Kibera, Raila Odinga’s city bedroom, heavily expectant ‘as all signs point to win’

Raila Odinga

ODM leader Raila Odinga addressing a rally in Kibera. For locals, a Raila win is a matter of when, not if.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Nonetheless, “Baba” is the one that is currently in use as homage to his decades-long political experience where he is currently being seen as a political father.

Kibera, reputedly the largest slum in Africa, is buzzing. The excitement is palpable. You can feel it permeate the air listening to chit-chats as you traverse the area.

Politically referred to as Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition flag bearer Raila Odinga’s “bedroom”, history is beckoning.

For the residents, it’s only time that stands between their political father and history, and that time is tomorrow’s General Election.

Even though his impregnable political bastion is among the Luo people of Nyanza region, where was born at the Anglican Church Missionary Society Hospital in Maseno in present-day Kisumu County, Nairobi’s Kibra constituency has been Mr Odinga’s stomping ground.

The former prime minister is a man who elicits love and hate from friends and foes in equal measure nationally, but in this area, he enjoys cultic support.

And according to the residents, the ODM party leader is a heartbeat away from the presidency after four failed attempts.

“We are happy that we are closer to the State House more than ever as Baba supporters. I have been Raila’s supporter for years and every election cycle we get disappointed as we always have high expectations but for one reason or the other, victory slips at the last minute. I am hopeful of Raila’s win and all indicators show that Azimio will win,” says Mr Abdulaziz Abubakar.

Derided and chided as a slum for years, politically, however, Kibra has stood tall and has been an envy among its most illustrious neighbours.

The area has been synonymous with political declarations by Mr Odinga, with the famous Kamukunji Grounds always playing a willing host.

“This is Baba’s political base. It means a lot to him and that is why whenever things go wrong in the country, declarations are made here with effects nationally,” adds an ebullient Abubakar.

But for Mr Jamaldin Yahya, Mr Odinga’s victory means a lot to him more than most residents here. The 66-year-old, third-generation Nubian, is a personal friend of the veteran politician and chairs the Nubians for Raila caucus.

“He spent part of his childhood here. We used to see his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, walking in his shorts while he lived at the Kabarnet Gardens, which is just less than a kilometre from where we are, as the vice president,” he recalls.

Less than three decades later, Mr Odinga would launch his political career in the old Lang’ata constituency in 1992.

In the 1992 elections, a 47-year-old Raila announced his arrival in the Kenyan political arena when he defeated Mr Philip Leakey of Kanu in a landslide victory on a Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (Ford-K) ticket.

But after wrangling in Ford after his father’s death, the ex-premier resigned from the party after failing to ascend to its leadership, taking even his friends by surprise.

The move would trigger a by-election in late 1994 and the darling of the residents would easily recapture his seat on a National Development Party (NDP) ticket.

Since then, the Lang’ata MP seat became synonymous with Mr Odinga going on to defend it in three subsequent elections, cementing his stranglehold in the area’s politics and Nairobi at large.

“When he says this is his political home and bedroom, that is what he means. He considers it his political home because he began his politics here up until the law was changed that you cannot vie for president and MP simultaneously. That is why he calls it his bedroom,” avers Mr Yahya.

“I have worked closely with Raila since 1992 when he first became the area MP and we even campaigned together. We were still young then,” he adds. The two are only 11 years apart.

In the lead-up to the 2013 elections, the Lang’ata constituency would be divided into Lang’ata and Kibra constituencies, with Mr Odinga exiting the stage to make his third stab at the presidency.

During a tour across Nairobi early in July, Mr Odinga rallied the residents to only elect MCAs and MPs from his ODM party as a homage to Lang’ata and Kibra being his bedroom. “Kibera is my bedroom and my vote is here. I don’t want to see anyone elected from rival parties. The MCAs and MPs should all be from ODM. I don’t want to see madoadoa (other parties) here. The other time one passed in Lang'ata (referring to current Lang’ata MP Nixon Korir of Jubilee),” he declared.

The veteran opposition leader has made four unsuccessful runs for the presidency in 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2017 and has had an uncanny knack to reinvent himself every time he is declared dead politically.

No politician has been able to attract political nicknames like the doyen of opposition politics: Tinga, Agwambo, Baba, Jakom, and Enigma just to mention a few.

The name “Agwambo” – a Luo term loosely meaning mysterious or the unpredictable one – has been the oldest and most famous one.

Nonetheless, “Baba” is the one that is currently in use as homage to his decades-long political experience where he is currently being seen as a political father.

A master of self-reinvention, he has taken huge political gambles which have shaped up his political trajectory to become a focal point of Kenya’s politics. “I love his revolutionary politics. He is also a visionary leader. He has brought us a new constitution, multipartyism and devolution. This is why I cannot tire from voting for him even though he has not been lucky to be the president,” states Mr Wycliffe Orandi.

“We expect him to unite Kenyans, and also ensure that the presidency goes to other regions and not being a preserve of only certain regions,” he adds.

But the Azimio leader’s quest for the presidency has been one that has been nostalgic. For the residents, however, victory has been snatched from their political father not once but thrice.

In his first bid for the presidency in the 1997 General Election, Mr Odinga finished third after President Daniel Moi and Democratic Party candidate Mwai Kibaki.

Leading to the 2002 polls, he entered Kanu and scuttled it from within, determining the electoral outcome with the famous “Kibaki Tosha” declaration.

But in 2007, he would face Mr Kibaki with the contentious elections plunging the country into chaos and violence. A grand coalition would be the aftermath with the 77-year-old serving as Prime Minister.

Five years later, he would take on his “Handshake” brother, President Uhuru Kenyatta, with the latter becoming the president after attaining the 50 per cent plus one vote by a paltry 8,000 votes and then again in 2017 when the results were nullified by the Supreme Court with a repeat presidential election ordered.

Ensuing violence would lead to the famous handshake in March 2018 and since then, the two hitherto political adversaries have been together politically.

Nonetheless, this is the first time his candidature is attracting the support of the government of the day. “We thank Uhuru for embracing Baba in order to unite the country. At first, we thought he was playing tricks but we now see it is a reality. It is rare to see a sitting president supporting an opposition. This has given us more hope that this is our year,” says Mr Abubakar.

A diehard supporter of the ODM party leader, he adds that it seems all chips are falling in place, saying Mr Odinga’s decision to settle on Narc-Kenya party leader Martha Karua as his running mate was a political masterstroke.

“Martha’s profile is a huge boost. She has an impeccable individual track record and then also comes with two constituencies of women voters as well as a fraction of Mt Kenya. She has put the icing on the cake and we are now more than ever just days away from State House,” points out the 42-year-old.

“We plan to wake up early in the morning come August 9 and give Baba his votes. We will give him 100 per cent of our votes,” he adds.

Mr Musa Ali, who has lived in Kibra for more than 20 years, says President Kenyatta’s decision to back their former MP has moved him very close to the presidency.

“Uhuru backing Raila is good. He has gained even in Central where he has been doing badly because of the president’s support and Karua’s effect,” says Mr Ali.

He expects Mr Odinga’s presidency to unite the country, revive the economy and deal with corruption as well as the high cost of living.

“We are hoping to get a government that responds to the needs of the common mwananchi. We have a lot of hopes for Raila’s presidency. Being our former MP, we have worked together on several projects. We need someone who can change the country as very many things have gone wrong,” says Mr Yahya.

The residents also defended the former premier against accusations that he never helped them while he was their MP and later while a prime minister.  The accusation has seen Mr Odinga’s main rival for the presidency William Ruto often refer to him as the “lord of poverty”.

But Mr Yahya argues that Mr Odinga was in the opposition then and those times cannot be compared to these days when there is devolution and not all resources being with the national government.

“So developing an area as an MP wasn’t that easy. Raila has never been the president with executive authority. He has only been the people’s president.”

The sexagenarian recalls how Kibera used to be a village which had many rivers, and trees in the mid-1960s, and residents would rear livestock and go hunting, fishing, and swimming in the rivers. “Everyone had a homestead then and life was very good. However, things started deteriorating in the mid-80s when corrupt government officials started building cheap houses for rental to make money,” he recalls.

This coincided with the influx of people from rural areas and slowly the face of Kibera began changing exacerbated by the 1992 inflation. And Kibera has never been the same again.

But he is not blaming anyone, saying that people are attracted to places where there are opportunities.

And Mr Yahya has a plea to Mr Odinga should he ascend to the presidency: “Please allocate more resources to the counties to spur development in the devolved units.”

“If we focus on developing the counties through enough resource allocation and stopping embezzlement of public funds then people will themselves be fighting to go back to the counties and we will not have to tell them to go back,” he points out.

Meanwhile, residents of Bondo, Mr Odinga’s rural home, are bubbling with expectation and anxiety.

In the past four elections, they have nursed the pain of watching their son fighting so hard to clinch victory in the battle for the country’s top job but ending in disappointment after being vanquished by his competitors.

For Bondo residents, this year’s election provides the closest opportunity for Mr Odinga to be crowned the country’s fifth president.

Some residents have been trooping to churches for prayers while others have left the matter to fate.

Mr Ahmed Ibrahim, a businessman in Bondo, said proximity to power matters. “When Mr Odinga finally becomes the president we are expecting a huge transformation in the region. The people of Bondo will never be the same again.”

Additional reporting by Kassim Adinasi