What next for Raila Odinga, the enigma of Kenyan politics?

(By Emeka-Mayaka Gekara)

A battle-hardened soldier — and he has scars to show for it — Mr Odinga is credited with uprooting the Moi regime in 2002 when he dramatically walked out on President Moi and teamed up with Mr Mwai Kibaki, then of National Rainbow Alliance to emphatically defeat Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta.

He has been described as the enigma of Kenyan politics, a cunning, scheming, restless and indomitable mobiliser and campaigner. But no single adjective can capture the character and temperament of Raila Amolo Odinga.

The outgoing prime minister has been Kenya’s most influential politician and has had tremendous influence on the country’s political discourse for more than a decade — but outside State House.

A scion of founding Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Coalition for Reform and Democracy leader Raila Odinga has been the fulcrum around which Kenyan politics revolved after the exit of former President Daniel arap Moi in 2002.

No single Kenyan politician has attracted more media headlines for the past 10 or so years than Mr Odinga. Barrels of ink have been used to write about the activities of a man who attracts admiration and resentment in equal measure.

With Saturday’s Supreme Court decision upholding the election of Mr Uhuru Kenyatta as president, the major question is: What next for Mr Odinga?

He has a number of options. First, Mr Odinga, 68, could retire from politics and take up the roles of mentor and elder statesman or international assignments mediator.

He may also opt to stay on and strengthen his Orange Democratic Movement party by providing guidance from outside Parliament or the Senate.

No hint

He in his concession speech gave no hint as to his next move but said he would “soldier on to reform our institutions and politics”.

According to lawyer Charles Kanjama, Mr Odinga’s place in Kenyan politics cannot be ignored because he “remains the second-most popular politician in Kenya after President-elect Kenyatta” after winning 5.3 million votes.

Analyst Herbert Kerre of Kabianga University College says Mr Odinga will be useful in Africa and the world.

“He is an elder statesman who enjoys considerable admiration in Kenya and in the world for his strong ideals and consistency in the push for good governance in Africa,” he said.

“Raila is a strong Pan-Africanist whose politics resonate with Africans and Kenyans who wanted him to be president, but he should free himself for deployment at the continental level.”

Having unsuccessfully vied for the presidency three times, there is doubt whether he can summon sufficient energy and enthusiasm to make another stab at the job.

There have been suggestions that an ODM nominee to the National Assembly could be prevailed upon to step down for him.

While a section of Kenyans see him as a champion of reforms and a force of good, others perceive him as a dictatorial, corrupt, opportunistic, anarchist, tribalist and nepotist and a Western lackey keen to acquire power at any cost — a man with a great sense of self-entitlement.

Argued bravery

Opponents keen to project him as a destructive force point to his participation in a failed 1982 coup plot against the Moi regime. He has always argued it was an act of bravery to remove a despotic regime which had closed all avenues for democratic political competition and transfer of power.

Mr Odinga has achieved much in his political career, but the presidency has eluded him.

In past interviews and conversations, Mr Odinga has come out as a man who felt demonised despite what he considers his many sacrifices to expand liberties in Kenya.

He characterises his political journey as a duel with forces pushing for the status quo and says his major victory was the enactment of the 2010 Constitution.

The son of Jaramogi has a sure grasp of history, a rare attribute amongt most Kenyan politicos.

He reckons tribalism is a cancer that continues to destroy the fabric of nationhood, and he believes he has been a victim of tribalist, shadowy and vicious anti-reform figures who fought against the 2010 Constitution.

In a past conversation with this writer, Mr Odinga sounded pained by what he saw as an attempt by part of the political elite to deny his reform record.

During the presidential campaign he declared that the contest was between forces of impunity and those of change.

Anti-change elite

Reacting to a book critical of him by former adviser Miguna Miguna, Mr Odinga, who considers himself the “bearer of the reform dream,” said it was the work of the elite opposed to radical change.

“I have been associated with reforms and know that if you target me, then you will kill the reform dream.”

Mr Odinga summed up the strategy thus: “Hit at my character, pull me down and kill the reform dream.”

He said the forces behind Mr Miguna’s sensational book were “the same people saying let us not look in the rearview mirror”.

“Because the rearview mirror shows the dark era of political assassination, repression, ethnic discrimination, Goldenberg, Nyayo House torture chambers, suppression of the media and assassination of [politician] JM Kariuki and Pio Gama Pinto.”

A battle-hardened soldier — and he has scars to show for it — Mr Odinga is credited with uprooting the Moi regime in 2002 when he dramatically walked out on President Moi and teamed up with Mr Mwai Kibaki, then of National Rainbow Alliance to emphatically defeat Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta.

An energetic mobiliser, Mr Odinga would in 2005 rally the country to reject a proposed constitution that saw him and others kicked out of government. This set the stage for the 2007 presidential election, whose results he disputed, when President Kibaki was declared the winner.

The result was post-election violence that only ended after former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan brokered a peace deal that saw him share power with President Kibaki in a forced marriage.

Biggest battles

The 2010 Constitution is no doubt the biggest achievement of the Kibaki-Raila coalition. It was during this period that he fought probably some of the most challenging battles of his political career which not only saw him lose key allies but culminated in the alliance that fought him at the polls.

During his time as prime minister, Mr Odinga’s office was accused of involvement in a major maize scandal as well as loss of cash for the youth jobs Kazi kwa Vijana project.

Differences with his then deputy in ODM, Mr William Ruto, now deputy president-elect, over the handling of youth protesters in the 2007 violence and conservation of the Mau Forest antagonised the Kalenjin Rift Valley.

The post-election violence also saw Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, sowing the seed for the formation of a formidable alliance between the two and their communities which two years later transformed into the Jubilee coalition.

The two turned the election into a referendum on the ICC which their supporters packaged as working in favour of Mr Odinga. Mr Odinga’s support for the ICC was painted as a scheme to lock out Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto from the presidential race.

The 2013 presidential contest rekindled memories and a repeat of the rivalry between the families of founding President Jomo Kenyatta and first Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Their fathers were entangled in vicious ideological fights that saw Mr Odinga sacked as vice-president, a move that divided the Kikuyu and Luo power elite that persists to date.

(Source: Africareview)

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