While declassified documents from M15 – the British intelligence agency that covered colonial Kenya – focus on Jaramogi’s activities before and after independence, secret files from America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) offer details into his activities after independence and factors that led to his eventual fallout with President Jomo Kenyatta.
The strains and suspicions of the Cold War era that sucked in Kenyan politicians have been laid bare in a series of recently released British and American intelligence documents. The West was particularly suspicious of independence hero and pioneer Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga for his alleged communist links.
According to an MI5 file titled “Oginga Odinga Reports and enquiries”, the British were alarmed in September 1960 when Jaramogi returned with funds from a foreign tour and held a meeting at his Kisumu home. The meeting was to plan how to select one African student from every district of the Kenya colony then finance and facilitate their travel to study in universities in communist countries. In attendance were Argwings Kodhek, Joram Oyangi, Joseph Mathenge and Abdullahi Ibrahim Kimotho.
Jaramogi had just returned from a tour of several communist countries, among them China where he was the guest of honour at a mass rally organised by the Chinese committee for Afro-Asian solidarity in Beijing, which supported Kenya’s independence struggle.
In his speech, which was carried in the Beijing Review of August 16, 1960, Jaramogi told his audience that US Imperialism was the biggest threat to Kenya and the CIA was already gaining a foothold.
“We have US-supported Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) bases in our country, we have infiltration in our trade union movements and we have their intelligence serving all over Kenya. Indeed the threat of US Imperialism in Kenya is greater than from Britain. Our fight is against the whole Nato forces,” Jaramogi said.
He also praised the Mau Mau movement as a heroic struggle.
“Today we are your guests tomorrow you will surely be welcomed in a free and independent Kenya we extend that invitation now because we are sure our battle will soon be won,” Jaramogi concluded his speech.
His increased communist activities and growing relationship with communist countries resulted in an operation being mounted against him when he arrived at Nairobi Airport from London on October 26, 1960. Jaramogi’s briefcase was secretly opened and some of his confidential documents photographed.
Apart from communist contacts, the colonial intelligence also found a letter written by Fred Kubai, who was detained in Lokitaung Prison, praising the speech in China and describing Jaramogi as the only Kenyan leader who spoke the truth.
Also recovered was a letter from James Gichuru who was in London to meet the colonial secretary asking for Jaramogi’s views on the Kenyan Constitution, Africanisation of the civil service, the release of Mzee Kenyatta. Gichuru also asked for £150, which Jaramogi responded by permitting him to withdraw the money from his personal bank account held at Barclays Bank Cockspur Street, London, and which Gichuru did withdraw on 26th Sept 1960. Jaramogi had earlier given Gichuru £100.
But in spite of this help, another M15 document titled “Report of statement by James Gichuru London 27 Sept 1960” reveals how Gichuru threw Jaramogi under the bus, just one day after withdrawing money from his account.
While giving a speech at a private all-white meeting at Chatham House, Gichuru criticised Jaramogi’s China speech terming it irresponsible as it would scare capital away from Kenya. He further assured his audience that the Kenya African National Union would punish such members.
After independence in 1963, Kenya became a major battleground for world superpowers with the CIA deeply entrenching itself in the political sphere.
With the new government leaning towards the West, it was without doubt that leftists like Jaramogi, who had been appointed the minister of Home Affairs, were going to find it rough.
Shortly after his appointment, Jaramogi unilaterally began deporting several Europeans he considered “hardliners”. These included senior diplomatic officials at the British High Commission in Nairobi, senior British officers serving in the Kenya police and certain white settlers.
However, the expulsion of Ian Henderson, a senior police officer who led the hunt against Dedan Kimathi and who was known for his brutal torture techniques, did not go down well with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who straightway summoned Jaramogi.
Recalling the incident in an interview with Drum magazine in 1983 Jaramogi said: “As minister of Home Affairs I had managed to deport a number of die-hard settlers and colonialists including Ian Henderson without informing the Government. When Mzee asked me why I had done so, I replied: ‘Mzee you gave me full powers. I would have failed in my duty if I did not get rid of Mr Henderson, he delayed our independence’,” he said.
But it was the alleged involvement of Jaramogi in the January 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, which the CIA called a “coup” that “opened Kenyatta’s eyes to the personal and national danger posed by Odinga”, according to the CIA files.
Even though the CIA, which was closely working with the Kenya Government, couldn’t establish the extent of Jaramogi’s involvement in the revolution, they claimed that “as minister of Home Affairs, Odinga did hide ‘Field Marshal’ Tito Okello (of Uganda) when he fled from Zanzibar” besides supposedly supplying him with money and a car “while professing complete ignorance of his whereabouts”.
The level of mistrust created by these allegations are contained in another declassified CIA document in which it was alleged that when Jaramogi left for Beijing and Moscow in April 1964 to look for funds the president ordered Joseph Murumbi to accompany and spy on him.
In Moscow, Jaramogi was accorded VIP treatment and given the honour of attending a May Day rally where he shared a dais with Ahmed Ben Bella the first President of Algeria and Nikita Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union, despite being just a minister.
Murumbi would later disclose to the CIA that even though they shared a hotel, sometimes Jaramogi would disappear for two days.
The intelligence documents also reveal how the government was uncomfortable with the number of students Jaramogi was sending to study in communist countries.
In a statement to parliament in June 1964, Education minister Joseph Otiende informed Parliament there were between 1,200 and 1,500 Kenyan students in communist countries. However, he admitted the exact number was unknown since Jaramogi always bypassed his ministry in selecting students and also made special arrangements for the students to leave the country secretly in chartered planes.
The CIA cited one occasion when a chartered aircraft left Nairobi airport for an unknown destination with around 50 students on board. Information and Broadcasting minister Ramogi Achieng’ Oneko is said to have told the media not to report about the operation. The President and other senior ministers were said to have been informed about the plane just two hours before it landed in Nairobi.
By mid-1964 there were widespread rumours of a fallout between the President and his Vice President. Jaramogi publicly denied this, blaming “Imperialists” Western diplomats for spreading the rumours – a statement he later retracted.
The division was apparent when the President left for Cairo and asked Murumbi to act on his behalf instead of Jaramogi.
Apart from Jaramogi, other leaders who were under the CIA scrutiny for their leftists activities were his political allies Oneko and Pio Gama Pinto.
Oneko, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, was accused of “thwarting all US efforts to break into the Kenya media” by installing Soviet-made teleprinters and receivers at the Kenya News Agency (KNA) and also appointing a Czech News Agency representative in Nairobi as “advisor and editorial and training expert for KNA” despite his earlier indications of appointing an American to that position.
While Pinto, who the CIA described as “an extreme left wing Goan journalist in Kenya”, was accused of secretly working behind the scenes at KNA to further the communist agenda, his wife, who worked as Oneko’s secretary, was not spared either. She was accused of intentionally losing letters sent to Oneko by the West and blocking Western businessmen from meeting the minister.