Jaramogi’s Heir

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Nairobi, Dec 18, 2004 (The East African Standard/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — Raila has not always been seen as the natural successor to his father’s political capital

Of all the shadows cast by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s family tree, the one by Raila Odinga is the most paradoxical, controversial and perhaps the hardest to understand.

An MP described him as “the most talked about politician in the country, more talked about than God.”

Either they are plotting how to finish or support him.


Raila is the second son in the family, but increasingly, he is seen as the bearer of his father’s mantle, a man ready to defend his father ferociously and who borrowed many of his political structures.

He understands that structure well, including his father’s local chain of friends and what made him tick in politics.

By the standards of those who love him, like his cousin Aoko Midiwo, Raila is a great man to have around, a focused man who may change his mind about how to achieve what is good for the country but not on the necessity of it.

Those who hate him do so fervently. They find him outrageous, forever scheming and unreliable.

They reason that without family connections and Jaramogi’s name, he would never have occupied the position he holds today; that Raila is just running on his daddy’s name.

Raila’s friends and family defend him vigorously.

To some of them, it always looked obvious that after working so hard on other people’s campaigns, he was inevitably going to make a bid for himself one day.

If he inherited anything, it could be only a good name, not the votes,” his sister Wenwa Akinyi says.

But there are also those who say Raila did not just inherit his father’s battlements.

He has performed unprecedented acts of synthesis; taking his father’s weaknesses, like excessive loyalty to people and reluctance to tell off friends who had let him down, and mixed them with his own political tactics.

When his father died in 1994, Raila was little known and even less appreciated as a political force, even in Nyanza where his father had controlled almost every voice.

Raila’s political friend, Mbita MP Otieno Kajwang’, recalls that in the Ford Kenya elections that followed Jaramogi’s death, virtually all the Luo MPs rallied behind the then Ugenya MP, Mr James Orengo.

Orengo defeated Raila in the race for the party’s vice chairmanship largely because he was seen as the automatic heir to Jaramogi’s mantle, especially in Luo country.

From the ashes of defeat, Raila proceeded to build a political machine that now chugs and huffs when turned on, upsetting the political equation across the country.

In Nyanza Province, in particular, Raila’s word has carried more weight than his father’s once did.

Between 1994 when people saw Orengo as the bearer of Jaramogi’s mantle and now, Raila has changed everything.

People now see Raila as the one who stands for what Jaramogi once represented, according to Kajwang’.

The last doubt seems to have been laid to rest when Orengo fell to his own brother-in-law and Raila’s preferred candidate, Archbishop Stephen Ondiek, in the 2002 elections in Ugenya.

Today, people are not protecting Raila when they get upset for him. They are protecting themselves. He has blended with the community such that people think if something happens to him, they will be hurt as a community. I don’t see that ending soon and I don’t know what mistake he can make to take it away,” Kajwang’ says.

Some politicians say Jaramogi favoured Raila to take over from him. That the old man felt he owed Raila something after all the trouble he had gone through, often with the father’s tacit consent.

Others, including family members, say Raila has always fought his own battles, has never relied on his father’s political machine and hardly sees himself as a warrior for his father.

“There is a way in which he inherited the collective sympathy his father enjoyed. But most of what Raila has is a product of sheer hard work. When he started a battle with [Michael Kijana] Wamalwa, Luos saw him as the underdog, and wondered why they were fighting Jaramogi’s son,” Kajwang’ says.

“Raila changed tact after losing to Orengo. He began to get to the people directly. His candidates began coming in through by-elections. Then people began to see another side of the man that was not known. That Raila is true to his friends. When Raila is your friend, he will never turn his back on you even if it means he risks his own life or job. That earned him support,” Kajwang’ said.

Where others are surprised to find the family on stage after Jaramogi’s death, the family does not find it mind-boggling that it is largely Raila who has brought them there.

Wenwa, traces the reasons for Raila’s rise to their childhood when he was a schoolboy while she had not even started school.

She says she saw then the Raila she sees today political, aggressive, defiant and brave.

From childhood, there are things Raila used to do that made him stand out,” Wenwa, Raila’s immediate follower, says.

In school, there was a rule that when a teacher canes or slaps you, you should salute and say ‘Thank you’ to the teacher. Raila refused to do that when he was only in Class Two,” Akinyi recalled.

This defiant spirit blended with Raila’s desire to be in touch with current affairs through radio, the most popular media channel in the village then.

She recalls that whenever Raila was being sent out of the house when news time was approaching, he would drag her and plant her in front of the radio with instructions to listen carefully and tell him what was in the news.

“But I was too young, and I did not know what I was supposed to be listening to. He would come back, and I would not know what to tell him. Usually I would tell him about an advert, the one I remember well was on Vaseline Hair Tonic. I would tell him that and I would be in a lot of trouble because it upset him,” she recalls.

Looking back, Wenwa says Raila was already in politics at that tender age, contrary to the belief that Jaramogi introduced him to it.

Among his admirers, Raila goes by the name of Owadgi Akinyi (Akinyi’s brother). When the minister, his elder brother Oburu and Akinyi were growing up, both boys shared that title. But it was mostly associated with Oburu.

Gradually, the balance shifted towards Raila until today, it almost his name, no longer associated with anybody else in the family.

Akinyi uses this as early evidence of Raila’s capacity to outshine others.

Raila and Oburu are not taking over from where Jaramogi left. They were in politics even when Jaramogi was there. You don’t see the moon when the sun is still shining,” she says.

Raila agrees that he was close to his father and that he learnt a lot from him.

“I was close to him because I was the one in politics at that time. My other siblings were either abroad or in the civil service. I worked with my father and shared a lot. I was like his assistant in many ways,” Raila says.

I learnt a lot from him, sometimes merely by seeing how things are done,” he adds.


Raila had considered running for the Langata seat in 1974 but his father prevailed on him to leave it for another man who had just left a job with the International Monetary Fund to run in Langata.

But the real reason why Raila did not run was that Kanu had refused to clear all former Kenya Peoples Union members.

Feeling awkward to run when others had been barred, Raila retreated to Bondo and campaigned for Elekiah Ougo, who was running against Odongo Omamo. Ougo won the seat.

In 1979, we were denied clearance again. That is why we tried to form our party in 1982. The rest is history,” Raila says.

Raila says he ran in Langata in 1992 against stiff opposition from some of his father’s friends. Jaramogi’s friend Achieng Oneko had lost the race for Langata twice, in 1983 and 1988.

“People told Jaramogi I was going to embarrass him by losing immensely. There was a feeling that [incumbent MP] Philip Leakey was unbeatable. They wanted me to try Kisumu Town or Muhoroni. I insisted I would stay here, and Jaramogi decided not to interfere. I insisted I was going to make a career in Langata or just quit politics.”

The only thing the old man may have passed to Raila, according to his sister, is an addiction to politics that would not subside even with the worst of experiences. Raila has been detained thrice and once fled into exile faring political persecution.

Raila cannot stop being in politics. He sees it as running from responsibility. That is the way Jaramogi saw it and I think Raila inherited that,” his wife Ida says, adding that their children also appear keen on politics.

“All my children are politicians. Fidel started following Jaramogi when he was young and even today, he rarely misses rallies. Raila Junior is reserved, but still waters run deep. When I first met Raila, he was a very quiet person.”

by Dennis Onyango

Copyright The East African Standard. Distributed by All Africa Global Media(AllAfrica.com)

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