Survival and even success in politics depends on how astute one is in applying one’s brain in strategic thinking. Both Odinga are experts in environmental scanning and then addressing the problem before it arrives.
But who is more of a strategic genius? Who of them makes choices that cover several pitfalls for a longer period to avoid the expensive boardroom stumbles and eventualities?
Of course, all these are relative and depend on prevailing circumstances.
The Jaramogi years may seem less complex compared to the Raila years. But if one looks at the crushing fall of political leaders like Dr Milton Obote, Kwame Nkrumah, and Patrice Emery Lumumba, then one can begin to appreciate the magnitude and impact of the Cold War in the political career of Jaramogi.
At a time, when African population was not aware of how much global politics was impacting on them, Jaramogi was already wrestling a bigger monster than we can ever fathom.
Many of us have dubbed Jaramogi as a quitter and an aquiescent for such proclamations as “[Jomo] Kenyatta is black man’s God” or “No Kenyatta, no Uhuru.”
But few people step back and try to walk in Jaramogi’s thorny and prickly shoes.
Assassination of Ofafa
One of his acid-tests of tactical political acumen came with the assassination of Ambrose Ofafa, a colonial administrator.
Ofafa, who hailed from Alego in Siaya County in Nyanza, was was shot by assassins and died hours later in hospital. The assassins were Mau Mau fighters who were bitter that Ofafa had hidden Kenyatta in Alego for one month as they hunted him.
While Ofafa was struggling in hospital, Luo youth in Nairobi prepared a retaliatory attack against Kikuyus. And it would have been bloody. Why?
At the time, the Kikuyu were isolated in estates like Bahati. They were still under the boots of the colonial government and feeling the full force of the British military knee on their throat and Kiambu anti-Mau Mau loyalists holding onto their wriggling legs.
This meant that any government reprisal would have been seen as double assault on the Kikuyu community as an easy target to wipe out. This is the sort of scenario that would have yielded an eventuality worse than tribal feuds than rocked DR Congo in 1960 or the Nkatha Freedom Party backlash that threatened to rip South Africa apart, just before independence.
Kenya would have been permanently damaged and not even a secession or the majimbo or political devolution of power to the country’s region would cure.
Then enter Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and his foresight.
On hearing this, Jaramogi rushed from Kisumu to Nairobi, some 343 kilometres away.
Defusing Luo-Kikuyu feuds
In Nairobi, Jaramogi engaged in several impromptu face-to-face meetings with Luo youths. A former Nairobi chief told me he had never seen Jaramogi that furious.
He said it was as if Jaramogi had his back to the wall and was talking his way out of destruction.
“Jaramogi was at one time foaming at the mouth when cajoling, imploring pleading with the Luo youth to desist from that ill-advised course of action,” ex-chief David Owino told me.
By then, the young Luo man was still a very martial group and very gullible to provocation, not the 7-day a week binge drinker of today.
Generally, the Luos were people of big girth and could easily subdue opponents in close short-term street combat.
A good number were veterans of WWI and KAR returnees. So military engagement came easily to them.
Around this period, a Luo man who was forced to carry a Whiteman across a river in his in-laws’ territory had done the unimaginable. He just carried the mzungu half way the river then went under and the mzungu had to gasp for breath and swim out for dear life.
The Luo man did this just for pride.
Cases of spearing local police were not unheard of and they did not do it for any independence struggle. It was just for mundane things like their pride had been pricked. This is the sort of people Jaramogi was holding back not to engage another battle front.
Jaramogi clearly saw a feud between the Luo and the Kikuyu that would outlast the Hutu-Tutsi vendetta. Jaramogi foresaw a future generation involved in endless war of vengeance and counter-vengeance.
With a strategic masterstroke, Jaramogi pacified the Luo youth and defeated the Kiambu anti-Mau Mau loyalists and their British masters’ mischief.
Jaramogi instead pushed to have memorials built in Ofafa’s memory. To date, in Nairobi and Kisumu, stand buildings and residential areas named after Ofafa.
Then there was brazen move by Jaramogi, which has even been caught on film; ceding the presidency of Kenya to Kenyatta, which motif has never been easily understood.
All the trappings of State power and the chance to direct Kenya to his direction was something that appealed to anybody. I still think I would have taken that path. It was thought that once a president, Jaramogi could release Kenyatta and steer Kenya to a just government.
Nevertheless, what is not so apparent is that even after the later DR Congo strife and Katanga secession, the South African problem that tore into the country and finally undid the Winnie-Mandele marriage that had withstood the apartheid oppression, nobody except Jaramogi could see what the British colonialists were engineering.
In Kenya, the Luo who had served in the KAR and were later pitted against the Mau Mau anti-colonial uprising were being handed the presidency to rule over the very Mau Mau who were still under the British gun.
Also unbeknown to most Kenyans is the fact that most causalities suffered in the Independence struggle was Kikuyu-on-Kikuyu deaths. Senior Kikuyu will admit to this.
The colonial government did a lot of detaining and torturing and killings too, but the ghastliest killings were meted out by Mau Mau fighters against their Kikuyu British loyalists. This Kikuyu division still exists to date even if only simmering below the surface when they close ranks to stem external aggression.
Here was a case when the British out of mischief were passing the same hot potato to Jaramogi. Again, Jaramogi instead of falling for the trick to set himself up against the Mau Mau, took the very hot potato and gave it to Kenyatta.
In so doing, Jaramogi cooled the potato and defeated the colonial mischief by sheer strategic thinking.
Hot-blooded Mboya, Raila
But strategically, how would have Nyanza big wigs Tom Mboya or Raila have risen above those traps?
I see Raila making moves to engage the British colonial government because after all it was obvious that Ofafa was such a close friend of Kenyatta. At one time, as Kenyatta fled an alleged Kikuyu and colonial government conspiracy, he hid in Alego, sleeping in the much-maligned grass-thatched huts in that so-called primitive Luo land.
Raila would have just said ‘go to hell’ and line his forces against the mzungu.
I also see Mboya or even Raila falling for the mzungu trap and taking over the presidency and hoping to use his trade union politics to negotiate once in power and release Kenyatta in a coalition government.
Is that not how Raila fell in for the Mau Forest trap and for the thorny Rift Valley land clashes? I am not mentioning his Kibaki Tosha masterstroke that catapulted Kibaki to the presidency.
In reality, Raila did not fall for these, but calculatingly chose those paths.
But Jaramogi’s cool poise was hard to upset. Through the Limuru Conference of 1966 that sought to eject him from KANU, and close death of lawyer and trade unionist Argwings Kodhek, and assassination of Tom Mboya, both in 1969, and Kisumu riots to protest the killings in December, Jaramogi remained unruffled.
His calmness was so disarming that even in the Kisumu riots, which detractors pinned on him, President Kenyatta who was pelted with stones during the fracas, remained gracious to Jaramogi, saying: “Jaramogi, if you were not my friend, I would have locked you in.”
Of course, Jaramogi was later jailed and his party KPU, banned.
But through the years, Raila was learning too and his calm handling of the killing of polls ICT guru Chris Msando and destruction of computers in his office before the 2017 polls means Raila had come of age.
Extracted from Odinga versus Odinga II, https://www.namlolwe-anecdotes.com/