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Monday, April 14, 2008

Profile: Kenya's new PM Raila Odinga

NAIROBI, Apr 13, 2008 (Source: Trading -- -- Raila Odinga, the 63-year-old newly appointed Kenyan prime minister, is described by both friends and foes as the engine that drives politics in Kenya.

Odinga was born in January 1945, in Maseno, Nyanza Province of Kenya, the second son of nine children of the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who was Kenya's vice-president and doyen of opposition, and Mama Mary Emma Odinga.

Odinga was, until November 2005, minister of roads and public works and housing.

Odinga contested for the 2007 presidency and came "second" to the incumbent Mwai Kibaki, but Odinga refused to accept the result, accusing Kibabi of winning the race by rigging.

He is commonly called by his first name, "Raila," due to an interesting coincidence: he was an MP together with his father in the Kenyan parliament for a while, and is currently an MP together with his brother, Oburu Odinga, in the same parliament.

Odinga was educated in former East Germany and spent six years in solitary confinement for his alleged involvement in a 1982 coup that failed to topple the president of the day, Daniel arap Moi.

Later, Odinga was rehabilitated. Enriched by his family's molasses business, he helped to defeat Moi in the presidential election of 2002, this time by throwing his support behind a coalition led by Mwai Kibaki.

As a prominent and successful businessman, who runs the engineering firm Spectra International, he is experienced in global corporate practices and says he intends to inject this knowledge into his administration to reconstruct Kenya's economy.

Odinga has taught in Kenyan universities and held various positions both in the government and private sector.

Odinga has also attended courses at the British Standards Institution in London, Washington D.C., and the University of Denver, Colorado. In addition, he authored several publications both technical and political.

He grew up within the tradition of struggle, which has consistently stood for the complete liberation of the Kenyan people -- where freedom would form the cornerstone of Kenyan society.

In the dark days of political repression in Kenya, Odinga was detained three times without trial for a total period of eight years. In 1991 at the height of the struggle for democratic change, he had to briefly seek asylum in Norway in order to escape a fourth detention.

After the re-introduction of multi-party politics, Odinga vied for the Lang'ata seat, a multi-ethnic constituency within Nairobi city and won with a wide majority on a FORD-Kenya ticket.

Following disagreements within the leadership of the party, in December 1996, he resigned from both FORD-Kenya and parliament, and joined the National Development Party of Kenya (NDP). He contested the ensuing by-election in his former constituency on an NDP ticket in March 1997, and retained the seat.

Raila was elected leader of the NDP, and was the party's presidential candidate in the 1997 general election, coming third in a field of 15 candidates.

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