Hostage to fate: a story of raila amolo odinga


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Published by the Nairobi Chronicle

Written by the Chief Editor



  • Introduction

  • The 1980s – Detention and Exile

  • Taking up from the late Jaramogi

  • Co-operation with Moi

  • Moi's treachery

  • Joining hands with Kibaki

  • Falling out with Kibaki

  • The 2007 General Elections

  • Kenya's plunge into violence

  • Raila Odinga as Prime Minister of Kenya


I first heard about Raila after the 1982 coup attempt. I was in school back then and the coup really shook every Kenyan. For the first time, it looked like Kenya was going the way of other African countries. Luckily, the coup attempt by junior Kenya Airforce officers was thwarted within hours. And then there were the ramifications.
The Kenya Airforce was disbanded and the entire rank and file sent into detention. Most were released slowly over ensuing months, their lives in ruins. The coup plotters had fled to Tanzania, but they were repatriated back to Kenya, tried and hanged. Thousands of students, lecturers, trade unionists, politicians, security officers as well as ordinary folk lost their jobs, their pensions and sometimes their lives.
It is in this fearful atmosphere that Raila Odinga truly broke into the limelight as his own man. Prior to 1982, Raila used to be known as, “the son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga,” and everything he did was viewed as an extension of his father's will.

Jaramogi was Kenya's first Vice President after independence in 1963 but fell out with Jomo Kenyatta over ideological differences and power sharing. He left Kenyatta's government and formed an opposition party in 1966 that was promptly banned. Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, Jaramogi was in and out of detention facilities because of his socialist leanings at a time when Kenya was pro-West during the Cold War. By 1982, the Odinga family had been labelled as renegades in Kenya's politics.

The 1980s – Detention and Exile

Kenyatta died in August 1978. On assuming power, his vice president Daniel arap Moi released all political detainees while promising greater openness in politics. The coup attempt of 1982 changed Moi's reformist leanings though and he cracked down on dissent with a vengeance. The Odinga family, with their history of political rebellion were an obvious target but Moi, respected Jaramogi, who was by then in his 70s. His politically active son, Raila became the obvious substitute. But there was another reason why Raila was detained and tortured by Moi's agents.
Nigerian biographer, Dr. Babafemi Adesina Badejo, talks about Raila's involvement in the 1982 coup in the book, Raila Odinga: An Enigma in Kenyan politics (2006). As it turned out, the junior Airforce officers involved in the coup attempt were from the same Luo tribe as Raila. Badejo writes that Raila did meet the masterminds of the coup attempt and even participated in logistics. For his involvement, Raila was jailed without trial for six years until February 1988.
In 2006, following the launch of Dr Badejo's book, Raila himself admitted his involvement in planning for the coup attempt. Raila defends his actions saying that he was fighting dictatorship at a time when Kenya was a one-party state. Critics point to the admission as evidence of Raila's violent, revolutionary streak.

After releasing Raila from detention in 1988, Moi still harboured deep suspicion over him. Moi held public rallies across the countryside warning Kenyans about Raila's, “violent nature.” Moi was worried about Raila's capacity to raise large numbers of youth to help him pursue his goals.

Moi was not averse to the use of violence for political ends. As the Cold War was ending, Kenya was under pressure to undertake democratic reforms, including allowing multi party politics. Opponents of Moi were continually harassed, subjected to show trials, detained without trial, tortured and killed. Moi didn't overcome his suspicions of Raila and ordered for his detention in September 1988, just 6 months after releasing him.
Raila was released again in June 1989 and promptly got involved in opposition politics. His father, Jaramogi, was actively agitating for a return to multi-party democracy alongside such personalities as Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia. Matiba and Rubia had been close allies of Moi before falling out with him in the late 1980s. However, Moi again did not arrest the aging Jaramogi and, in his place, put Raila into custody in July 1990 for another one year. Following his release in June 1991, Raila fled into exile to Norway.
This is how Wikipedia describes subsequent events:
At the time of Raila's departure to Norway, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), a movement formed to agitate for the return of multi-party democracy to Kenya, was newly formed. In February 1992, Raila returned to join FORD, then led by his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. He was elected Vice Chairman of the General Purposes Committee of the party. In the months running up to the 1992 General Election, FORD split into Ford Kenya, led by Raila's father Jaramogi, and FORD-Asili led by Kenneth Matiba. Raila became Ford-Kenya's Deputy Director of Elections. Raila won the Langata Constituency parliamentary seat, previously held by Philip Leakey of Moi's party, KANU.

In the 1992 General Elections, Moi won 36% of the vote in the first multi party elections in close to 30 years. Ethnic tensions in the country intensified, setting the stage for the chaos of 2008. The genesis of contemporary ethnic clashes in Kenya lay in the Rift Valley province, home to Moi's Kalenjin ethnic group.

Kenya has eight provinces. According to electoral law, a winning presidential candidate must get at least 25% of votes in not less than five provinces in addition to a simple majority of national votes. From the outset, it was obvious that Kenneth Matiba would get a majority of votes in Central, Nairobi and possibly, Eastern Provinces. Jaramogi had a chance of getting at least 25% in his native Nyanza, in Western and Nairobi.
Matiba, a Kikuyu, also had a strong possibilities of getting 25% in the Rift Valley province thanks to the significant Kikuyu settler population. The Kalenjin, fearing that Moi could lose the presidency, began a campaign of ethnic cleansing from the Rift Valley in order to ensure that Moi took the province. Huge chunks of the Rift Valley were declared, “KANU zones,” in reference to Moi's political party. Moi and his cronies went back to parliament unopposed.
Ethnic wars began in 1992 pitting the Kalenjin with almost all settler communities in the Rift Valley. It was not only the Kikuyu who were affected but large numbers of Luo, Luhya and Kisii. Non-Kalenjin tribes in the Rift Valley were refered to as, “madoa doa,” meaning, “specks of dirt.” The Rift Valley is also home to the Pokot and Maasai tribes and their politicians were drawn into the pro-Moi alliance. Consequently, Kikuyu, Luo and Luhya settlers were evicted from Pokot and Maasai areas especially around Narok, Enoosupukia and Kapenguria.

The pro-Moi ethnic alliance began calling for Majimbo, a form of federalism. According to such personalities as the late Kipkalya Kones, late Shariff Nassir, William Ntimama and late Paul Chepkok, a federal system of government would ensure that each ethnic group governed itself and had monopoly over jobs, land and commerce within its enclave. The comments were targetted at the Kikuyu, who have managed to emigrate and settle in other parts of the country mostly for economic reasons. Because the Kikuyu settlers had a relatively higher standard of living due to commercial activities, the calls for ethnic based federalism proved quite popular in the Rift Valley and parts of the Coast province.

With the Luo tribe also facing persecution due to its oppositionist leanings, both Jaramogi and Raila Odinga condemned Moi's tactics. 30 years earlier, it was Jaramogi and Kenyatta who had turned Kenya into a unitary republic after rejecting federalism.
In response to calls for federalism by pro Moi politicians, Raila is quoted as saying that a call for federalism was akin to the ethnic balkanization of Kenya.

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