Jaramogi Oginga Odinga did not get to occupy State House. It is a useful fate of heroes in many countries. History records that the few that have managed to occupy the highest office in any land on the African continent have been either assassinated or overthrown from power and exiled; Thomas Sankara, Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba come to mind. The idea of heroines and heroes who reign and rule is captured in the notion of the “People’s President” and the “Leader of the People’s Opposition”, both roles being undertaken by people who reign and rule, albeit not constitutionally and legally. They may reign and rule economically, spiritually, socially, and morally. They are oppositional figures who invariably build a formidable following that makes them and a perpetual thorn in the political backside of the status quo. For some, their rise to prominence and authority can be meteoric and short-lived, for others it can exist until they die. Kenya’s Jaramogi reigned and ruled until his death in January 1994.
I first saw Jaramogi at Kalundu Market in Kitui Town in 1959 when I was 12 years old. The airlifts to the US were in full swing. Justus Kalewa Ndoto, a former Permanent Secretary in the Kenyan government, had been accepted at a university in America for further studies. Our Member of the Legislative Council of Kenya (LEGCO), Hon. James Nzau Muimi had organized a fundraising event for Ndoto and had invited his fellow LEGCO members to the fundraiser. Jaramogi was one of those who honoured the invitation. I decided to go to the event together with a few of my schoolmates. We knew the names of the first African members of LEGCO, thanks to our rigorous primary school course on civics. This course was about who was who in Kitui, namely the District Commissioners, the District Officers, the headmaster of Kitui Secondary School, the Heads of Police and Prisons, the Medical Officer of Health, and religious leaders. The election of Africans to the LEGCO in 1957 had trumped these local Kitui notables and dignitaries. The scope of the civics class was extended to connect political issues in the native reserve to those in Nairobi.
As the fundraiser began, I was able recognise the politicians present from the photographs in the East African Standard newspaper that my uncle, who I lived in Kitui town, bought every day. But I struggled to locate Jaramogi among the dignitaries; he had taken a sit with the Wenyenchi before he was invited to the rostrum. When he got onto the rostrum, I saw that like me and my buddies, he was wearing Akala shoes made from old tyres and was dressed in his famous “Mao Zedong” outfit (the top had some resemblance to Mao’s tunic but Jaramogi wore elongated shorts instead of trousers). He greeted all present by waving his flywhisk. I was instantly impressed and inspired by Jaramogi and I believe it had a lot to do with the shoes, his outfit, and his stories (now you know where Raila Odinga’s kitendawilis/riddles come from) which made him a perfect Kitui peasant, a man of the people. The other LEGCO members were Asungu/wazungu, clad in suits and ties. We loved the man who dressed like us! I read everything that Jaramogi was reported to have said in the East African Standard. My habit of reading Jaramogi’s speeches did not decline with the release of Jomo Kenyatta in 1961, whose speech I heard at Donholm Stadium on my first visit to Nairobi the same year; Kenyatta’s attack on racism and colonial segregation in Kenya was as superb as it was persuasive to my ears.
Little is known about Jaramogi’s airlifts to India, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and Eastern Europe; one had to read Jaramogi’s Not Yet Uhuru to get the story. Tom Mboya’s airlifts to the US received more media coverage. This was also the era of the Cold War and the ideological differences between Jaramogi and Mboya that existed within the Kenya African National Union (KANU) were not as pronounced as they were to become later in the 60s decade.
In Kitui Secondary School (1962-1965), we were not spared the politics of independence that were reflected both in the papers and in reality when politicians came to Kitui town. One of the political meetings was held on Kitui Secondary School’s soccer field and that was my first time to see Tom Mboya at very close range. Jomo Kenyatta also visited Kitui after his release from detention and addressed the people of Kitui at the Ithookwe Agricultural Show Ground.
Little is known about Jaramogi’s airlifts to India, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and Eastern Europe.
I would say most students were members of Kenya African National Union (KANU). I was part of the “Youth for KANU!” of which the Youth for KANU of the 1990s was but a pale shadow. Jaramogi was my hero. Moreover, I was convinced that the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) was for colonialism and white settler domination in Kenya; the small town of Kitui was also an epicentre of colonialism with colonial segregation and so KANU’s nationalist and anti-colonial politics resonated with many of the students at Kitui Secondary School. I remember how we celebrated KANU’s victory in the elections and the formation of the so-called internal government of 1 June 1963 (the first Madaraka Day) in which Jaramogi became Jomo Kenyatta’s deputy. Fourteen months after independence, I joined Strathmore College of Arts and Science in the Lavington suburb of Nairobi, the first multi-racial and multi-ethnic college in Kenya. Strathmore was founded in 1961, although the founders were already in the country when I first saw Jaramogi in Kitui.
At Strathmore College, I met a young man who actually worshipped Jaramogi. My classmate in the Arts, Onginy’o Ogutu, had a huge photograph of Jaramogi before which he would prostrate himself before going to bed. I did not know whether he actually worshipped Jaramogi or simply prayed for him, or both. Another classmate, Eliud Thini Waiyaki, who shared a room with Ogutu and two others, would tell of Ogutu’s dedication to worship and prayer – in his room or when he had access to the college chapel. Ogutu was a confident student who became a college mate at the University of Dar es Salaam, and a boxer of note. It was the political scene in Kenya that turned Ogutu’s drama, worship, or prayer into a national ideological and political contestation since independence.
The KANU Limuru Conference was held in 1966 against the backdrop of the Cold War and the ideological and political conflicts within KANU. Bolstered by KADU, the political party that was pro-British colonialism and white settlers in Kenya, KANU’s right wing decided to purge the party of its leftist radicals. Pio Gama Pinto, the ideological and political leader of the left had been assassinated on 24 February 1965. William Attwood, the first American Ambassador to Kenya, wrote about the KANU Limuru Conference in his book, The Reds and the Blacks: A Personal Adventure. So did Jaramogi in Not Yet Uhuru: The Autobiography of Oginga Odinga, published in the same year as Attwood’s, with a foreword by Kwame Nkrumah. The Conference abolished the party’s post of vice-president, which Jaramogi held, and replaced it with eight provincial vice-presidents, signaling to Jaramogi the political truth of the Kiswahili saying Afukuzwaye haambiwi toka, those who wish to expel you do not tell you “get out”. Jaramogi left KANU and formed his Kenya People’s Union (KPU). He became president of KPU with Bildad Kaggia as his deputy.
The majority of my classmates at Strathmore College supported KPU. Its radical social democratic ideology and politics appealed to me and to many others. KPU’s Manifesto reflected the ideology and politics of Not Yet Uhuru, setting the political stage for ideological and political contestation with the rightist, pro-Western imperialism KANU. Issues of foreign interests and their domination, oppression, and exploitation of Kenya featured. The issue of land was taken up by KPU with radical solutions advanced. Some of the ideological and political positions of the KPU Manifesto touched on the protection of the constitution, commitment to socialism, African traditions and culture, land, agriculture, employment, civil service, corruption, education, teachers, technical and commercial education, and university education.
The KANU Limuru Conference was held in 1966 against the backdrop of the Cold War and the ideological and political conflicts within KANU.
Leftist scholars at the University of Nairobi, such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, were supportive of KPU’s ideas and political opposition. For me and other students, the material in the KPU Manifesto and the ideological and political struggles that followed radicalized us. This material incited and excited us intellectually, ideologically, and politically. For me it was a great preparation for my university education at Dar es Salaam University where I developed my intellectual, ideological, and political pursuits more fully.
KANU decided to crash KPU with the full support of Western imperialists. Kenyatta visited Kisumu in 1969, ostensibly to open Nyanza General Hospital, which had been built with aid from the USSR. Kenyatta verbally attacked and provoked Jaramogi who responded in kind. There ensued what is correctly referred to as the Kisumu massacre. The official number of people killed in that massacre is 22. In his book The Flame of Freedom, Raila Odinga, argues that more than 100 people were criminally massacred.
The massacre took place while I was a law student at the University of Dar es Salaam. The president of Kenyan Students at Dar (KENSAD), Emmanuel Okello O’Kubasu (who later served as a magistrate, rising to become a judge of the Court of Appeal in the Kenyan Judiciary) convened an urgent meeting of Kenyan students at the University of Dar es Salaam and we sent a telegram to Jomo Kenyatta’s government condemning the massacre. Jaramogi and his KPU leadership were detained (by this time Bildad Kaggia had resigned from KPU after facing several assassination attempts).
Jaramogi visited the University of Dar es Salaam in 1968 as the Leader of the Opposition in Kenya. As was to be expected of the activist students in Dar, he was received by a full house at Nkrumah Hall. Amos S. Wako (former Attorney-General of Kenya and now Senator for Busia County) welcomed Jaramogi with the KPU slogan Dume! Dume! Bull! Bull! – the KPU’s clarion call during the 1966 by-elections was Bull-Freedom-Socialism; the bull was the party’s symbol during the by-elections). Jaramogi gave a very radical speech on African unity, regional unity, and the continuing struggles against imperialism. Many of us had read his autobiography and many of the questions he answered were about the invisible government that he describes in one of the chapters in his autobiography. As usual, Jaramogi was my hero; this time he was clad in his “Mao Zedong” outfit but with trousers in place of the pair of shorts. I reflected warmly on when I had first seen him in this outfit, in Kitui, 9 years earlier. Jaramogi became one of the many leftist leaders, political oppositionists, freedom fighters and armed strugglers to visit the Mecca of Revolution, the University of Dar es Salaam!
Jaramogi was detained at Hola Prison for 18 months. This was the prison where 11 Mau Mau detainees were massacred by the British colonial government on 3 March 1959. I was detained in Hola for a month (February-March) in 1983. That Jaramogi survived Hola for 18 months has always been a fact for my glorification of his patriotism, courage, radical unbowed spirit, and his determination not to die in detention so that he could continue the struggles to liberate Kenya. Jaramogi planted five trees in the compound outside one of the cells. Hola is a very hot place and I have never forgotten the comfort I enjoyed under the shade of Jaramogi’s trees in that inhumane and hot environment. I must say I was better off than my prison warders who were always in full uniform. Luckily, one of Jaramogi’s trees was right at the gate of the compound where they could sit and remove their boots. Whenever their bosses visited me, it was a scene to behold as they hurriedly put on their oppressive boots and shirts. Among the uninvited guests in the compound were snakes and scorpions. As well as enjoying the shade of Jaramogi’s trees, hearing the sound of the Adhan five times a day from the Mosque in nearby Laza town on the banks of Tana River, was a great comfort.
After Daniel arap Moi succeeded Jomo Kenyatta as the president of Kenya on 22 August 1978, he asked Jaramogi to head the Cotton and Lint Board. Jaramogi accepted this offer. A debate that ensued about Jaramogi’s acceptance of the post; some thought that he had compromised his ideological and political views. I had no doubt he had not. My view was validated when Jaramogi returned to the issue of land grabbing, accusing Jomo Kenyatta of this crime whereupon Moi relieved him his of his parastatal job. Jaramogi remained in the trenches of struggle.
One of the political actions by Jaramogi that I will never forget was during the brutal KANU-Moi dictatorship in the 1980s. At that time, Moi had managed to silence all forms of dissent. His party KANU had also compromised the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), Maendeleo ya Wanawake, and the University of Nairobi, a site of serious opposition and dissent where the University Staff Union was banned in July 1980 and student leaders and activists were either jailed or forced into exile.
Hola is a very hot place and I have never forgotten the comfort I enjoyed under the shade of Jaramogi’s trees in that inhumane and hot environment.
Underground opposition became the norm as evidenced by the December 12 Movement and MWAKENYA. Jaramogi was that lonely voice in the wilderness of struggle for democracy in Kenya. He did not fear the dictatorship; after all they had done to him, there was nothing else they could do short of assassinating him. The KANU-Jomo Kenyatta dictatorship had detained him. The KANU-Moi dictatorship had placed him under house arrest. It was under these circumstances that in his shrill voice he told Moi in Bondo that he did not own the title deeds to Kenya, our Motherland. That speech gave me great revolutionary oxygen, as I believe it did other revolutionaries and radicals.
Jaramogi was at the centre of the Second Liberation, the quest for the return to multi-party democracy. He led the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) in Kenya which did much of the agitation and mobilization of the masses for the repeal of section 2A of the Constitution that had decreed, in 1982, that KANU was the only political party in Kenya. Jaramogi’s leadership resulted in the repeal of that section in 1991.
I felt that I had to become one of Jaramogi’s foot soldiers and the Law Society of Kenya was the perfect civil society organization for the struggle. In his inaugural speech in March 1990, Paul Muite, the President of the Law Society of Kenya (I was the Vice-President) called for Jaramogi’s National Development Party (NDP) to be registered. In an address that was as constitutional as it was political, Muite argued that in the constitutional amendment of Section 2A that decreed KANU to be the only political party in Kenya, critical provisions in the constitution remained intact. One of them was freedom of association in the Bill of Rights. Using the constitutional interpretive tool that constitutions must be interpreted holistically, with no single provision subverting another, freedom of association had to be harmonized with Section 2A. Ultimately, Muite argued that the constitution did not decree against the freedom of association and NDP ought to be registered. Muite knew what he was doing. In his constitutional argument he was garnering support from the workers, women, land buying companies, cooperative societies, public intellectuals, all of whom had had their associations and unions either banned or oppressed and intimidated by the KANU-Moi dictatorship. Paul Muite rose to be Jaramogi’s Vice-President in the Original FORD.
It was a very courageous speech that resulted in a mass walk out by invited judges (only Judge Frank Shields remained at that LSK dinner) and the dictatorship turned its guns on the Council of the LSK whose members were Martha Karua, G.B.M. Kariuki, Barnard Mbai, Charles Nyachae, Jeff Shamalla, J.V. Juma, and Jackson Kagwe. We were sued by four of the LSK members: Aaron Ringera, Nancy Baraza, Nesbitt Onyango, Phillip Kandie, and Kokonya Mukololongo.
Jaramogi was that lonely voice in the wilderness of struggle for democracy in Kenya.
We disobeyed the court orders issued to the five members of the LSK to stop us from “engaging in politics”, were found guilty of contempt and fined KSh10,000 each. We refused to pay the fine, with Paul Muite exhorting us and declaring, “We will not go to Kamiti shitting in our pants.” Judge Mwera decided he was not going to send us to prison because that would glorify our struggle. He ordered instead that our properties be attached and auctioned off if we did not pay the fine. The LSK ended up paying the fine for all of us. In this court action, we were able to mobilize the robust support of the International Bar Association and the American Bar Association. Global solidarities work, particularly when you identify where to bring civil society foreign pressure to bear on a dictatorship. I believe, however, that two national factors helped us to stay out of prison: The Law Society Act 1949 gave us much needed legal protection (and continues to do so) and we were the foot soldiers/Young Turks of a great transformative popular political movement led by Jaramogi.
The last time I saw Jaramogi in person was in 1993. I had just been elected president of the LSK and Jaramogi was then the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. The Council of the LSK requested Jaramogi that we pay him a courtesy call as the Leader of the Opposition and he agreed. Jaramogi met us in his corporate offices at Spectre Limited and his first question was that I be identified so that he could appreciate me as president of the LSK; he made my day. Speaking to us, he spent almost the entire time analysing Moi’s astuteness in politics and what he called Moi’s “native cunning”. The lesson I learnt from Jaramogi in my last meeting with him was never to underestimate one’s political opponents. The strategy must be to find out where their political strengths lay, not their weaknesses. One needed to fight those strengths first.
Global solidarities work, particularly when you identify where to bring civil society foreign pressure to bear on a dictatorship.
Jaramogi died in January 1994. I did not attend his funeral in Bondo. However, I grieved like any of his political orphans. I cheered on Hon. Orengo as, with his usual brilliant oratory, he tore into the hypocrites present at the funeral who had shortened Jaramogi’s life through detentions, house arrests, intimidations, and abuses. (One abuse I remember was Moi’s celebration of Jaramogi’s misfortune as his eyesight dimmed with age. Jaramogi’s response was that it was true he had eyesight problems, but he knew that “some people” had throat cancer and they were up and about. He would be up and about too! Whether Moi had throat cancer then was not the issue, but Jaramogi’s rebuke of Moi warmed the hearts of his followers.)
There are women and men who reign and rule without occupying the apex of political power. Both Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King JR did not contest for political office, yet they reigned and ruled in America. Pope Francis has not held any elective political office but he reigns and rules. Desmond Tutu reigned and ruled in South Africa. Mahatma Gandhi reigned and ruled in India. Mekitilili wa Menza and other Kenyan heroines reigned and ruled in Kenya.
Jaramogi sought elective political office, served as member of LEGCO, became Kenya’s Vice-President and Minister for Home Affairs after independence. From 1966 when he formed KPU, he became both the People’s President and the People’s Leader of the Opposition. He reigned and ruled in both positions for 28 years.
May the great spirit of Jaramogi continue to inspire us and the youth of Kenya.