A 'tactical genius'

If opinion polls are to be believed Raila Amolo Odinga is poised to become Kenya’s fourth president after the December 27 general election.

Born in 1945, Odinga went to school in Nyanza province. He holds a master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Otto von Guericke University in the former East Germany.

During his time teaching at the University of Nairobi he became known as a socialist, naming his first son after Cuban President Fidel Castro. Like Castro, Odinga calls himself a social democrat.

Odinga left the university in 1975 to work as the director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards, until he was arrested and detained on suspicion of masterminding a coup in 1982. He was charged with treason and was detained without trial for six years.

Months after he left detention in 1988, Odinga was arrested for his role in the Kenya Revolutionary Movement, which was agitating for political pluralism in the country. He was freed a year later, only to have the state arrest him again in mid-1990. He fled to Norway in 1991.

After his father, veteran opposition leader Odinga Odinga, died in 1994, Odinga emerged from the shadows to become a fierce political player with his eye firmly set on the presidency.

Odinga later formed a coalition with Mwai Kibaki and several others to stop Daniel arap Moi from installing Uhuru Kenyatta, son of founding president Jomo Kenyatta, as president of the country.

He fell out with Kibaki after the latter become president.

Odinga then led a revolt in the Kibaki government that led to the resounding defeat of the 2005 referendum on a new constitution.

He later formed the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

It came as a surprise to Kibaki in September when opinion polls placed Odinga in the lead. This is when Kibaki hit the campaign trial, but, from the look of things, the president reacted too late. To young post-independent Kenyans, Odinga symbolises a generational and structural change, while Kibaki, who surrounded himself with septuagenarians after he came to power, is a relic of the old order.

In his assessment of this year’s poll, renowned Kenyan political scientist, Ali Mazrui, called Odinga a “tactical genius”.

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