RAILA AMOLO ODINGA PROFILE
Hearing Kenyans on the street referring to the country’s prime minister by his first name, an outsider could be forgiven for assuming an air of genial friendliness pervades political-public relationships here. The fact of the matter, however, is that Raila Odinga is one of several presidential candidates who bear the mantle of political dynasties, and “Raila” is so dubbed because he was an MP at the same time as his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga – Kenya’s first vice-president.
With a career in the gas business, university lecturing – and a brief stint as a semi-professional soccer player – the 68-year-old prime minister’s followers also know him as Agwambo, meaning “difficult to predict”.
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Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe, was charged with treason and held without trial for six years for his alleged role in a failed 1982 coup attempt against President Daniel arap Moi. He was re-arrested months after his 1988 release for working with pro-democracy and human rights activists calling for multi-party democracy in Kenya, then a one-party state.
After a third period of incarceration, the born-again Christian fled the country for Norway, claiming government officials were conspiring to have him assassinated. He returned in 1992, and navigated divisions between opposition parties to be elected as MP for the Nairobi suburb of Langata, a seat he has held three times since, each time being elected under the banner of a different party.
Nominally socialist – Odinga has given tax breaks on fuel and food ostensibly to benefit the poor – he has come under fire for anti-gay comments, and for claiming to be a cousin of US President Barack Obama.
Wildly popular in the lead-up to the 2007 vote, with a record-breaking 50,000 attending one campaign rally, Odinga alleged fraud when officials named incumbent President Mwai Kibaki the winner. As protests turned violent, and escalated along largely tribal divides, more than 1,400 were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced before a deal brokered by Kofi Annan saw Kibaki retain power, with Odinga filling the newly created position of prime minister.
In the 2013 campaign, many voters are concerned that the power-sharing coalition has not done enough to improve basic infrastructure, repair tribal divisions or to help the poorest Kenyans dwelling in slums.
Since Odinga took office in 2008, however, a new constitution has been enacted, introducing sweeping changes to the nature of Kenya’s democracy. Key changes include the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary, a bill of rights that sought to end gender discrimination, the establishment of an Independent Ethics Commission and a Human Rights and Equality Commission, as well as the promotion of environmental rights and media freedoms. Odinga was also appointed by the African Union to mediate the 2010-2011 Ivorian crisis between Alassane Outtara and Laurent Gbagbo.
Odinga’s campaign pledges include endorsing affirmative action to place women in at least 33 per cent of leadership positions in parliament, local authorities and government departments such as the Foreign Service. He has also promised to commit at least 15 percent of the national budget to healthcare, offering free antiretroviral drugs to all people living with HIV.
At the beginning of February, Odinga was leading the opinion polls, with 46 percent to Uhuru Kenyatta’s 40 per cent, but more recent surveys have the pair neck-and-neck.
“Raila has shown that he’s the right choice for the people of Kenya,” his campaign manager, Eliud Owalo, told Al Jazeera. “Now we wait for the people to turn out and vote on Monday.”