Secrets of Kenyatta-Odinga rivalry in book Kenyans weren’t allowed to read

William Attwood opens with an account of how Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga first met in the 1950s.

Mr Double-O (as the British called Odinga) was a prosperous businessman from the Lake Victoria area who drifted into politics at the prodding of  Kenyatta.

He earned Kenyatta’s gratitude, says Attwood, “for lending him money during the struggle for independence and demanding his release from detention.

Later he helped Kenyatta become first, the Prime Minister then President, by working hard for a Kanu victory in the 1963 Independence elections”.

Mr Odinga became a Kenyatta intimate, says Attwood adding:


“But Odinga had ambitions of his own. Just past 50, he saw himself as Kenyatta’s logical successor. At public ceremonies, he took pains to be seen and photographed at Kenyatta’s side, properly conspicuous in his distinctive Chinese-style pajama suit and waving his fly-whisk like Mzee’s understudy.”

Attwood says: “So convincingly did he play the role of No 2 that the Russians and the Chinese, figuring that Kenyatta was becoming senile, decided to make Odinga their main man in Kenya.”

However, writes Attwood, both the Chinese and the Russians made some major miscalculations with respect to Odinga. “Odinga may have been shrewd and crafty, but he was also emotional which, in big-league politics, can be fatal. Also Mr Kenyatta was by no means senile, as they were led to believe. So they put their money on the colourful but erratic leader.”

READ: Are we witnessing end of Odingaism?

The support from Russians and the Chinese, reckons Attwood, incited and enabled Odinga to challenge Kenyatta’s leadership, at first indirectly, and finally openly.


Attwood says Odinga’s political assets were “his charm and crowd-pleasing platform manner; ample source of funds from the Communist bloc, and fanatic loyalty of the majority Luo.”

Attwood says Kenyatta’s associates wanted Odinga driven out of the government and the ruling party, soon than later before he could build up his own subversive apparatus inside Kanu and the government.

But Kenyatta’s inclination, says Attwood, was to sit back and give Odinga more rope. “He wanted anti-Odinga forces to be brought together into a multi-tribal coalition first; otherwise an open fight with Odinga would look like a Kikuyu-Luo feud. So he preferred to maintain a façade of harmony for the time being.”

Meanwhile, writes Attwood, Odinga kept busy.

On a visit to Moscow and Peking (now Beijing), he arranged financing of a Nairobi school for Kanu party leaders to be headed by two Russian instructors one of whom was a KGB (the Russian intelligence) agent.


He also arranged for military training in China and Bulgaria for more than a hundred hand-picked “students”.

He also negotiated an undisclosed clause in the package, reveals Attwood, that Russians would be “donating” weapons to Kenya.

Odinga’s mistake, says Attwood, was to assume Kenyatta had no clue what he was doing behind the curtain.

He says: “Of course, there was not much Odinga could do without Kenyatta knowing about it. The police and the Intelligence were directly under command of Kenyatta’s office. Their orders were to keep an eye on Double-O.”


Attwood discloses: “The first indication I had from Kenyatta that he didn’t trust Jaramogi was when he called me over to discuss outside financing of Kenya’s politicians.”

Before Independence, Kenya’s labour movement had been getting support from western donors and Kenyatta wanted to be assured that had stopped. “I said I’d make inquiries and agreed with him that all aid to independent Kenya should go through the government.”

But Attwood wouldn’t let all blame be heaped on the west: “What about Odinga’s subsidies from the Chinese and Russians?” he asked. “I know about them”, said Kenyatta. “I have already called in their ambassadors and told them to stop.”

Kenyatta then asked if the US could provide the police with some planes to increase mobility in case of an uprising in Odinga’s home base “which is all four hours by road from Nairobi.”


Attwood promised to forward the request to Washington.

Attwood records the first open showdown between Kenyatta and his deputy.

Kenyatta was due to travel to London for a Commonwealth conference.

In his absence, he appointed a minister in his office, Joseph Murumbi, to be acting Prime Minister.

Odinga, who had led his backers and supporters to believe he was No 2 man in the Kenyan hierarchy, was so outraged “he refused to come to the airport to see Kenyatta off — a characteristic display of temper that did him no good.”


Attwood reckons that after that snub, it became common knowledge things were no longer at ease between Kenyatta and his deputy.

The London’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that Kenyan Intelligence knew that mysterious crates had arrived at the Nairobi Airport aboard a Czech plane, and had been trucked away without customs inspection by one of Odinga’s henchmen.

The story also told of 40 youths who had returned from training in a communist country and were exempted from immigration checks on Odinga’s instructions.

The newspaper’s Nairobi correspondent was expelled from the country on orders from Odinga’s ally, minister for Information Achieng Oneko.


Not long after, Attwood records, a Russian freighter docked in Mombasa with a cargo of heavy weapons and tanks destined for Kenya as a “gift” from Moscow.

Curiously, the Russians demanded that no whites be allowed to inspect the weapons which were to be turned over to “Africans only”.

The Russians were given 24 hours to get out of Kenya with all their cargo.

Attwood says the Chinese equally exposed Odinga to his rivals by throwing a party and inviting every Kenyan they had contact with either directly or through Odinga.


Kenyan Intelligence took particulars of the invited guests and began a surveillance on them.

Kenyatta advisers, says Attwood, wanted the Chinese embassy immediately ordered closed, but “Kenyatta sensibly preferred to keep the Chinese above ground where they could be watched.”

When the Chinese put a high stone perimeter wall around their embassy, Kenyatta only made fun of them at a private meeting with Attwood.

He told him: “Now we have Nairobi’s newest tourist attraction. We have the Great Wall of China here in Africa. Our police will have to use helicopters to see what those people are doing behind it.”


Attwood reckons that by now, Odinga was increasingly getting frustrated, and being provoked into losing his temper by deliberate slights.

When President Kaunda of Zambia arrived for a visit, the Vice-President wasn’t asked to accompany Kenyatta to the airport to receive the state guest.

At a UN Day celebrations, President Kenyatta delegated a cabinet minister to read his speech on his behalf.

When the minister rose to read the speech, he declined to acknowledge the presence of Vice-President Odinga who was seated next to him.

And when the Vice-President was hosted for dinner by East German national known to him, the following day the foreigner was ordered out of the country.


Attwood writes: “You couldn’t help but feel sorry for Odinga. Badly advised, sensitive to pin pricks, pressed by Oriental sponsors, shadowed by the police, he was reported to have started drinking heavily and smoking bhang — a kind of African marijuana.”

Attwood says at that point he invited the Vice-President for lunch at his residence.

A carload of Intelligence officers followed him to the residence “and so we had seven extra-mouths to feed”, says Attwood.

“Odinga, stiff at first, unbent as the lunch progressed. He asked me why there were no more US funded projects in his area. I said we had many teachers in Nyanza and would be glad to look at any other worthwhile projects. But since he had recently called us dangerous imperialists, did he really want more Americans around?”

Odinga replied: “It’s just that my people are worried that you’d come with guns as you do in Vietnam. And also you Americans, you think all Luos are communists.”

Then Odinga leaned closer, framing his face in his hands: “Look at me, do you see communism in my face?”

“No Jaramogi”, I said unbuttoning my jacket. “And do you see any hidden guns in me?”

Attwood says the political knock-out punch landed on Odinga by surprise. Kanu national elections would be held within two weeks from the day of announcement.


He writes: “Surprise was essential; Odinga had the money to buy votes if given time. As it was, he tried hard.”

Odinga’s slush fund for the election, reveals Attwood, was estimated to be more than $150,000, much of it in green dollars provided by the Chinese embassy in Dar es Salaam and converted to shillings in Mombasa.”

Without explanation, six Chinese and Russian diplomats and a couple of “journalists” posted to Nairobi from the communist bloc countries were ordered out of the country.

The resolutions and election results at the hurriedly convened Kanu conference were predictable.


Delegates overwhelmingly approved Kanu’s new constitution where Odinga’s post of deputy party Vice-President was abolished and replaced with eight vice- presidents from across the country.

Odinga didn’t wait for the conference to end. “He walked out in a rage and into Kenyatta’s trap”, says Attwood.

A few days later, Odinga resigned as Vice- President and quit Kanu to form the opposition Kenya People’s Union.

He remained in political opposition until his death in 1994.


Attwood summarises the story of the elder Kenyatta/Odinga fallout with recollections of a private meeting with Kenyatta.

He writes: “I went out to Gatundu one weekend not long after Odinga resigned. Kenyatta and I sat and drank coffee and talked of Kenya’s future in the living room.”

“I am not bitter about Odinga”, Kenyatta told me. “I like Odinga. When I first met him, he was a successful businessman. Then I persuaded him to come into politics. That was a mistake. He doesn’t understand politics.”

Kenyatta smiled and rubbed his chin: “Now I think he should go back and be a businessman again. That would be good for him and good for Kenya.”

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