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Raila Odinga’s five political ‘handshakes’

Raila Amollo Odinga’s political career can at best be compared to the proverbial cat and its nine lives.

Now 78, Mr Odinga, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader, has survived one political turbulence after the other while forming alliances or some sort of agreement with four of the country’s presidents when least expected along the way.

Each alliance has come with a different name, terms, and conditions, with the latest to cave in being President William Ruto.

Here’s a low down.

1. President Daniel Moi’s MOU. – In 1997, Mr Odinga and then-president Daniel Moi (now deceased) joined hands in a political move that surprised many considering Moi had earlier fallen out with Mr Odinga and twice detained him for nine years.

In the terms of this political agreement christened Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Mr Odinga agreed to dissolve his National Development Party (NDP) party to join Moi’s Kenya Africa National Union (KANU).

He was rewarded with a slot as KANU’s secretary general and Minister for Energy.

The deal only lasted a few years, however, as Mr Odinga walked out of KANU after he disagreed with Mr Moi’s choice of Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor.

2. President Mwai Kibaki ‘Tosha’ – Mr Odinga then backed Kibaki’s presidential candidature, campaigned for his presidency in tough conditions including a time when the presidential candidate was involved in a groisly road accident and had to be flown to the UK for specialized treatment.

He was rewarded with a slot as Minister of Roads. But Kibaki and Raila fell out soon after as Mr. Odinga claimed he had been politically shortchanged. Kibaki responded by firing him from the government.

3. President Mwai Kibaki’s Peace accord – Mr Odinga contested for the presidency in 2007 and finished second to President Kibaki. He refuted the results leading to widespread violence in which 1000 people died and hundreds of thousands of others were injured and displaced. Later, talks led by former UN secretary-general Koffi Anan led to a peace accord in which Kibaki and Odinga shook hands in public in the presence of then Tanzania president Jakaya Kikwete. Mr Odinga was appointed Prime Minister and handed half of the ministries in government in an arrangement dubbed ‘nusu mkate’ (half a loaf) as part of the agreement. The deal last five years, until the end of Kibaki’s tenure as Head of State.

4. Uhuru Kenyatta’s handshake – Fast forward to 2018 and Mr Odinga again finished second to President Kenyatta in the general elections. He successfully contested the outcome of the polls at the Supreme Court leading to Justice David Maraga nullifying the polls and calling for fresh election. Mr Odinga refused to contest in the fresh poll, in the process handing President Kenyatta a landslide. Mr Odinga reacted by swearing himself in as the ‘People’s President’. This forced President Kenyatta to reach out for a ‘handshake’ and accommodate Mr Odinga in his government in a clandestine arrangement. The agreement also involved constitutional reforms under the failed Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and a decision by President Kenyatta to support the unsuccessful Mr Odinga presidency in the August 2022 polls.

5. President William Ruto’s bipartisan talks – Mr Odinga, again, lost the 2022 polls to President Ruto. He also lost in his bid to petition the election result at the Supreme Court. Buoyed by an alleged report by a whistle-blower, Mr. Odinga first held public barazas across the country and later scaled that up to mass protests. The protests cost the country lives, led to property destruction and a taint on the country’s image. Three weeks later, President Ruto caved in to some of Mr Odinga’s demands and called for Bi-Partisan talks geared towards addressing electoral reforms. Mr Odinga in turn, suspended the demonstrations.

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