One of the main features of Kenya’s post-independence history is the dominance that the families of founding President Jomo Kenyatta and the nation’s first Vice-President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, have enjoyed.
Just as at independence 53 years ago, these founding fathers’ political shadows still loom large, courtesy of their sons – Uhuru Kenyatta, who is Kenya’s fourth President, and Raila Odinga, Kenya’s second prime minister and now Opposition leader.
It is an illustration of their outsized role in politics that only Kenyatta and Jaramogi managed to register the enviable history of serving as MPs alongside their sons in the same Parliament – Kenyatta with his first-born son, Peter Muigai Kenyatta (Juja), and Jaramogi with his second-born son, Raila, in the Seventh Parliament. No other Kenyan political family has replicated this feat to date.
President Uhuru is also one in a small group of individuals that have served as President in the same country that their fathers presided over.
Only four other pairs in Africa – Omar Bongo and his son Ali Bongo of Gabon, Laurent Kabila and Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Seretse Khama and Ian Khama of Botswana and Gnassingbé Eyadéma and son Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé of Togo – have achieved this.
The Odingas have similarly registered remarkable history in the Legislature. Besides father and son being elected to the august House at the same time, the Odinga brothers, Raila and Dr Oburu Oginga, both served as MPs between 1994 and 2013. Currently Oburu is Nominated MP while his younger sister, Ruth Odinga, is Deputy Governor of Kisumu County.
On his part, Ngengi Muigai found the political bug irresistible particularly after the death of the founding President in 1978: “The pressure on me to replace my uncle was too much and, following consultations with my aunt (Kenyatta’s wife, former First Lady Mama Ngina) and other family members, I quit private business and vied for the Gatundu seat.”
Ngengi won the seat by a landslide to join his cousins, Muigai and Margaret Kenyatta, the late President’s first daughter, in politics. Margaret served as Nairobi’s first female mayor between 1970 and 1976. Unknown to most Kenyans, Ngengi reveals that Mama Ngina has always been at the centre of political manoeuvres of the Kenyattas.
On the other hand, Oburu, who is Jaramogi’s eldest child, explains that the Odinga children opted to get into politics en mass as the only career option available after their father differed with Kenyatta, leading to Jaramogi’s detention:
“Initially we could not secure employment owing to malicious rumours by government agents that we had undertaken military and communist studies in Russia. Despite being among the few holders of a PhD in the 1970s, for instance, I couldn’t get a good job in government, largely because I was an Odinga,” says the MP, who started his political career as a councillor in Kisumu between 1974 and 1979.
And of the other two former presidents, who were at the helm of Kenya’s leadership, the Daniel arap Moi family is more alive politically. When he retired from office in 2002, he was replaced as Baringo Central MP by his son, Gideon Moi. And today’s Parliament has two Mois – Gideon, who is now Baringo Senator, and Raymond, the Rongai MP. His other son, former rally driver Jonathan Toroitich, has twice unsuccessfully vied for a parliamentary seat.
From the Kibaki corner, however, eldest son Jimmy Kibaki gave mixed signals of political intent during the father’s last term in office only to back down.
And of the Kapenguria six heroes – Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, Achieng’ Oneko, Bildad Kaggia, Fred Kubai and Kung’u Karumba – only members of the Kenyatta family have been actively involved in politics.
Ngei’s children had opted to stay out of elective politics. However, Ngei’s eldest son, Henry Masaku Ngei, finally succumbed to the political bug when he vied for the Kangundo parliamentary seat in 2007.
Asked whether he will be in the race for any electoral seat next year, Masaku responded curtly that it was all over. Masaku, who returned to the country from Britain where he lived for 40 years, regrets that Kenya’s political landscape has greatly changed and campaigns are no longer issue-based.
And the son of the former influential Cabinet minister is particularly unhappy with what he terms “utter disrespect by the media for our national heroes”.
Dr Achieng’ Ong’ong’a Oneko, eldest son of Oneko, concurs. Because of the torturous experiences of his father and tough sacrifices in the early years of life, Ong’ong’a says most of his siblings were dissuaded from taking after their father.
There is similarly limited trace of siblings of other pre-independence nationalists including James Gichuru, Jeremiah Nyagah, Tom Mboya, Masinde Muliro and Ronald Ngala, in the political arena today. Except for Nyagah, whose sons – Joseph and Norman – served as MPs in the Eighth Parliament and Ngala, whose son, Noah Katana, was a Cabinet minister in the Moi administration, families of the other heroes have led a relatively low-voltage political life.
While this seems to be the case with most nationalists, the Kenyattas and the Odingas still enjoy a bubbly team of political players on their reserve benches.
In his corner, the President is in the good company of first cousins, Nominated Senator Beth Mugo and former Gatundu South MP Ngegi Muigai, as well as maternal uncle George Muhoho, all who plunged into politics before him. There has also been talk of the President’s son, Jomo, joining politics.
On his reserve bench, Raila has brother Oburu and sister Ruth. His daughters, Rosemary and Winnie, as well as wife, Ida, are equally highly political.