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Exposed: Power struggles that set Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta on warpath


More than half-a-century after their fathers went head to head in Machiavellian political chess games, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga are set for yet another duel that will decide which family will take over the reins of power after this year’s elections.

That history of personal ambition, mutual public loathing and private admiration and respect, plus the use of ethnic heritage to perpetuate their ascent and hold on power has now been publicly released in the documents that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has published online.

To the American intelligence, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first vice president, was a power-hungry politician who was working behind the back of the country’s founding President, Jomo Kenyatta, to gain power and there was a real possibility that he could have toppled Kenyatta, possibly in a coup.

As the rumours of a coup swirled, the reports say, Kenyatta asked British troops to stand by, and in one instance, he even turned back a ship of Soviet arms, just in case it was destined for Jaramogi’s alleged clandestine force. The military also raided the basement of Jaramogi’s office and carted away a cache of arms that had been stored there – although Jaramogi insists in his book Not Yet Uhuru that Kenyatta knew about the cache.

Power struggles

Although much of what is contained in the papers was reported in the Kenyan Press at the time, they provide for the first time  insight into how the US government viewed Kenyan politics and explain the positions it took on the country’s power struggles as well as its preferences and dislikes for certain politicians.

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According to the CIA,  Jaramogi had packed the civil service with his cronies; he doled out political largesse in terms of scholarships and money to his supporters, and even sponsored political candidates into Parliament and asked them to defeat some government motions. The documents also say that he made secret pacts with Communist countries without Kenyatta’s authority, including the training of his own private army.

In one of the documents prepared on July 31, 1964 from the CIA’s Office of Current Intelligence, and which was reviewed by the State Department, the CIA details instances it believed Jaramogi was plotting a powergrab against Kenyatta.

The Americans do not hide their disdain for Odinga, an assessment which they made in an intelligence analysis titled Independent Kenya’s Prospects Under Jomo Kenyatta dated December 6, 1963 – just six days to Kenya being declared a republic.

That can be understood on two fronts: one is the American hatred for communists as the cold war was taking shape — Odinga was an avowed Communist.  The other is the fact that later that December, Jaramogi visited the US, and became a darling of the civil rights movement that the US establishment loved to hate back then. A nonviolent group of youth even composed a song in honour and praise of Jaramogi. Also, Malcolm X often quoted Jaramogi to motivate blacks to fight for freedom.

The spies say Jaramogi was using his powerful position as Home Affairs Minister, and his position as the second-in-command within the then ruling party — Kenya African National Union — and his near-total command over the Luo community to make a move.

“Odinga has used these various sources of power interchangeably or simultaneously to operate just as he pleases, placing supporters where he wants them, running roughshod through the domains of other ministers and frequently presenting Kenyatta with accomplished facts which the latter is unwilling or unable to reverse,” reads the document.

The CIA say Jaramogi also had the loyalty of the Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations, and the Minister of Information Achieng’ Oneko as well as a network of key government officers.

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“It has been estimated that at least 1,000 men in reasonably important positions in government, civil service and trade unions owe personal allegiance to Odinga who has either sent them to study in communist countries or supplied them with regular financial aid,” say the CIA.

This huge network had Kenyatta so worried that when Jaramogi had a trip to Peiping (current day Beijing in China) and to Moscow, Russia, Kenyatta decided to send the then minister in charge of Prime Minister’s Office, Joseph Murumbi “as a sort of watchdog”.

The Americans did not understand why a Minister of Home Affairs was the one globe-trotting in the Communist bloc, leading the Kenyan delegation in an “aid-seeking mission”. They also appear astounded that Jaramogi got a seat at the dais in Moscow on May Day.

When Murumbi was debriefed, he said that during their stay in Beijing “although they were lodged in the same hotel, he would sometimes be unable to locate Odinga for periods of two days”.

“There are indications that Odinga may have made informal agreements with the Soviets that have not yet become generally known in Kenya although he reportedly had no prior consultations with other Kenyan ministers concerned on the substance of the aid pacts,” the declassified files say.

In fact, former minister of Commerce and Industry, Mr Gikonyo Kiano, is quoted in the document assuring the then US ambassador William Attwood that Kenya had rejected “vague arms offers” from the Soviet Union.

So it was really surprising when an 11-member delegation from the Soviet Union arrived in Nairobi to check what projects could be done.

Military training

“No one knew for sure who had arranged their visas, but there had been no coordination with the responsible office, the External Affairs Branch in the prime minister’s office,” the ‘secret’ document says.

It then notes that Jaramogi could have used the scholarships to send out his own recruits for military training. “Some Kenyan “students” in Communist countries are receiving paramilitary training. A group of five, selected by Odinga, reportedly returned in June from several months of training in Bulgaria.  These trainees are said to have talked openly of “leading a revolution in Kenya”.

The Americans even say Jaramogi was pushing for a stronger regional bloc in order to send Kenyatta to focus on regional integration, while he remained behind to consolidate his power.

“Odinga probably sees in this a chance to seize the leadership of a popular issue, and to weaken Kenyatta’s image throughout the country as well as his control over Kanu. He also realises that federation, if achieved, would kick Kenyatta upstairs to the federation presidency and give him an opportunity to bid for supreme national power” reads a document titled Leftist Activities in Kenya.

Aside from these moves, the CIA say Odinga was “also working to undermine Kenyatta on the political front”.

“He financed the election campaigns of at least six members of Parliament, has reportedly used thugs to re-orient the thinking of others and is wooing several influential members recently disciplined by Kenyatta for their role in the backbenchers’ opposition to government. Odinga is also trying to build up support in organised labour and appears to have been responsible for a current split in the Kenya Federation of Labour,” the document adds.

 While the Americans acknowledge that Jaramogi was the most popular politician after Kenyatta with national appeal and support all over the country, they describe Jaramogi in very unpleasant terms.

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“Oginga’s political influence and strength depend on a continuation of the patronage he dispenses in the form of Communist money and scholarships. He is no ideological convert — but an opportunist… Oginga is typical of the old-style African politician who owes his position more to age and tribal status than to intellectual merit and ability.” The Americans believe that had it not been for a coup in Zanzibar, Kenyatta would not have seen the threat coming.

“Odinga’s suspected involvement in the Zanzibar coup and the ease with which a small band of leftists overthrew the Sultan opened Kenyatta’s eyes to the personal and national danger represented by Odinga and his followers,” say the CIA.

Fight back

In fact, Kenyatta was so unsettled that when he was leaving for global meetings in London and Cairo, the CIA says “he refused Odinga’s demand to be designated deputy prime minister and named Murumbi instead”. Jaramogi was “furious” at the Cabinet meeting to an extent that Kenyatta’s inner circle felt that they had to fight back.

When Jaramogi quit in 1966, the CIA fired off another bulletin, that’s kind of celebratory in its tone, because the Americans saw Kenyatta as the stable leader. They acknowledge the resignation as a “significant landmark” in Kenya’s history.

“Odinga was already the main channel for the covert supply of foreign communist funds and was soon to receive arms as well,” reads a May 6, 1966, dossier titled Kenya’s Fight Against Subversion.

The dossier has anecdotes including parliamentary debates on arms smuggling and the much-publicised ‘raid’ on the basement of Odinga’s offices” as periods when Kenyatta finally realised the potency of the Jaramogi threat.

In his book Not Yet Uhuru, Jaramogi dismissed as rumours that he was using his contacts with China and Russia to grab power. In fact, he says, he was driven more by curiosity and when he got to China, he was impressed.

“The more I heard socialism and socialist countries condemned, the more curious I wanted to see for myself… I made no secret of it,” says Jaramogi, as he lists his visits to East Germany, Mongolia, Yugoslavia, and China.

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“They showed me factories, communes, cooperatives; they showed me their plans for housing, for dealing with unemployment, how they organised farming and small industry, how the government worked at village level; how plans for factory and agricultural production were worked out. It was impossible not to be impressed with life in China. So many of the problems of poverty and illiteracy were those of our people and these were being overcome at an impressive rate,” Jaramogi wrote.

He blames an intensive anti-communist machine for his fallout with Kenyatta. He denies that he took decisions behind Kenyatta’s back, and insists that most of the decisions he took, including storing arms in the basement of his office, and firing an unwanted colonial police chief, had the blessings of Kenyatta.

One day, a convoy of arms headed to Uganda ended up in Homa Bay because heavy rains had made the roads impassable. But the government decided to impound the convoy, and dispatched the General Service Unit (GSU) officers to Nyanza.

“There was a rumour that I had stored arms somewhere in Nyanza and houses were searched. Need it be said that no arms were found?” Jaramogi asks in his book.

As a final thought on his fallout, Jaramogi says the communist tag was slapped on him to weaken him.

“Politicians have made use of the anti-communist smear not because they hold confirmed political beliefs but to use as a stick to beat those campaigning for real consultation with the people and against corruption. I ought to know. I am not a communist but I have been a constant target of anti-communist forces for all the years of my political history,” Raila’s father records in his book.

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