Odinga, Raila Amolo

Odinga, Raila Amolo
▪ 2009

born Jan. 7, 1945, Maseno, Nyanza province, Kenya

 Kenyan opposition politician and businessman Raila Odinga was named prime minister of the country on April 13, 2008, and was sworn in on April 17. The appointment followed violent tribal attacks in late 2007 that occurred in the wake of Odinga's being declared the loser (amid major voting irregularities) in his run for the presidency of the country against incumbent Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity. During his campaign, Odinga sought to dispel the perceived grievances of some western Kenyan ethnic groups by denouncing corruption in high places and by campaigning for a fairer distribution of land and the devolvement of power to largely single-ethnic district councils. Though official results gave Kibaki the victory, an exit poll taken by U.S. observers and released in July 2008 suggested that Odinga was the winner.

      Of Nilotic Luo descent, Odinga was the son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the first vice president of independent Kenya. After earning a degree in mechanical engineering in East Germany, Odinga returned to Kenya in 1970 to become a lecturer at the University of Nairobi. He left that post to pursue a career in politics, and in 1982 he was accused of plotting against Pres. Daniel Arap Moi; he was imprisoned without trial for six years. After Odinga's release, he was twice arrested for campaigning against one-party rule, and in 1991 he sought refuge in Norway. He returned to Kenya in 1992, however, and was elected a member of the parliament that year.

      In 1997 Odinga stood unsuccessfully for election as president of Kenya. He thereafter gave his support to Moi and the ruling Kikuyu-dominated Kenya African National Union (KANU), becoming energy minister in 2001. Odinga's hope of succeeding Moi as KANU's candidate for the presidency in the 2002 elections was shattered when Moi called upon the party to support Uhuru Kenyatta, son of former president Jomo Kenyatta. Quitting KANU, Odinga formed the National Rainbow Coalition of Kenya, which, after a series of mergers, linked up with another coalition group under the leadership of former vice president Mwai Kibaki, himself a Kikuyu.

      Odinga played a significant role in securing the election of Kibaki as president in 2002 but was disappointed not to be made prime minister, a post for which there was no constitutional provision at that time. When Odinga successfully led a campaign against a government bill, apparently aimed at strengthening still further the powers of the president, Kibaki dismissed his cabinet.

      Odinga then formed the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which won a resounding majority in the December 2007 parliamentary elections. A delay in the announcement of the result of the presidential election, which Odinga also believed he had won, led him to accuse the government of electoral malpractice and was followed by riots in western Kenya and in the multiethnic slums in Nairobi, which resulted in the death of hundreds of Kikuyu, while thousands more were driven from their homes. The Kikuyu responded in areas where they were in the majority, and it was some weeks before order was restored. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan eventually brokered an agreement in February 2008 between Kibaki and Odinga that led to Odinga's being sworn in to the newly created post of prime minister under Kibaki's presidency and with a power-sharing cabinet.

Kenneth Ingham

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Universalium. 2010.

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