The fallout between Kenyatta, Odinga, assassination of Tom Mboya, laid foundation for betrayal that still stalks Kenyan politics to date

Niwandinda Daniel
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Odinga was also left a lame duck vice-president after key functions under his docket were transferred to Charles Njonjo. That same month Njonjo visited Britain where he informed the Secretary of State that they had taken every step to prevent Odinga from visiting state house and could only meet Kenyatta by appointment despite being the vice president.

(From L to R) former Luo Chief Oginga Odinga, futur Kenyan President, Jomo Kenyatta, Njoroge Mungai and Ramogi Achieng Oneko give a press conference, December 07, 1963 at the eve of the Independence of Kenya ceremony, in Nairobi. / AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read /AFP via Getty Images)

NAIROBI KENYA: The fallout between Kenyatta and Odinga , and the subsequent assassination of Tom Mboya, did not only extinguish the dream the anti-colonial nationalist movement had for an independent Kenya, but also laid the foundation for betrayal that still stalks Kenyan politics to date.

Kenya became a republic on 12 December 1964. However, the threat to the new republic’s unity was a mixture of ideological accusations in the context of the Cold War and personal ambitions.

Because of his age, Kenyatta was not expected to last on the political scene for long. By virtue of being the vice-president, Odinga stood a better chance of being his successor. But this was not going to be possible. First because tribalism had become entrenched in Kenyan politics. Second, the British still pulled the strings behind the stage.

Odinga’s links with the Soviet made him unacceptable to the British who detested Communism. They considered him a security threat to British settlers and businesses in Kenya. This suspicion was further compounded by Odinga’s stand on land which he insisted belonged to Africans, arguing that there was no reason to compensate settlers who had grabbed it from Africans.

Therefore, the British took every step to remove him from the line of succession. Helping them to achieve their goals were their own house Negroes such as Charles Njonjo. This Kikuyu elite while accusing Odinga of being a Communist was mainly motivated by tribalism.

Mboya had come to realize that he had extraordinarily little chances of succeeding Kenyatta. Rather than see his arch political rival become a successor, he ganged up with these Kikuyu political barons to fight Odinga by consistently painting him as a Communist.

To cushion himself from intrigues, Odinga continued to build his own loyal cadres within the cabinet, parliament and KANU. Assisting him were his two hatchet men, Pio Gama Pinto and Bildad Kaggia. Using his own popularity and Pinto’s organization skills he managed to entice a majority of backbenchers on his side and was trying to win more using had cash and gifts from communist countries.

In the Kikuyu countryside, where Kaggia was his point man, he was gradually getting the necessary support among the disgruntled landless Kikuyu. To establish his influence in KANU, he had set up the Lumumba Institute whose function was to indoctrinate party officials through training. This project was overseen by Pio Gama Pinto, unfortunately he was assassinated just days before the first students made up of party officials arrived at the institute.

Odinga’s other target in his effort to outmaneuver his political rivals was to control the press. His men now controlled the press office, the radio and the Kenya News Agency courtesy of his useful ally Achieng Oneko the Minister for Broadcasting and Information who had flooded the information services with Soviet trained expatriates. Operating behind the scene and overseeing the editorial at the Kenya News Agency was Pio Gama Pinto.

In 1965 Kenyatta decided that it was time for a confrontation with Odinga because of his stand on various issues especially land. His hatchet man in curtailing Odinga’s political power was Mboya. Despite being the chief strategist for the Kikuyu political elite in their maneuver against Odinga, Mboya was never trusted fully.

Mboya’s relationship with Kenyatta in particular could be described as that of convenience. He viewed Kenyatta as a tribalist, but needed his prestige and the support of his Kikuyu tribe. Kenyatta on the other hand needed Mboya’s brilliance but distrusted him and resented his American connections which he saw as threat to his rule. Nevertheless, he was the best weapon to finish Odinga, after which he could be discarded.

In what was becoming an open war against Odinga and his allies, Kenyatta took the battle to Kaggia’s backyard and blasted him for advocating for communist style takeover of European land. Kaggia had told members of his constituency that people should have free land since the land belonged to Africans before Europeans came.

“Kaggia you are advocating for free things what have you done for yourself?” Kenyatta asked Kaggia who was seated close to him. “I personally have been to Moscow University and I can assure you that even in so called communist country such as Russia man gets anything for nothing.” In a warning directed at Odinga and his allies Kenyatta said, “I fought the colonialists with all my strength and if any African wants to fight me let him try.”

Just after this broadside Mboya led the takeover of Odinga’s Lumumba Institute explaining that the institute was being used to oppose the policies of Kenyatta’s government.

Week’s later guns were planted in Odinga’s office at Jogo House by the police, with rumours circulating in Nairobi that he was planning to overthrow the government.

Odinga was also left a lame duck vice-president after key functions under his docket were transferred to Charles Njonjo. That same month Njonjo visited Britain where he informed the Secretary of State that they had taken every step to prevent Odinga from visiting state house and could only meet Kenyatta by appointment despite being the vice president.

In March 1966 Odinga issued a press statement accusing his colleagues of humiliating and provoking him, and insulting his position of vice president. He accused them of being used to fight imaginary communism claiming that there was an “unrelenting conspiracy against the independence of Africa and against African leaders who are prepared to stand firm on principles in the interest of African people.”

Three days later Mboya convened the infamous Limuru conference where Odinga’s position of Kanu deputy party leader was watered down by being replaced by 8 regional vice presidents. The writing was now on the wall for Odinga to either walk away and lead the opposition or remain in the government and continue being a toothless vice-president. He chose the latter and walked away.

But the humiliation did not stop there. Some months after his resignation he was stripped naked at Busia by an inspector of police who cited orders from above. They claimed Odinga who was on his way from Uganda independence anniversary celebrations was ferrying money from Russian embassy in Kampala.

With Odinga effectively out of the succession line it was now time for the Gatundu group to betray Mboya their chief strategist in their betrayal against Odinga. They sought to reduce his influence in parliament, KANU and cut his sources of funds in order to destabilize him politically.

At the beginning of 1968 there were two major political developments whose consequence was to weaken the Mboya faction. First was the meeting of the officials of the KANU Parliamentary Group presided over by Kenyatta? During this meeting, all officials allied to Mboya were purged from the group and replaced by those favorable to the Gatundu group.

Ngala was forced to step down for Daniel ArapMoi in what was seen as punishment for his close association with Mboya. Other pro Mboya politicians who were purged from the group were Malu the MP for Kilungu who was replaced as KANU Chief Whip by Martin Shikuku, and Tom Malinda the Assistant Minister for Agriculture who was replaced as Secretary by F Mati the MP for Kitui North.

This was followed five days later by the election of officials for the Nairobi KANU branch. Nairobi being Mboya’s political base it was a perfect opportunity for the Gatundu Group to tighten their grip on the city’s politics. Mboya’s candidate was Munyua Waiyaki while the Gatundu group had Charles Rubia, a former mayor of Nairobi who was making his first debut in elective politics. Despite most delegates allied to Munyua boycotting the elections because of irregularities, Rubia was announced the winner with Kenyatta endorsing his victory. KANU constitution stipulated that election should be by secret ballot but this was not the case in Nairobi.

Having captured Nairobi, the next target for the Gatundu group was the post of KANU Secretary General held by Mboya. Their argument was that the post should not be held by a government minister.

To make clear their goal they wrote a very unkind article in the newspaper targeted at Mboya saying,” It is simply not possible as past experience has shown for any one person effectively to play this dual role.”

As KANU delegates converged in Mombasa for a crucial conference in May 1968, many believed Mboya would be ousted. At the meeting it was said Njonjo launched a very scathing personal attack against Mboya.

Those at the meeting were concerned that Njonjo was taking his personal hatred for Mboya too far. But at the end of it all, Mboya was back in Nairobi with his post intact having survived the night of long knives, a typical case of the proverbial cat with nine lives.

To curtail Mboya’s influence in parliament at the beginning of 1968, a survey conducted by Njonjo revealed that Mboya enjoyed a considerable support in parliament and therefore stood a better chance of succeeding Kenyatta. It was this fear that triggered the Gatundu group to amend the constitution by introducing age limit.

However age was one of Mboya’s biggest asset as he was still young and could therefore afford to wait. As he once said “The difference between them and me is that they are forced to run sprints to get to the top while I can afford to take it easy at the pace of a long distance runner.”

The spite and vindictiveness of the Gatundu group also extended to Mboya’s American connections and sources of funds which they were determined to cut off.

Mboya’s East African Institute of Social and Cultural Affairs in particular became a major target for the Gatundu group who thought it was being used by the Americans to channel money to Mboya.

On 31st January 1968, Mboya approached his cabinet colleague Daniel Arap Moi and requested him to ease the passage of four EAISCA sponsors who were to arrive the following day.

Moi agreed but immediately the visitors arrived he deported all of them without informing Mboya. Moi was the Gatundu group favorite candidate and was Njonjo’s protege. At the time of his assassination the following year Mboya was a man under siege.

With Mboya out of the succession line, Moi was destined to be the successor. Charles Njonjo and the Gatundu group saw him as a passing cloud and a stepping stone to power. But immediately Moi took over the first person he betrayed was Njonjo who was key in the betrayal of Odinga and Mboya. He was hounded out of office unceremoniously.

Betrayal has become synonymous with Kenyan political leadership. The saddest part is that betrayers and opportunists are also betrayed. It is a vicious circle. Odinga was betrayed in 1992, Raila was betrayed after 2002, Kalonzo was betrayed after propping up Kibaki in 2008, and Uhuru-Ruto turned against Mudavadi in 2013. Now we are seeing another betrayal unfolding.

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