“Baba” Odinga: Kenya’s passionate presidential hopeful

Despite coming from a prominent political family in Kenya and having served as prime minister once, Raila Amolo Odinga has always portrayed himself as an anti-establishment firebrand.

But his choice to team up with his bitter foe, President Uhuru Kenyatta, and win the support of the ruling party as he runs once more for office in the polls scheduled for August 9 runs the risk of tarnishing his reputation.

Since Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963, the Kenyatta and Odinga families have controlled the country’s politics.

Jomo Kenyatta, the father of Uhuru Kenyatta, presided over the country of East Africa as its first leader, with Raila’s father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, serving as his rival’s vice president.

Currently 77 years old, Raila Odinga spent a large portion of his early political career fighting for democracy while president Daniel arap Moi’s autocratic government was in place.

He was elected to the legislature in 1992 and, as a member of the Luo tribe, stood unsuccessfully for president in 1997, 2007, 2013, and 2017. He claimed that the past three elections had been rigged against him.

Particularly the 2007 elections, which many independent observers also believed to be seriously rigged, left a long shadow over Kenyan politics by sparking a surge of intertribal violence that resulted in more than 1,100 fatalities.

Therefore, few anticipated that in March 2018, Odinga and Kenyatta would shake hands and put an end to years of animosity.

The agreement, which became popularly known as “the handshake,” shocked Odinga’s colleagues and supporters and effectively eliminated all opposition in Kenya.

Speculators conjectured that Kenya’s most well-known protester had traded his independence for the chance to be in power when Kenyatta, a two-term president who is unable to seek for a third term, backed Odinga for president earlier this year.

At a press conference earlier this month, Odinga reacted angrily to the allegations, saying Kenyans “know that I am an independent person, that I am a person of conscience, and with very strong convictions.”

“I can’t run for office or be someone else’s stooge.”

Odinga’s promotion came at the expense of William Ruto, Kenya’s deputy president, who was forced to take a back seat as the once-rivals grew closer.

With Ruto now casting himself as a politician seeking to challenge the established quo and defend the “hustlers” struggling to make ends meet in a nation dominated by “dynasties,” it also came with significant dangers for the seasoned leader.

Railia is aware that a significant portion of the support he receives stems from his long history as an opponent of the status quo, according to Gabrielle Lynch, professor of comparative politics at the University of Warwick.

She told AFP that “the handshake has weakened that storyline.”

Odinga, a beloved “Baba” or “daddy” in Swahili who was born on January 7, 1945, is currently engaged in a difficult juggling performance.

He needs to gain a lot of support, particularly from his core constituency, said Kenyan political expert Nerima Wako-Ojiwa to AFP.

While some perceive Odinga as a much-needed social reformer, others view him as a populist agitator who isn’t afraid to appeal to tribalism.

He has a reputation for being obstinate and even irritable while being a charismatic speaker.

Some people have noticed a decline in his ability to please large crowds in recent years, which they blame to aging and poor health.

He frequently fumbles and labors over his words while reading from his speech notes, especially while speaking in English. He still has the capacity to motivate, even while speaking spontaneously in his native Swahili.

Passionate in reggae, he has recently adopted the song “Nobody can stop reggae” by South African singer Lucky Dube as an unofficial campaign slogan.

He is an Arsenal supporter and attributes his philosophical outlook on the turbulent realm of politics to his passion of football.

“You win some and lose some. Although difficult, that is the only path to perfection “He stated in a 2016 interview with AFP.

He was raised as an Anglican but later converted to evangelicalism. In 2009, a self-styled prophet baptized him in a pool in Nairobi.

With his repeated promises to take his supporters to Canaan, the fictitious “promised land,” Odinga’s 2017 campaign even managed to incorporate elements of the Bible.

His oldest son, Fidel, who passed away in 2015, was named after the Cuban revolutionary while he was studying engineering in the communist-run former East Germany.

Odinga is the leader of a commercial empire with interests in energy businesses, while not being as wealthy as Kenyatta or Ruto.

Odinga has been married to his wife Ida for about 50 years. He has three living children and five grandchildren.

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Written by Esther Oyugi

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