Raila connection with Moi, fight for change and undying ambition

KANU, NDP merger. Raila Odinga shakes hands with former President Moi. [File, Standard]


When opposition leader Raila Odinga was incorporated into the Cabinet of former President Daniel arap Moi, many political observers were shocked.

Unbeknown to many, the history between the two men dates back to 1958 when the two first met with Moi being among the first Kenyans to be elected into the Legislative Council (LegCo) while Raila was still a boy playing around in his father’s farm in Bondo.

“I was a young boy in 1958, one year after the first Africans were elected to the LegCo. My father had invited this group of eight members to our home in Bondo,” Raila said in an interview on Wednesday.

Decades later, the two men would often go toe to toe against each other and at some point worked together in Cabinet.

Following the infamous August 1982 attempted coup, Raila was accused of complicity, charged with treason and subsequently detained for six years by President Moi’s government. A biography released in 2006, as Raila was gearing up to contest the presidency in 2007, indicated that he was more involved in the attempted coup than he had previously admitted.

When the book was published, leaders, especially his political nemesis called for his arrest. But the window in law of limitation had already passed and since the information was contained in a biography, it did not amount to an open confession.

Raila’s route to the Cabinet and beyond started when he joined elective politics after the re-introduction of multipartism in 1992, and he was elected as Member of Parliament for Lang’ata constituency in Nairobi. He won the seat again in 1997 when he also vied for the presidency but lost to Moi. He retained the Lang’ata seat in 2002 and 2007.

Raila was identified with the country’s so-called Second Liberation; notably, he was in jail for treason between 1982 and 1988 when the agitation for change was at its peak. He was released in June 1989 but incarcerated again in July 1990, together with Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, for calling for the return of multiparty politics. He was released in June 1991 after which, fearing for his life, he fled to Norway.

In February 1992, Raila returned to Kenya and joined the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) party which was led by his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Later that year, when Ford split into Ford-Kenya (led by the senior Odinga) and Ford-Asili (led by Matiba), he was elected as the former’s deputy director of elections.

In his first bid for the presidency in 1997, Raila finished third after Moi and the Democratic Party candidate Mwai Kibaki. In the lead up to the 2002 elections, he ditched a fragmented Opposition to join Moi’s party, Kanu, in the hope that the president would anoint him as his successor. So in March 2001, having joined the National Development Party (NDP), he merged it with Kanu to form New Kanu.

To solemnise the marriage between the two parties, Moi gave Raila and a few other NDP leaders Cabinet positions. He was appointed Minister for Energy, a position he held from June 2001 to the last quarter of 2002 when Moi revealed his preferred candidate for the New Kanu 2002 presidential contest. It was Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta.

Raila resigned on October 13, 2002, on the eve of a New Kanu meeting in Kasarani, Nairobi. It was the meeting at which Moi would officially announce his choice of successor.

A previous meeting at the same venue when NDP joined Kanu in 2001 had made Raila the new party’s secretary general, in effect sidelining Joseph Kamotho who had held that position for many years.

Towards the end of 2002, Moi asked Raila and other presidential hopefuls in New Kanu to support Uhuru’s campaigns, but this was unpalatable to them. When Raila left the party in a huff, he took with him his NDP brigade and a host of Kanu ‘rebels’ who had also expected to be named heirs to the throne. They included Kalonzo Musyoka, Kamotho and George Saitoti. The group went on to form the Rainbow Movement, which would later merge with Kibaki’s National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), the political machine that defeated Moi’s ‘Project Uhuru’ in the 2002 elections.

As soon as he joined NARC, Raila declared “Kibaki tosha” (Kibaki is enough), thereby endorsing a candidate who had already been chosen by other Opposition leaders. This would be the declaration that signaled the defeat of ‘Project Uhuru’.

Raila traversed the country campaigning for Kibaki, and when the presidential candidate was involved in an accident that left him indisposed just before the elections, he took the lead and delivered victory with an overwhelming majority of 67 per cent.

Prior to the 2002 elections, there was apparently a Memorandum of Understanding that guaranteed Raila the prime minister’s post and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) half the Cabinet posts once Kibaki took over power.

But this did not happen. Instead, the Cabinet was occupied by NAK and even a number of MPs from Opposition parties (Kanu and Ford-People). However, between 2003 and 2005, Raila and some of his lieutenants held key portfolios — he was Minister for Roads, Public Works and Housing, while James Orengo was appointed the Lands Minister.

The perceived betrayal of LDP by NAK started a quiet war, which in time led to an open rebellion and split the Cabinet. A key point of disagreement was a proposed new Constitution for the country, which was the campaign issue that had united NAK and LDP in the lead up to 2002 elections. 

Kibaki’s government instituted a constitutional committee that submitted a draft that was perceived to consolidate presidential powers and weaken regional administrations, contrary to the pre-election draft.

Raila opposed this and when campaigns for putting the Draft Constitution to a referendum started, he and his LDP colleagues campaigned on the ‘No’ side, thereby rejecting it and opposing President Kibaki and his ‘Yes’ side. When the document was put to the vote in 2005, the government lost by 43 per cent to Raila’s 57.

A disappointed Kibaki sacked the entire Cabinet on November 23, 2005, and when it was reconstituted two weeks later, Raila and the LDP group were left out.

He then formed a new Opposition outfit, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and went straight into campaigning for the 2007 presidential elections (orange fruit had been the symbol of the ‘No’ campaign during the referendum). However, in August 2007, ODM suffered a setback when it split into two – he became the head of ODM while Musyoka led the ODM-Kenya splinter faction.

At the ODM National Delegates Conference held at the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani in September 2007, Raila was elected the party’s presidential candidate when he garnered 2,656 votes against his opponents, Mudavadi who got 391 votes, and William Ruto, who had 368. The defeated candidates expressed their support for the winner and Mudavadi was later named as his running mate.

On December 30, 2007, the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Kibaki the winner of the presidential election, placing him ahead of Odinga by about 232,000 votes.

The Opposition, led by Raila, rejected the results and what followed was mass action that resulted in widespread violence and deaths. Over 1,300 Kenyans were killed and more than 250,000 displaced.

The tragedy attracted the attention of the international community. With the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan acting as mediator, a power-sharing deal created a Government of National Unity with Raila as the prime minister. He became Kenya’s second prime minister after Jomo Kenyatta, who held the position from 1963 to 1964.

Later, Raila would face the wrath of Kalenjin leaders because of his stand on those being investigated for crimes against humanity arising from the 2007-2008 violence

Ruto and two other Kalenjins were among those being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Raila would contest the presidency in 2013, this time under a new constitutional order that adopted a presidential system of governance.

Under the new winner-take-all format, those vying for the president and deputy president positions were not allowed to compete for any other political seats.

He made another stab at the top seat in 2017.