By Duncan Miriri
NAIROBI -Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga launched his fifth bid for Kenya’s presidency on Friday, this time with the support of his former foe President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Voters are due to go to the polls next August but Kenyatta will not be on the ballot due to a constitutional term limit of two, five-year terms.
Odinga praised Kenyatta for initiating the dialogue that united them four years ago after a bitter dispute following the 2017 vote.
“It takes a seasoned statesman to shake the hand of his rival,” he told tens of thousands of supporters gathered at Nairobi’s main sports stadium.
Dressed in the orange and blue colors of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, the supporters sang and danced at the rally. Some waved party and national flags.
In Odinga’s last three runs for office in 2007, 2013, he led his supporters to protest at the outcomes or challenge them in court, saying his victories were stolen. Deadly clashes followed the 2007 and 2017 votes.
But he made peace with Kenyatta in early 2018, effectively sidelining Kenyatta’s deputy William Ruto, who has been vocal about his own presidential ambitions.
Several ministers and other senior officials attended the campaign launch. The vice chair of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party also addressed the crowd, underscoring the president’s support.
Odinga outlined a plan for improving socioeconomic welfare and said he would fight poverty.
Ruto, who quit Jubilee and is running on a new party called United Democratic Alliance (UDA), belongs to a different ethnic group in the Rift Valley.
Odinga and Ruto have already been battling it out on the campaign trail, especially in central Kenya, where Kenyatta’s ethnic Kikuyu votes are up for grabs.
Ruto fought alongside Odinga in 2007, when police crackdowns on protesters and clashes that turned into ethnic attacks killed more than 1,000 people in post-election violence, eventually prompting a new constitution to devolve power. Ruto teamed up with Kenyatta in 2013.
Odinga has secured the support of many of the central region’s business tycoons and ministers. Ruto has the backing of most of the region’s elected representatives.
Odinga has been touting his long experience in national leadership, including a stint as prime minister. He has also promised to stamp out widespread graft, give a monthly stipend of 6,000 shillings ($53) to the unemployed, and unite Kenya’s ethnic groups.
Ruto has also pledged to focus on the poor if elected.
($1 = 112.8000 Kenyan shillings)