In 1969, when his father paid his final visit to the lakeside town of Kisumu, there were scores of people killed in shooting, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and several of his top lieutenants were imprisoned, and the Kenya People’s Union was outlawed, turning Kenya into a one-party state.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is welcomed with a hero’s welcome by ODM leader Raila Odinga in modern-day Kisumu, even though President Jomo Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga have long since left the scene.
The two men, who now famously refer to one another as “brother,” carried on their fathers’ dynastic political feud and engaged in two hotly contested elections in 2013 and 2017, but they also reached an agreement that has implications for the bitter political division that has plagued Kenyan politics for decades.
In 2002, the independence party Kanu was on the verge of self-immolation after President Daniel arap Moi chose Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta as his favored successor, skipping ahead of several more seasoned lawmakers who had been in line.
With his leadership of the huge exodus in protest and his alliance with Mr. Moi after the 1997 elections, Raila Odinga, a relative newbie in Kanu, assured Mr. Kenyatta’s crushing defeat in the 2002 presidential election.
On September 27, 2003, I got the opportunity to speak with Dr. Njoroge Mungai at his Magana Farm on the outskirts of Kikuyu Town when Kanu was still attempting to put the pieces back together.
Dr. Mungai was an important member of Uhuru Kenyatta’s cabinet and his uncle. He has also worked as Jomo Kenyatta’s personal physician and a key cabinet minister.
After losing the election to Mr. Mwai Kibaki, the younger Kenyatta assumed the position of Leader of the Opposition, but Mr. Moi had recently resigned from his post as Kanu leader, leaving the party without direction.
At the time, my editors Joe Mbuthia and Khakhudu Agunda wanted me to do an interview with Dr. Mungai for the Sunday Nation, where I was working as a freelance political analyst.
On that particular day, the story I was following focused on Kanu and its hazy future following Moi’s departure. I then deviated from the script and asked about Kanu’s future instead, taking him back to the 1960s, particularly the time around the Kisumu massacre and the assassination of the flamboyant Tom Joseph Mboya.
Dr. Mungai did not want to become involved in the discussion and simply replied, “Let the past be the past.”
Older Luo community members believed Dr. Mungai to be the embodiment of evil. He is alleged to have initiated the gunfire during the heated confrontation between President Kenyatta and his former vice president, Oginga Odinga, whom the late Stanley Oloitiptip often mockingly referred to as “the God of the Luos,” in Kisumu.
It is unclear when the hostility between the Luo and Kikuyu tribes first developed, but historians and political analysts have long come to the conclusion that it reached its peak during the events that day marking the official opening of the Nyanza Provincial Hospital, also known locally as Russia due to Soviet assistance in its construction.
After then, Mzee Kenyatta never again visited Luoland before passing away on August 22, 1978. According to some of his critics, he either intentionally promoted it or chose to ignore it as the alleged “persecution” of Luos during his administration came to light.
There have been claims of careers being ended and development initiatives intended for Luoland being diverted.
In his book Dreams from My Father, former US President Barack Obama makes this admission. “He may have had political ambitions, and at first he was doing well in the government,” he wrote of his father Barrack Obama Sr. However, the divisions in Kenya had gotten worse by 1966 or 1967. The largest tribe, the Kikuyus, was the origin of President Kenyatta. The second-largest tribe, the Luos, started to gripe about how Kikuyus were receiving all the finest positions.
Some Luos started to protest and criticize the Kenyatta administration more frequently. According to Obama, when government authorities cracked down, several individuals were slain, which increased his father’s mistrust.
“Most of the Old Man’s friends just kept quiet and learned to live with the situation. But the Old Man began to speak up. He would tell people that tribalism was going to ruin the country and that unqualified men were taking the best jobs,” Obama wrote.
The circle of life is complete. In the latter days of his presidency, Uhuru, the son of Jomo, joined forces with Raila, the son of Jaramogi, to try to mend the rift between the two ethnic groups that were most active in the movement for Kenya’s independence from the British colonialists.
Since their “Handshake” with Raila, his political rival, Uhuru has established a record for the most visits to Luoland by a head of state from Kenya. The numerous projects he has started in the area have elevated him to a hero status among the locals, and he can be confident that he will get close to reverence when he travels there for the final time as president.
He is also benefiting from President Kenyatta’s conscious decision to support Jaramogi’s son to take over as the next head of state, which many did not think would actually happen when their newfound bromance started in 2018.
The president has made many unaccompanied cameo trips, particularly when he was overseeing the improvement of Kisumu Port and the restoration of the ship with which he shares a name, the MV Uhuru. The majority of these visits have been conducted with Mr. Odinga’s presence.
It is difficult to predict whether these meetings and efforts to mend fences with Mr. Odinga will result in putting an end to the alleged hostility since, to many ardent partisans on both sides, it has practically taken the form of a culture, and cultures are not easily eradicated.
However, President Kenyatta appears to have set out to disprove this verse by attempting to right the wrongs that his father is claimed to have committed. The Bible talks about God taking revenge on children for the crimes of their fathers.
Compared to his father before him, he will end his term in government with substantially greater approval ratings among the Luo.
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