In Summary
  • A man with the proverbial cat with nine lives, just when he is about to be written off, Mr Odinga often makes a turn which confounds both friend and foe.

  • Mr Odinga has been to South Sudan in a bid to bring President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar to the negotiating table.

  • Since the ‘handshake’ on March 9, Mr Odinga has been given a pride of place in national functions.

  • The former PM now has enhanced security and is received by government officials abroad.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s strategic retreat on his push for constitutional change has once again reinforced the enigmatic tag of the leader who has played a central role in Kenya’s politics in the last three decades.

A man with the proverbial cat with nine lives, just when he is about to be written off, Mr Odinga often makes a turn which confounds both friend and foe.

Analysts are still trying to understand how he and President Uhuru Kenyatta struck an agreement which culminated in the now famous ‘handshake’ on March 9, 2018 which came after a bitter fallout arising from the disputed elections last year. At the height of the acrimony, Mr Odinga swore himself in as the ‘people’s president’.

A masterful orator with a gift to read the public mood, Mr Odinga often summons his grasp of Kenya’s history from where he picks narratives to appeal to any occasion.

From a suspected coup plotter in the 1980s to a grassroots mobiliser with support across the country in the 2000s, Mr Odinga has somersaulted from a radical to a charmer and back to radical before coming back to a master charmer often in a span of months and sometimes weeks, to the consternation of both supporters and detractors. 

Since the ‘handshake’, Mr Odinga has smoothly morphed into something of an insider in the Jubilee government, issuing policy statements even as he plays a peace ambassador’s role.


Just last week, Mr Odinga visited South Sudan in a bid to get President Salva Kiir and his main rival Riek Machar on the negotiating table, triggering suggestions that Mr Odinga has finally accepted the role of an African Union’s special envoy.

He was also the government representative in South Africa during the burial of anti-apartheid icon Winnie Mandela in April. He travels back to South Africa this week on the South Sudan mission.

The matter of Mr Odinga taking up a special envoy’s role in the mould of the eminent persons club of retired African leaders is believed to be one of the agreements in his deal with President Kenyatta.

“All issues regarding any reforms have been referred by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to a team of advisers under the Building Bridges Initiative. Until that is done, Mr Odinga does not seek to propose any reform initiative and shall await the report of the team of advisers,” Raila’s aide, Mr Dennis Onyango, said in a statement last evening.


On Thursday, President Kenyatta reaffirmed his unity deal with Mr Odinga during the national prayer breakfast. The Building Bridges Initiative has also been gazetted, securing it with the force of law.

Commenting on the metamorphosis of one of Kenya’s most enigmatic politicians, Prof Peter Ndege of Moi University said: “Raila is a very perceptive individual. His ability to read the shift in the brand of Kenyan politics is unparalleled.”

He said Mr Odinga has observed Kenya’s politics since the late 1950s which has taught him many lessons.

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