President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) looks on as Cord leader Raila Odinga speaks during the first Kenyan President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s 38th anniversary memorial service at Holy family Basilica Nairobi on 22nd August,2016. PHOTO: JOHN MUCHUCHA
In public they are the fiercest of rivals whose struggles threaten to break up Kenya.
But in private Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta enjoy a warm friendship and a skein of family ties which would shock their party supporters baying for each other’s’ blood.
As the election campaigns continue to split Kenya on tribal lines, The Standard examines the irony of a nation held hostage by the political struggles of the Odinga and Kenyatta families – which, privately, love and respect each other.
Kenyans gasped last week when Uhuru accused Raila of having been at the centre of the post-election violence, which led to him and Deputy President William Ruto being charged with crimes against humanity.
The nation cringed last year when Raila attacked the son of Jomo – warning that there would be no elections without IEBC reforms while his supporters, hinting at mass action and street battles, chant “No Raila, No Kenya”.
Yet in private, the two men over whom party zealots would kill have a special relationship dating back to their childhood – when their parents led a newly-independent Kenya in the 1960s – Uhuru’s father as President and Raila’s as his Number Two.
“Uhuru cannot jail me and I can’t jail him if I ascend to the Presidency,” remarked Raila in an interview on Monday, when asked about the perception in Central Kenya that he is only bidding time to avenge what the older Kenyatta did to his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who was Kenya’s first vice-president.
“The President calls me, especially when the nation is facing a difficult time like terror attack. He came to my home and sat there (pointing at a seat), when we lost our son Fidel. He was very close to Fidel,” said Raila, referring to his first-born who died two years ago.
While their supporters seem ready to burn Kenya for the two icons, the Odinga and Kenyatta children are the closest of friends, bound by social class and political heritage.
From her hospital bed in South Africa, Raila’s daughter Rosemary, who is recovering after being taken ill a month ago, talks frequently by phone to Uhuru’s second son, Muhoho Junior.
Railas’ sisters, Dr Wenwa Akinyi and Beryl Odinga, schooled with two of Uhuru’s sisters – Kristina Pratt and Jenny Wamboi – at The Kenya High.
It pushed Kenya to the brink when Jubilee die-hard Moses Kuria seemed to suggest in July, 2015, that Raila should be assassinated, ostensibly to advance the interests of Uhuru’s political followers. No less hateful, Johnstone Muthama, a senior figure in Raila’s CORD coalition, tarred Uhuru with a brush dipped in extra-marital paint.
Only the intervention of the hate speech police – the National Cohesion and Integration Commission – calmed down the country, with the arrest of the politicians.
Yet the two men whose masts they have nailed their colours to could not present a more contrasting picture. On television when Uhuru shakes Raila’s hand, he is frequently recorded asking: “How are you my brother?” Says Raila: “We don’t call each other by name, we call each other brother. Our families were close.
The Jaramogi children grew up with Kenyatta’s. I am older than Uhuru but my sister Dr Wenwa is his age mate”.
Uhuru on the other hand is known to privately caution his aides not to personalise criticism against Raila and to confine themselves to the political side of the son of Jaramogi.
He went on: “We have nothing personal, just individual political rivalries and that is understandable. In fact last night when flying back from Mombasa I shared seats with Kristina Pratt (Uhuru’s sister) and Muhoho. We had a good time.”
It was vintage Raila in Mombasa last week when he appealed to Kenyans to vote out Uhuru and his deputy, Ruto, accusing the Jubilee administration of fostering corruption and tribalism and driving Kenya into debt. But this is not the Raila the Kenyatta family rallied around when he underwent brain surgery in June 2010.
As he lay in a recovery bed at his home in Karen, he received a visit from the Kenyattas, with goats in tow and an assortment of foodstuff.
Says Kiambu Women’s Rep Anne Nyokabi, who is close to the Kenayattas: “All the President’s aunts and uncles went to Karen. We had goats and food. We wanted to wish Tinga well because he is a friend.”
Raila’s sister Ruth Odinga, the Deputy Governor of Kisumu, recalls visits by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1969 to their home in Kisumu. Raila, she says, used to carry her and Uhuru on his back as they played.
The elder Kenyatta differed politically with Jaramogi and put him in detention in a disagreement which led to the formation of the Opposition party, Kenya People’s Union (KPU), seen by many as the origin of the Luo-Kikuyu political rivalry.
In 1969 during their open altercation at a rally in Kisumu, during which Mzee’s bodyguards fired their pistols, Mzee Kenyatta told Jaramogi: “If you were not my friend ningekusiagasiaga!” (I would have turned you into minced meat).