Since the return of multi-party politics in 1992, no Kenyan politician has gripped the political pulse of the nation like Raila Odinga.
The ODM leader has been one of the main contenders in presidential elections since 1997, save for 2002.
And in so doing, he has generated what former Vice President Wamalwa Kijana once described as “Raila mania and Raila phobia”.
But while taking plaudits for his gallant fight for democracy, the Azimio leader has also turned his electoral losses into gains. Critics accuse him of blackmailing subsequent governments to get nusu mkate or a piece of the cake after losing elections.
“He has used demonstrations and threats to get his way into President Moi’s, Kibaki’s and Uhuru’s governments but we will not allow him to use blackmail and join this government,” said President William Ruto in Kirinyaga last month.
Raila and his Azimio supporters however scoffed at the president and his allies, telling them to allow an inclusive reconstitution of the electoral commission, fix the economy and the high cost of living and stop talking about power sharing.
The ODM party leader is a seasoned master schemer whose deal making journey began after he differed with Ford Kenya chairman Kijana Wamalwa in 1994 shortly after the death of his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
After breaking ranks with Wamalwa and his Ford Kenya allies like James Orengo, Raila formed the National Development Party (NDP) and resigned from Parliament before recapturing his Lang’ata seat on his new party ticket.
He quickly solidified his Luo Nyanza political base, creating a fanatical following as he expanded his position as leader of the opposition on the streets and outside Parliament.
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In the 1997 presidential election which was won by President Daniel Moi, Raila emerged third with 10 per cent of the vote, beating Wamalwa who came fourth and Charity Ngilu (SDP) who emerged fifth with 8 and 7 per cent respectively. Mwai Kibaki (DP) came second in the 1997 race with 30 per cent.
Despite their earlier differences, Raila and Wamalwa joined hands with Ngilu in rejecting President Moi’s slender victory and threatened mass action to disrupt his swearing in ceremony.
Had they succeeded in ganging up against Kanu which won with about 40 per cent of the vote, the opposition could have made it difficult for President Moi and Kanu to govern.
Shortly after their meeting, rumours emerged that Wamalwa had been approached by Kanu and was in the process of striking a deal with Moi for Ford Kenya MPs to support Kanu in Parliament.
Stories were then leaked to the media by State operatives that Wamalwa had indeed been invited to State House through Mark Too and induced to work with the ruling party.
It turned out, Moi had through his hatchet man Too approached the two leaders with Raila being the main prize as it later emerged in the deal making that led to the NDP leader being appointed into Moi’s cabinet.
From the opposition firebrand that he was, Raila mellowed and zealously supported the Kanu agenda while moving around with Mark Too at public places in Eldoret, Kisumu and other parts of that region.
“Raila became very common in Eldoret, riding in his red Hummer in the company of Too and the then chairman of Lonrho East Africa also many times drove Raila around in his flashy red Toyota Land Cruiser VX,” says lawyer Stanislas Murunga.
Political analyst Martin Andati describes Raila as a good deal maker because apart from securing a ministerial post for himself, he bargained for Adhu Awiti to be made Minister for Planning as Peter Odoyo and Job Onyango Omino became assistant ministers.
“Moi called Wamalwa to State House and gave him some goodies but Raila then outsmarted him when he got wind of it, striking a quick deal with Too and the president, leaving his rival with nothing,” says Andati.
From that deal, the creation of the so-called New Kanu party dominated political talk around the country, as Raila and Chris Okemo shared responsibilities as ministers for Energy.
Meanwhile, Kanu officials led by Director of Elections William Ruto were working round the clock to strengthen Kanu ahead of the 2002 presidential elections after Moi’s retirement.
Raila’s entry created a painful experience to erstwhile powerful politicians like Prof George Saitoti and Kanu Secretary General Joseph Kamotho who were edged out of the party at the famous March 18, 2002 Kasarani delegates conference.
It was at the joint Kanu and NDP conference, that the delegates wound up the latter and officially created New Kanu with Raila as its Secretary General and Uhuru Kenyatta as vice chairman.
Three more positions of vice chairman were created for Musalia Mudavadi (Western), Katana Ngala (Coast) and Kalonzo Musyoka (Eastern), while Raila’s man from NDP Gerald Otieno Kajwang conveniently became secretary for legal affairs.
After some brief camaraderie with Moi, Raila who perhaps thought that being a key stakeholder would be nominated New Kanu presidential flag bearer, kicked up another storm after Uhuru was named the preferred successor.
Raila and his NDP team quit Kanu in August 2002 and teamed up with Kanu stalwarts he had vanquished at Kasarani like Saitoti, Kamotho and Moody Awori to form the Liberal Democratic Party, leaving the ruling party seriously crippled.
He rallied his supporters around the country, protesting against Kanu, singing yote yawezekana bila Moi (all is possible without Moi) and bado mapambano (The struggle continues), drawing huge masses at those meetings.
In October 2002, LDP joined the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) of Mwai Kibaki, Charity Ngilu and Wamalwa to form the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) through which Kibaki was elected president.
After the 2002 elections, Raila was appointed Minister for Roads and Public. He briefly worked with Kibaki before instigating another rebellion that saw him resign from government to oppose Kibaki in 2007.
He had in 2005, led LDP MPs in joining Kanu to oppose the constitutional referendum promoted by President Kibaki and in the process birthed the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party that he leads to date.
Again he created discontent against the government through mobilisation of mass protests against Kibaki with a rallying call of no reforms no elections and Kibaki must go.
Although he lost the 2007 presidential elections to Kibaki, Raila refused to accept the results creating civil unrest which led to a mediation that created the government of national unity.
Through mediation by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and Graca Machel he was made Prime Minister, a position he held until 2013.
Among the reforms he campaigned for that time was the reconstitution of the Electoral Commission of Kenya which was then disbanded and a long process initiated that initially birthed the Interim Independent Electoral Commission of Kenya (IIEC) on May 7, 2009. The process finally brought in new commissioners led by Ahmed Issack Hassan in the renamed Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
After losing elections again in 2013, this time against President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee party, the ODM leader refused to accept the results that were upheld by the Supreme Court and also led another mass agitation against IEBC.
By 2016, they had managed to hound the IEBC commissioners out of office, creating room for the team led by Wafula Chebukati to oversee the 2017 elections which he again lost and successfully petitioned in the Supreme Court.
He, however, refused to take part in the repeat elections, unsuccessfully demanding the reconstitution of IEBC before the repeat polls, which created room for Uhuru to win in lone race.
Raila however ramped up his agitation against the government, forcing Uhuru to initiate the so-called handshake with him in March 2018, thus creating disgruntlement from some leaders in the Jubilee administration led by then Deputy President William Ruto.
The protests were ignored as he enjoyed a close working relationship with the President leading to the support he received from Uhuru’s government in 2022 for his Azimio- la Umoja One Kenya presidential bid.
Having unsuccessfully contested the results again in the Supreme Court after narrowly losing last year’s election by just over 200,000 votes, Raila has mounted another onslaught on the Kenya Kwanza government.
Again the bone of contention is over the reconstitution of IEBC which he insists must be all inclusive and other governance issues he insists President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza government has failed to fulfil.