When Jaramogi and Mboya clashed over scholarship list

Wednesday March 18 2020

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Jaramogi was the captain of the left-leaning camp in the first independent Kenya Cabinet. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


For two weeks, the lucky 46 who came from all corners of the country had camped in Nairobi for the final stages of preparation to seize a lifetime opportunity.

They had secured scholarship to study abroad out of a list of hundreds who had applied. Their destiny was Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, in Eastern Europe.

They were a diversified lot. Some had idled at home for months or years waiting for an opportunity for further education.

Others had invitations to study elsewhere but this particular opportunity sounded more promising to make them abandon the previous offers.

Yet others had quit employment in preference for higher education with an eye on better career prospects when they returned home.

The selection process for the lucky few had been thorough, competitive and transparent.


It was personally supervised by the minister for Education, Mr Joseph Otiende — the today's equivalent of Prof George Magoha — and as meticulous and focused.


He chaired a selections panel in the ministry known as the Kenya Overseas Advisory Committee (KOAC).

But as the selection and preparation went on in the open, the Minister for Home Affairs, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, was secretly putting his act together to sabotage efforts of his Cabinet colleague.

Jaramogi was the captain of the left-leaning camp in the first independent Kenya Cabinet.

On the other hand, his Cabinet colleague, Otiende, was a key ally of the captain of the rightist wing of the Cabinet, Mr Tom Mboya.

Though Bulgaria was a leftist country and was assumed to be Jaramogi’s “bedroom”, the scholarships had been secured by Mr Mboya, a rightist, to tweak Jaramogi’s nose right in his very turf.

But Jaramogi wasn't about to let in arch-rival Mboya in his "bedroom". Immediately he learnt of the Mboya plot, he put a spanner in the works.

He secured permission from his leftist friends to secretly prepare his own list of who to get the Bulgaria scholarships.


And to help him show his rivals who was the leftist blue-eyed boy in Nairobi, he was allowed to add nine more beneficiaries to the 46 initially secured by rival Mboya.

In the scholarship package, Bulgarian authorities would dispatch a plane to Nairobi to airlift the beneficiaries and the Kenya government (read Mboya camp) would write one cheque to offset ticket costs.

However, on the sly, Jaramogi had purchased individual tickets for those in his secret list.

Come D-Day, those in the government list arrived at the airport in great fanfare, accompanied by family and friends, and escorted by a delegation from the Ministry of Education.

At about midday, the Bulgaria flight wheeled up at the apron. The 46 in the Mboya list boarded, packed their bags and made themselves comfortable ready for the long flight across the Mediterranean.

Then pandemonium broke out. As if from nowhere, Jaramogi and his group of 55 marched past the departure lounge to the aircraft, and to show who was in control, Jaramogi headed right to the cockpit and told the captain the aircraft wouldn't be cleared for take-off because it had the wrong "cargo".


A heated argument ensued between Jaramogi and the delegation from the Ministry of Education (the Mboya team).

Jaramogi prevailed by producing a list with tickets that matched the manifest with the Bulgarian airliner.

At that point, he ordered his group to storm the aircraft and eject those inside. In the subsequent melee, riot police had to be called in to separate the rival groups.

The Mboya group was flushed out of the airport. Jaramogi left the airport all smiles. He had demonstrated to his rival who has two balls in his bedroom.

The Mboya squad fired an angry press statement calling for Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta to fire Jaramogi for "insubordination and undermining the doctrine of Cabinet collective responsibility".

But the Prime Minister knew better. The political climate at that time was such that Jaramogi was so indispensable to Kenyatta that no adverse action would be taken against him, and not jeopardise the stability much needed at the time to steer Kenya to full independence.

Indeed, those were dangerous times. Away from matters education, there was vicious competition on who to control the security apparatus in the soon to be republic.


The police Special Branch — the intelligence gathering arm — had instructions to closely monitor the goings-on in Kenya and report to the colonial office in London.

In one confidential memo, the Special Branch reported that 11 "students" from central Kenya had been sneaked to Israel for a five-month specialised course in security and intelligence.

It was followed by another air flight of 45 — 20 for military training and 25 for intelligence gathering.

The Special Branch reported the Israel consul in Nairobi had been tasked to make "scholarships" read the beneficiaries were going to Israel for agricultural training.

The Special Branch, too, reported what Jaramogi and his leftist friends were doing.

They had secretly carted away 25 Kenyans for military training abroad — 13 to Bulgaria and 12 to Russia.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kenyatta left for a Commonwealth leaders’ summit in London.

He announced that while away, Cabinet minister Joseph Murumbi would be the acting Prime Minister and not Jaramogi, who was the number two in hierarchy. The latter was so piqued he refused to see off his boss at the airport.


While away one morning as he left London's Hilton Hotel, where he was staying when attending the Commonwealth meeting, two goons appeared from nowhere and lunged forward in the direction of the Kenyan Prime Minister.

The British bodyguards assigned to guard him acted swiftly and wrestled the attackers to the ground.

The goons were identified as Martin Webster, 21 and John Tyndell, 30. They were arraigned in court on a catalogue of charges to make-believe they had acted on their own.

But African leaders attending the Commonwealth Conference didn’t believe the tale. They demanded that the British government give appropriate explanation.

The British Prime Minister, Sir Alex Douglas Home, immediately responded.


He said he was “greatly distressed to learn the Prime Minister of Kenya, a guest of the British government, should be subjected to a deplorable attack outside his hotel this morning”.

He promised full investigation and action on whoever was culpable. There was no further official communication on the matter.


Many years later, Sir Michael Blundell, one of the last British settlers who lived in Kenya, confided in me that from his own sources, he learnt the attack on Kenyatta "had been organised by left-wing friends of their key link man in Kenya".

I didn't need to ask him who that could have been.

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