A son of Kenya’s first Vice-President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Raila is a politician who evokes mixed emotions in Kenya – he is loved and loathed in equal measure. No politician divides opinion like him.
To his supporters, he is a democrat who has sacrificed a lot in his fight against dictatorship but others see him as a scheming and selfish person, who will do anything to gain power.
Former Vice-President Michael Kijana Wamalwa once described Mr. Odinga’s supporters as suffering from “Railamania” and those who hated him as suffering from “Railaphobia”.
They have given him several nicknames over the years, including Tinga (tractor), Agwambo (an act of god), and Baba (father).
Here are some interesting facts about Raila which are little known despite his domineering personality in Kenyan Politics.
- Raila Parents
Whereas many Kenyans know his father as Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, he was once known as Obadiah Adonija, Christian names which he could later denounce and stick to African names. He claimed the Christian names were an extrapolation of the colonial condescending attitude of the whites and missionaries alike.
Very few people know the name of his mother, Mary Ajuma Adhiambo Oginga. Ajuma was the first wife of Jaramogi and died in 1984 when Raila was incarcerated. He could not be allowed to go bury his mother and only came to know about her passing two months later.
- Step Mothers and siblings
Raila’s stepmothers include Gaudencia Adeya, Susan Agik, and Betty Adongo. Raila has 16 siblings from his father’s wives who include Ngire Omuodo Agola (late) Oburu Oginga, Ruth Odinga, Wenwa Odinga, Beryl Odinga, Carolyn Akinyi, Fred Odima, Osewe Odinga and Omondi Odinga who died while an infant.
- Baptism and being chased out of the church
One day in the 1940s, young Raila, Oburu, and Omuodowere were taken to Maseno to be baptized. However, Church Missionary Society reverend Simon Nyende refused to baptize Oburu as Ngong’a Molo Oburu, suggesting Christian names to the unmoved Jaramogi.
“No, Ng’ong’a Molo was a great chief in the country, loved by his people and I have not heard of anything he did which was objectionable to Christians,” Jaramogi retorted in defiance, according to his book ‘Not Yet Uhuru’.
His attempts to have Raila baptized as Rayila Amolo Odinga and their brother Ngire Omuodo Agola retain the name were also futile and was consequently sent away with his boys.
His wife and the mother of the three Mary Odhiambo Odinga who witnessed the entire scenario stalked out of the church, leaving Jaramogi with the tough job of carrying the boys all the way to Bondo alone.
However, Oginga would later pull his strings and contact his friends in high places, including writing to the archdeacon in Nairobi and raising the matter with the church council.
Odinga was educated in Kisumu Union Primary School and later Maranda High School for his secondary education. He proceeded to the University of Leipzig in East Germany through his father’s connections where he did his Engineering degree. He later enrolled for a masters in engineering in Magdeburg and shifted to complete it in East Berlin in East Germany. In 1970, he returned to Kenya.
- University Lecturer and Businessman
In 1963, Raila founded the family company Erection Limited, which dealt in gas and engineering works, to support his family. The company could later change the name to East Africa Spectre Limited. He has been involved in businesses through this company to date.
On his return from Germany, he was employed at the University of Nairobi as an Assistant Lecturer where he taught for two years to 1972.
- Director of KEBS and failed enrolment for PhD
In that same year, Raila was registered by the Engineering Registration Board of Kenya as a professional engineer (graduate) on the basis of his German qualification. He was later accepted for a Ph.D. Engineering course at the University of Colorado on the basis of that very qualification.
He, however, did not take it up as the Government of Kenya appointed him, around the same time, as the first Deputy Director in charge of standards at Kenya Bureau of Standards – KEBS. He was later thought to be involved in subversive political activities following the coup in 1982 and was relieved of his duties at KEBS. He plunged into politics from since.
- Raila’s tormentors in detention
In 1982, Raila Odinga was placed under house arrest for 7 months by then Daniel Moi, and later provincial police chief, Philip Kilonzo, served him with detention orders signed by then internal security minister, Justus Ole Tipis for six years. His mother died in 1984, but it took the prison wardens two months to inform him of her passing, an experience he openly confesses as one of the most traumatizing in his hitherto eventful life.
He was released on 6 February 1988, he was rearrested in September 1988 for his involvement with human rights and pro-democracy activists pressing for multi-party democracy in Kenya, which was then a one-party state.
Raila was released on 12 June 1989, only to be incarcerated again on 5 July 1990, together with Kenneth Matiba, and former Nairobi Mayor Charles Rubia. Raila was released on 21 June 1991, and in October, he fled the country for Norway with a hint that the Kenyan government would attempt to assassinate him.
In detention, Raila was tortured by Special Branch officer Josiah Kipkurui Rono and Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ben Gethi. Rono and other junior officers jumped on his chest and genitals, clipped his testicles with pliers, and knocked him on the forehead until he could pass out as they tried to extract confessions from him.
His young children, Fidel, Rosemary, and Raila Junior never saw him all the while he was in Kamiti Prison. His wife, Ida Oyoo was fired as principal at Kenya High School following his detention.
- Raila has been in 9 political formations in his 30-year political life
Forum For Restoration of Democracy: Before 1992
Ford-Kenya: 1992 – 1994
National Development Party: 1994 – 2002
Kenya African National Union (Kanu): 2000 – 2002
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP): 2002 – 2005
National Rainbow Coalition (Narc; LDP was a member of the coalition)
Orange Democratic Movement (ODM): 2005 – present
Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord): 2013 – present
National Super Alliance (Nasa; ODM is a member of the alliance)
Perhaps the 10th could be born out of his BBI politics.
Raila is still a dominant political figure in Kenya