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Odinga: Kenya's king-maker

By Noel Mwakugu
BBC News, Nairobi

New prime minister Raila Odinga has spent his life seeking power in Kenya and was instrumental in President Mwai Kibaki's 2002 election victory.

Raila Odinga and his wife, Ida Odinga
Opposition leader Raila Odinga has long eyed the top job

But when the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) elected him as their flag-bearer for last year's elections, analysts predicted that the king-maker was set to become king.

That predication, however, did not come to pass and instead he has become prime minister after reaching a power-sharing deal with his ally-turned-rival Mr Kibaki following a bloody dispute over the presidential elections.

Although he hoped to be president, Mr Odinga will now have to share executive roles with President Kibaki in an arrangement championed by the international community.

During his long political career, he has been in and out of a veritable alphabet soup of political parties.

His critics call him a "party-wrecker", who would do anything to achieve his political ambition.

He ran for office against former President Daniel arap Moi in 1997.

Although he trailed in third, that 1997 run secured for Mr Odinga a national profile from which to launch his future presidential bid.

Political lineage

Mr Odinga is the son of Kenya's first post-independence vice-president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who split with Kenya African National Unity (Kanu) founding father Jomo Kenyatta in 1966.

Crowds at ODM launch rally
Raila Odinga has a powerful grassroots organisation

Raila, a mechanical engineer by profession, was accused of plotting a coup against President Moi in 1982, charged with treason and detained without trial for six years before fleeing to Norway in 1991.

But he returned the following year to join his father's new party, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford).

On Jaramogi Odinga's death, Raila challenged Michael Wamalwa Kijana for the leadership of Ford-Kenya and lost, so left to join the National Development Party (NDP).

After the 1997 elections he merged his NDP with Kanu but was passed over for the Kanu leadership and formed the Rainbow Movement in protest.

The Rainbow Movement went on to join the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and then to form the ODM.

Daredevil

Raila Odinga has a powerful grassroots organisation and with this kind of political clout - and a forceful personality to match - he has been able to influence the political agenda in Kenya.

PROFILE
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki

He has what some describe as a daredevil character, that is the boldness both to challenge and openly criticise his opponents, a trait which has won him friends and enemies in equal measure.

To his supporters he is known affectionately as Agwambo [mysterious in his Dholuo language], and budding politicians from Nyanza have often sought his blessing to launch their careers, feeling that without his nod, they would be bound to fail.

In 2002, Mr Moi reached out to him as he sought to repair his dented political image.

Mr Odinga disbanded the NDP and regrouped his political forces in Mr Moi's Kanu, becoming the party's secretary general as part of the deal.

'Captain is injured'

Political analysts at the time predicted that there would be a further falling out between the seasoned duo and it came in 2002, when Mr Moi hand-picked Uhuru Kenyatta to succeed him as Kanu's presidential candidate, in defiance of calls for a ballot.

Kenyan hoisted up a pole holds a poster of the Orange Democratic Party candidate, Raila Odinga
Mr Odinga is described by some as a daredevil

Mr Odinga duly walked out, along with key ministers from Mr Moi's government to form the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) party which brought Mr Kibaki to power.

He was seen as instrumental in President Kibaki's victory despite the serious injury he incurred in a pre-election accident.

"The captain is injured but the struggle continues," Mr Odinga declared and Kenyans for the first time voted for an opposition candidate en masse.

But he soon fell out with his new ally and launched the ODM in opposition to Mr Kibaki's government to campaign for a No vote in the 2005 constitutional referendum.

Hands-on

Mr Odinga accused Mr Kibaki of being insincere and failing to live up to his promises to tackle corruption, and now hopes to unseat him.

Diehard supporters of this East German-trained mechanical engineer believe he could be the right person to deliver the much-wanted changes to Kenyan politics: to put an end to tribalism, nepotism and corruption and bring Kenya into the modern age.

As a prominent and successful businessman (he runs the engineering firm Spectra International) he is experienced in global corporate practices and says he intends to inject this knowledge into his administration to reconstruct Kenya's economy.

His supporters say Mr Odinga is fearless and can be the hands-on president Kenya needs to mend the decades of misrule.

But his detractors say he is a dictator in the making, who will shove aside anyone who does not toe the line.


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