Raila Odinga: Kenya's veteran opposition leader

Raila Odinga. ( File: AFP)
Raila Odinga. ( File: AFP)

Nairobi - Raila Odinga, Kenya's veteran opposition leader and one-time prime minister, is hoping to go one better than his father in Tuesday's presidential election.

The 72-year-old has been a mainstay of Kenyan politics since the 1980s, but has yet to win the top job.

So far then, his career has resembled that of his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who led the opposition for three decades but never the country.

This time round, Odinga leads a coalition called the National Super Alliance (NASA), which hopes to overcome traditional opposition divisions to defeat incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, 55, and his ruling Jubilee Party.

The Kenyatta vs. Odinga battle should be the closing chapter in a dynastic political rivalry between the two families. A generation ago, Jaramogi Odinga lost out to Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first post-independence leader.

This time around, Uhuru Kenyatta is only allowed to serve one more term, and Odinga is seen as too old to make a fresh bid for the presidency in five years' time.

 Lifelong presidential ambition 

Born into political royalty, a member of Kenya's western Luo tribe, Odinga entered parliament in 1992 during the rule of president Daniel arap Moi. He had spent much of the previous decade in prison or in exile during the struggle for democracy.

He ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1997, 2007 and 2013, claiming to have been cheated of victory in the last two votes.

And many observers agree with Odinga's view that the 2007 election was stolen from him.

That result triggered widespread politically motivated tribal violence that left more than 1 100 dead.

To stop the killings, international mediators forced a deal that saw the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, continue as president, while Odinga took the specially created position of prime minister in a power-sharing government.

He held the post until 2013 when he ran for president, losing to Kenyatta by a very narrow margin - and losing his court challenge of the result.

A decade on, the violence of 2007 still casts a shadow over Kenya's political landscape and tribal resentment endures.

Odinga's backers among the Luos believe they are being denied political power by a cabal of Kikuyu elites currently led by Kenyatta.

In rallies and public statements Odinga has said he is "poised for an outright win".

He has accused Kenyatta of seeking to rig the election and called on his supporters to "protect our vote" - a barely veiled threat to take to the streets if they don't like the result.

 A polarising politician 

While his supporters consider Odinga a much-needed social reformer, for his detractors he is a rabble-rousing populist unafraid to play the tribal card.

He is renowned as a firebrand speaker capable of galvanising a crowd with his oratory. But Odinga also has a reputation for being described as stubborn and sometimes short-tempered.

For some observers, he has lost some of his crowd-pleasing skills, which some attribute to ill health and advancing years.

With his speech notes in hand he often stumbles and labours over his words - especially in English. Speaking off-the-cuff in his native Swahili however, he still has the ability to inspire.

Raised an Anglican, he later converted to evangelicalism. In 2009, he was baptised in a Nairobi swimming pool by a self-proclaimed prophet.

He studied engineering in communist former East Germany and named his eldest son Fidel, who died in 2015, after the Cuban revolutionary.

However observers say the "socialist" and "communist" labels he was given were more an attempt to discredit him by the Moi regime than an accurate reflection of his leanings.

After returning to Kenya in 1970 Odinga set up as a businessman before following his father into politics.

Nowadays he describes himself as a social democrat who wants to fight inequality.

Married, Odinga has three surviving children: Rosemary, Raila Junior and Winnie.

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