Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta walking in their fathers’ steps

Wednesday November 1 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga

A combined picture of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga. PHOTOS | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By JOHN KAMAU
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President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga walk closely in the footsteps of their fathers idolizing, imitating and publicly mimicking their politics.

In public, they refer to one another as ‘my brother’ but in private, like their fathers, they plot for each other’s political downfall — a replay of the 1960s politics between President Jomo Kenyatta and his former Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Jomo and Jaramogi were once close allies and friends at the family level.

PRE-INDEPENDENCE

Their sons are close family friends despite the political temperatures that rise between their supporters.

When Mr Odinga’s son, Fidel, died, President Uhuru visited the family at home and allowed them to use a military helicopter during his burial.

At a recent memorial of Jomo Kenyatta at the Holy Family Minor Basilica, President Uhuru invited Mr Odinga to address the congregation.

The families’ relationship goes back to the pre-independence days when Jaramogi was introduced to Jomo Kenyatta by Ochieng Aneko, who was an insider in the Kenya African Union (KAU).

By then Jaramogi was a rank-outsider in national politics and while Aneko was arrested during the crackdown on Mau Mau, Jaramogi was spared and he became an important voice in demanding the release of Jomo Kenyatta and others from jail.

POLITICAL FUTURE

Ever since, the two families have become a focal point of Kenya’s politics.

Historians are divided on the reason Jaramogi pegged his political future on the release of Jomo Kenyatta.

Some argue that with the rising global popularity of Tom Mboya and James Gichuru, there was a high chance that he would not have space among the British-backed moderates.

He was again marked by the British as a Communist at a time when Mboya was being revered on the cover of Time magazine.

Jomo Kenyatta did not trust Mr Mboya too — though he loved his mastery of trade union politics and eloquence.

So close was Jomo and Jaramogi that when Jomo was released from prison and during the Lancaster conference, they opened and shared a bank account in London where money from various sources was received.

Jaramogi, in his autobiography, says the British did not trust him and Kenyatta and kept them in a separate hotel away from Mboya and Gichuru.

TRUST

So close were the two that they later opened another joint account in Nairobi’s Bank of Baroda in which they were the sole signatories.

That any of them could draw the funds, coming from well-wishers, showed the level of trust between the two politicians.

Some of the records of this suspense account are available at the Kenya National Archives indicating the flow of money from various sources for the construction of the controversial Lumumba Institute, which would be used by Mr Mboya to bring down Jaramogi after Americans told him that it was a socialist school which was secretly training Kanu cadres on party takeover.

What is now known, is that both Jomo and Jaramogi were capitalists and took advantage of the freedom of movement to amass wealth and power and records at the Ministry of Agriculture show various approvals made for Jaramogi to acquire expansive lands in Nyanza both for himself and for his other business empire, Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation, which in the 1940s had recruited hundreds of shareholders to buy buildings, a printing press and a construction company with Jaramogi as its first chief executive.

SOCIALISM

Kenyatta was always aware that it was Jaramogi who led a spirited campaign for his release from prison based on the fear that there was a plot by Tom Mboya and James Gichuru to have Independence declared without Kenyatta.

Jaramogi, by then a wealthy politician, had also launched a Kenya Office in Cairo, an anti-American, anti-British lobby group funded by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser — a man who had turned Cairo into the African base for socialism.

Nasser was pursuing Arab socialism as a means to modernise his country with the support of the Eastern Bloc.

During a public spat in Kisumu in 1969 Kenyatta warned Jaramogi: “Had you not been my friend, I would have finished you …”

While Jaramogi had no problem with Kenyatta — and he says as much in his autobiography, Not Yet Uhuru — he believes that outside forces created a wedge between them.

SUCCESSION

At independence, Jomo became a captive of the Western Bloc, while Jaramogi banked on the East for political and economic survival.

Notably, it was Jomo who allowed Jaramogi to sell the multi-million Lumumba Institute property. For as long as it was not about politics, the two would listen to each other.

Jaramogi’s son, Raila was a government employee before he started his gas cylinder enterprise with funding from the Kenya Industrial Estates, a government agency.

Both Uhuru and Raila were in Kanu when the Moi succession politics were being plotted and only parted after President Moi anointed Uhuru as his preferred candidate.

The two would later join hands when Mr Odinga was launching the Orange Democratic Movement and when they opposed the Kilifi Draft on the Constitution.

The two campaigned vigorously against Mwai Kibaki’s draft constitution and won.

Both publicly acknowledge that they are friends — but when political mischief and power-play comes into the equation, running battles begin among their supporters.