It is a much-storied political dynasty rivalry, but the history of the love-hate relationship between the Kenyatta and Odinga families keeps turning new chapters with the latest instalment playing out in the ongoing political standoff with a remarkable sense of deja vu.
Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his political rival Mr Raila Odinga once again re-lived the duel that their fathers – founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and his first Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga – started more than half a century ago.
The parallels between the contest of the fathers and sons range from the mundane – such as the similarity in ages – to the profound, like how the conflict is shaping national politics and the country’s future.
Consider this interesting fact: In terms of age, Uhuru and Raila find themselves on the opposite sides of where their fathers were at the peak of their political duels.
Jaramogi was 55 when he resigned as vice-president in 1966 while Jomo was 75.
More than a half century later, the age factor is flipped: Raila is now 73 – roughly the same age Jomo was in 1966 – while Uhuru is 56, just a year older than Jaramogi was at the time of the fallout with the founding President.
What has remained constant in these dynastic duels is that the balance of power has firmly remained in favour of the Kenyattas.
Of more importance however is how the two generations of the Kenyattas have handled the challenge to their authority by the Odingas and how this has shaped Kenya’s history.
In this regard, Uhuru has proved that, indeed, the apple does not fall far from the tree.
The move by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to declare National Resistance Movement (NRM) – associated with Raila’s Nasa – an illegal group mirrors the outlawing of Jaramogi’s Kenya People’s Union (KPU) by Jomo 47 years ago.
After resigning as Vice President, Jaramogi formed KPU, which became the official opposition to Jomo’s ruling Kanu party.
However, the State employed every trick in the book to harass the party’s followers.
Security agencies monitored the movements of KPU officials, limited their international travel by withdrawing their passports, and fired civil servants perceived to be supportive of the party.
Jomo himself led the onslaught against KPU, branding it a clandestine organisation.
“If anybody dares to spoil the party that fought for uhuru (independence), he will be dealt with firmly. We shall crush him into powder,” Jomo warned at a public rally.
Following the deaths and chaos that broke out on October 25, 1969 between KPU supporters and Jomo’s security guards during a presidential visit to Kisumu, Jomo moved swiftly to bring Jaramogi to heel.
Two days after the incident, Jaramogi was placed under house arrest for a year and KPU was banned five days later, thus returning Kenya to a one-party State.
In efforts to rein in Jaramogi, Jomo amassed sweeping powers that made him an imperial president, a later source of many of Kenya’s ills.
The situation has changed considerably from Jomo’s days, with the enactment in 2010 of a robust Constitution that protects freedoms.
But events of recent days suggest that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Uhuru has waged a campaign against the Opposition, media, Judiciary and the civil society, which he accuses of unfairly targeting him and working on behalf of his opponents.
Commenting on Nasa’s plans to “swear in” Raila, Attorney-General Githu Muigai cautioned that it was “high treason”.
Last week, the government arrested several Nasa MPs who played key roles in Raila’s largely symbolic “swearing-in” on January 30.
It remains to be seen whether Uhuru will carry out his AG’s threat and detain the Nasa leader, just like his father Jomo did in 1969.
The conflict between Jomo and Jaramogi took place under the shadow of the Cold War pitting the West against the communist USSR.
The two Kenyan protagonists became pawns in the global struggle for domination by the two superpowers.
While Jomo eschewed communism in favour of capitalism, Jaramogi, who had been a darling of the West before independence, threw in his lot with the Soviets.
One of the peripheral players in the Cold War was China, a communist state with its own designs in Africa.
A large but poor country at the time, China still vied with the Russians and the Americans for influence in Kenya.
Jomo, with the help of the US, moved to limit China’s support for Jaramogi.
Kanu mandarins termed the “Red Dragon’s” embassy in Nairobi “Agent No1 of subversive activities”.
But 50 years later, things have changed. Today, China is a global superpower.
While Jomo turned his back on China, his son Uhuru has fully embraced the Asian giant and it is now shaping his legacy.
It has already done so by delivering Uhuru’s first term signature project: the standard gauge railway, whose first phase between Mombasa and Nairobi was built in a record four years at a cost of at least Sh375 billion of Chinese loans.
During a state visit to Beijing in May last year, Uhuru described China as a true friend of Kenya.
“In the spirit of shared prosperity and friendship, I wish to assure Your Excellency (Chinese President Xi Jinping) of our desire to co-operate closely with you, to build an even stronger strategic partnership,” he said.
To cement their new-found friendship, last month President Kenyatta hosted Communist Party of China (CPC) top brass at State House, where it was agreed that the Chinese officials would train Jubilee Party on “democracy”, grassroots mobilisation and party management.
However, the geopolitical shifts brought about by the decline and eventual disintegration of the USSR and the end of the Cold War forced the Odingas to abandon their communist route and embrace the West who supported the push to end Kanu’s one-party rule.
Kenya restored multipartyism in 1991.
Neighbouring Tanzania is another country that has been at the heart of a dynastic political tussle.
The Kenyattas have always regarded successive governments in Tanzania with suspicion.
It’s not a secret that the current Jubilee administration enjoys a strained relationship with the government of President John Magufuli, a family friend of the Odingas.
During the 2015 General Election in Tanzania, Jubilee ill-disguised preference for the opposition’s Edward Lowassa of Chadema party that eventually lost.
When Raila suggested in a speech in the lead-up to the January 30 “swearing-in” that forming a government abroad was an option if the situation inside was not conducive, many thought he meant Tanzania.
In short, there hasn’t been any love lost between Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.
On December 2016, Government Spokesman Erick Kiraithe said two neighbouring countries were trying to destabilise Kenya.
It was widely perceived that one of the two countries was Tanzania.
“Investigations into recent political activity have yielded intelligence to the effect that there are individuals within the country who are working with two neighbouring countries to subvert the government and create conditions of instability, insecurity, lawlessness and strife,” Mr Kiraithe said.
These were largely the same allegations that Jomo’s government made against Tanzania in the 1960s.
On April 1966, the media reported that Jaramogi had met Sheikh Hussein, a prominent Tanzanian businessman with alleged powerful political connections there, to plot against Jomo.
Jaramogi was also accused of having met two Tanzanian ministers, Sheikh Abdul Rahma Mohammed Babu, minister for Commerce and Co-operatives, and Mr Michael Kamaliza, Minister for Labour.
Dar es Salaam denied the meetings took place.
The mutual suspicions between the two neighbours was one of the factors that eventually led to the disintegration of the first East African Community in 1977.
During the fight for independence, Jaramogi, though not a collaborator, was perceived by the British colonial government as a safe, rational bet whom they could do business with, rather than Jomo.
Described by pre-independence colonial governor Sir Patrick Renison as “the leader to darkness, death and destruction, Jomo had been jailed in 1952 on trumped-up charges as the leader of the Mau Mau independence movement.
The Britons were surprised, therefore, when Jaramogi turned down the offer to be Kenya’s first president, declaring that “Kenyatta is my next God”, vowing that there would be no uhuru (independence) while Mzee was in prison.
But when Jomo’s son, Uhuru, was indicted in 2010 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his alleged involvement in the planning of the 2007/2008 violence, Jaramogi’s son, Raila, did not defend him as his father had done to Jomo.
“The guilt or innocence of suspected perpetrators is proved through trial, where the facts of the case are examined,” Raila said in 2012.
It is believed that the strong anti-imperialist sentiment aroused by ICC cases against Uhuru, his deputy William Ruto and four other Kenyans stirred the Jubilee support base and propelled them to the presidency in 2013. The Kenyan cases eventually collapsed.
At this point, it is worth considering another interesting fact: The Kalenjin community has been at the centre of the political battles between the Kenyattas and the Odingas, and their respective Kikuyu and Luo ethnic support bases.
Following Jaramogi’s resignation in 1966, Jomo appointed Daniel Moi VP and stuck with him for the next 12 years.
This was despite a cabal around the President, often referred to as the “Kiambu Mafia”, scheming to prevent Moi from automatically taking over upon Jomo’s death.
Moi returned the favour by fishing Uhuru from relative obscurity and thrusting him into the political limelight when he named him his preferred successor.
Although Uhuru lost the December 2002 presidential elections, he had stamped his imprimatur in national politics.
But it would take the support of another Kalenjin, Mr William Ruto, 10 years later, to actualise Uhuru’s presidential dreams.
Many political analysts think that the end of Uhuru’s term in 2022 will mark an end to the Kenyatta-Odinga dynastic battles, assuming that Raila opts out of the race as he has suggested in his previous public statements.
The death of Raila’s firstborn son Fidel in 2015 robbed the Odinga family of an obvious heir to their political dynasty.
Rosemary, Raila’s second born who dropped out of the race for Kibra constituency parliamentary seat last year over health concerns, is often seen as the most politically savvy of Raila’s children.
Of the Kenyattas, none of Uhuru’s scions are thought to be cut for the rough and tumble of political life — at least for now.
Source: – Daily Nation