because his life was in danger as the government wanted to assassinate him.

While away in Norway, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) was formed to fight for multi-party democracy in Kenya. He joined FORD upon returning to Kenya in 1992. The party was led by his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Raila was elected as vice-chairman of the General Purposes Committee of the party. However, several months to the 1992 General Elections, the party split into two: FORD-K led by Raila’s father and FORD-Asili by Keneth Matiba.

Raila was elected Deputy Director of FORD-K and during the 1992 General Elections he won the parliamentary seat for Langata Constituency. After his father’s death in 1994, Raila left the party to join the National Development Party (NDP) as a result of controversy or disagreements in the election held within the party to choose the leader who will continue to lead FORD-K.

He decided to vie for the seat of presidency during the 1997 General Elections but didn’t succeed. He came in at the third position after Mwai Kibaki who came at third with Daniel Moi still retaining the seat. He decided to merge NDP with the president’s political party, KANU. He served as Minister of Energy in Moi’s cabinet. Later that year during KANU’s internal election, Raila was elected Secretary General.

Statesmen's Forum: Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya
Statesmen's Forum: Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya | Source

An unexpected surprise awaited some of the KANU members. The son of the first president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta (the fourth president of Kenya) was Moi’s ideal candidate for the race of presidency for the upcoming 2002 General Elections. Daniel Moi asked the other KANU members to support Uhuru Kenyatta. Instead, several KANU members including Raila formed Rainbow Alliance. This was to protest the president’s choice of candidate for the presidency seat. However, their pleas went unheard. This forced them to leave KANU leading to formation of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Before December 2002 General Elections, LDP joined with a coalition of several parties, the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK). This saw the formation of the grand coalition, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC).

President Mwai Kibaki who led the NARC coalition party was declared the winner during the 2002 General Elections. Raila still retained his seat as MP for Langata Constituency, and was appointed as Minister of Roads, Public Works and Housing. Despite this fact, there were disagreements within the coalition as Mwai Kibaki didn’t honor Memorandum of Understanding they agreed including formation of a strong Prime Minister.

Raila including other politicians plus Uhuru Kenyatta led a campaign to oppose the implementation of the draft constitution. During the referendum, majority of the public refused the proposed constitution. This led to Mwai Kibaki sacking his entire cabinet. When it was reformed the next month, many of the former cabinet members who supported Raila (including LDP members) together with Raila were left out.

In 2006 the NARC coalition collapsed. This led to Raila forming Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) while several months to the start of the 2007 General Elections, Mwai Kibaki formed the Party of National Unity (PNU).

In the December 2007 General Elections, many observers including international felt Raila would win the presidential seat. Instead, Mwai Kibaki was sworn-in by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).

However, there were irregularities during the General Election as rigging of votes was later found out to have taken place. It is believed the votes were rigged heavily both in Kibaki’s and Raila’s strongholds. This led to protests leading to two months of unrest from January to February, 2008. It is estimated over 1,000 Kenyans were killed during the violence, more than 300,000 displaced and properties worth millions of shillings destroyed.

Raila Odinga
Raila Odinga | Source

The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete brokered an agreement which led to peace in the country. A newly post was formed, and Raila was named as the Prime Minister though it was a weak position compared to that of Mwai Kibaki as the president.

Later in the year 2008, Raila joined together with Kibaki which led to majority of Kenyans supporting the draft constitution during the second referendum.

Several months to the 2013 General Elections, Raila’s ODM allied with Wiper Democratic Movement led by former vice-president of Kenya, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka to form the grand coalition, Coalition Reforms and Democracy (CORD). Raila was contending for the seat of presidency with Kalonzo as runner-up. However, they lost to Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto of the grand coalition, JUBILEE.

Raila alleged there was rigging of votes during the March 2013 General Elections. The case was brought up to the Supreme Court. Raila promised to respect the outcome of the court’s decision. The Supreme Court upheld Uhuru Kenyatta as the winner and Raila respected the court’s decision.

© 2014 Alianess Benny Njuguna


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