Raila Odinga: Through the eyes of Kenyan youth

“We need someone we can trust. Someone that is not going to use us and leave us,” says William Opondo.

Raila is one of the two frontrunners for Kenya’s seat of power, the presidency, come August 9th. With a political career spanning many years and with recent opinion polls tipping the scales in his favour, he seems to stand a good chance of becoming Kenya’s 5th president, compared to his previous attempts.

This year’s elections will be the 5th time Raila is seeking the country’s topmost political office and throughout his campaigns, he has consistently reiterated his desire to support the youth. He describes the upcoming polls as a step toward an economic revolution to be driven, largely, by young people. and with 70% of Kenya’s population under the age of 35 years, it is easy to see why the former Prime Minister is keen to appeal to the youth.

In a public address delivered at the University of Nairobi in July, he passionately spoke about the challenges constantly confronting the Kenyan youth, including unemployment. It is here that he made a promise to shepherd the youthful population into meaningful economic engagements, should he win the contest against his fiercest rival William Ruto of the United Democratic Alliance, in a poll pundits have described as  ‘too close to call,’

“I want to prepare Kenyan youth for the jobs of the future. I want Kenyan youth to focus on where the world is going and not where it is coming from. I, therefore, do not subscribe to the school of thought that, ‘Kazi ni Kazi’,” said Raila.

From his days with the ‘Young Turks’ of the 1990s, Raila’s belief that the youth remains Kenya’s greatest agents of change is well-documented. But what do the youth think of his burning desire to lead? KBC spoke to a number of Kenya’s younger generations, to find out if they are of the view the former Langata lawmaker is the right man for the job.

“Raila was integral to achieving the political freedoms we have today,” – Gilbert Kenya, a Communications expert.
Raila Odinga, 1982.

Raila’s journey

Records show that Raila landed his first job in public service when he was appointed Group Standards Manager at the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KeBS) in 1974 and promoted to the position of Deputy Director in 1978 before he was detained in 1982.

Raila’s political leanings and the struggle for democracy saw him detained for over seven years by President Daniel arap Moi’s government, earning him the record of the longest serving political detainee. Odinga was arrested and charged with treason on suspicion of being one of the masterminds of the 1982 coup.

He was released six years later in February 1988, but detained again in August the same year to be rearrested for a year for his involvement in the fight for multi-party democracy; Kenya was then a one-party state. Raila was released on 12th, June 1989 only to be detained again on the 5th of July, 1990, alongside pro-democracy crusaders, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia two days before the Saba Saba riots on the 7th of July. He was released on the 21st of June, 1991. And in October of that year, he fled to Norway fearing for his life.

His activism played an integral role in the country’s achievement of multi-party democracy and freedom of speech Kenya enjoys today.

“Raila is a statesman, he has always put the nation first,” – William Opondo, Lawyer/Political Scientist.
President Daniel Moi and Raila Odinga

On the 18th of March, 2002, Raila endorsed Moi during the merger of the Kenya African National Union then led by President Daniel Arap Moi and his party, the National Development Party. Raila went on to serve in Moi’s government as the Minister of Energy.

“(Raila) He’s not that person who puts himself first. He has always put the nation first. For example, look at a merger between KANU and NDP… I wouldn’t join hands or work with someone who has tortured me,” says William Opondo.

In July 2002, when some thought President Moi will reward Raila with an endorsement as KANU’s presidential candidate, which was reportedly one of the pre-conditions for the merger, things took a different turn as Moi settled on Uhuru Kenyatta, the current President. Despite this setback, Odinga went on to endorse Mwai Kibaki (opposition leader) for President in 2002 with the now famous “Kibaki Tosha” declaration.

“Many of the developments that exist today…came out of the new constitution,” Advice Mundalo, Chair – Jubilee Youth League.

Again, Raila was the chief crusader for the enactment of the 2010 Constitution. The popular moniker ‘Baba’ is a by-product of his persistent support of what was then the new constitution, later dubbed Wanjiku’s Constitution.

A key feature of the 2010 constitution, which many credit him, was devolution which not only led to improvements in access to health care, agriculture, and government services but also facilitated development in every corner of the country.

“Baba has great interest for the young people and women,” Adey Rashid, Administrator UDM.

Raila Odinga appoints former Chief Justice Martha Karua as his running mate.

Political inclusion of women and youth in politics is among Raila’s key targets in leadership. As a leader, he has never hidden his support of women and youth, encouraging them to seek elective seats and appointments in positions of power. He has not only vouched for inclusion in politics but also mentored countless leaders who have grown to excellence in Kenya’s political spheres and who now have an influence on policy-making decisions.

He made another major move when he appointed former Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua as his running mate for this year’s elections. Should the Azimio la Umoja win, Karua will become the first woman to hold the second-highest office in the land.

The opinion is divided, but a majority of the youth we spoke to believe Kenya needs ‘someone who has walked the talk and fought the war in enhancing inclusion.’ The ODM leader is without a doubt regarded highly by the old and the youth alike.

“We need someone that we can trust. Someone that is not going to use us and leave us. Someone that promises and delivers. Raila’s past record shows that he is someone who can deliver.” says Opondo


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