Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta endorsed his former arch-rival for the country’s top job on Saturday, weeks after their parties joined forces ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in August.
“We have chosen Raila Odinga without any opposition to be Kenya’s fifth president,” Kenyatta told a cheering crowd of several thousand in the capital Nairobi.
The announcement brings together two of Kenya’s leading political dynasties, who have long been at odds at the ballot box.
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But in 2018, Kenyatta and Odinga stunned the country when they shook hands and declared a truce after post-election violence in 2017 left dozens dead.
Last month, Kenyatta’s Jubilee party announced it would join Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja (Quest for Unity) coalition.
On Saturday, Kenyatta declared his support for the veteran opposition leader, saying: “We have no doubt that we have a team captain in Raila Amolo Odinga.”
Odinga, 77, responded, saying the couple’s journey from bitter electoral rivals to political partners “has been the most unlikely in the history of our country”.
“I accept the nomination with absolute gratitude and dedication to our people,” he added.
The announcement came after Kenyatta’s previously appointed successor, William Ruto, who also intends to run for president, was sacked from Jubilee.
Ruto, 54, was initially nominated by Kenyatta as his successor but found himself sidelined after the 2018 pact between the president and his former foe.
Ruto has positioned himself as a leader seeking to overturn the status quo and defend ‘scammers’ trying to survive in a country ruled by ‘dynasties’ – a reference to the Kenyatta and Odinga families who have dominated politics for decades .
– Electoral violence –
East Africa’s powerhouse has traditionally been led by presidents from the dominant Kikuyu tribe like Kenyatta or the Kalenjin tribe like Ruto.
This year’s contest is shaping up to be a two-horse race between Ruto and Odinga, who belong to the Luo tribe.
A former political prisoner and Prime Minister, Odinga has won the support of at least 26 parties which are now part of the Azimio la Umoja coalition.
But his image as a fiery anti-establishment leader took a hit after the “handshake” with Kenyatta.
The duo tried unsuccessfully to introduce sweeping constitutional changes, saying the reforms would help end repeated cycles of election violence.
More than 1,100 Kenyans lost their lives in 2007 when a disputed election result sparked tribal violence.
The reforms – known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) – proposed expanding the executive and parliament to distribute the spoils of victory more evenly.
But it has been seen by critics as a way to allow Kenyatta – a two-term president who cannot run for a third – to stay in power by establishing the post of prime minister.
The government has appealed a court ruling that rejected the proposals and said Kenyatta could even be prosecuted in civil court for initiating the process.