Tom Mboya reached out to his political nemesis Jaramogi Oginga Odinga a few days before he was assassinated, in what is believed was an attempt to save his life.
The Planning Minister, who hitherto never saw eye to eye with Jaramogi, who had resigned as Jomo Kenyatta’s Vice-President three years earlier, made frantic efforts to reach the doyen of opposition politics through two of the latter’s closest allies.
Saturday Nation has established that the independence nationalist sent former assistant minister and then Kisumu Rural MP Tom Okello Odongo to arrange a meeting between him and Jaramogi.
However, Mr Odongo had not conveyed the request by the time of Mboya’s death.
Contacted on Friday, Mr Collins Odinge Odera, an adviser and speech writer for Jaramogi, confirmed that Mboya had requested to see him over what he later learnt was part of the minister’s effort to reach out to Jaramogi.
Apparently, the former Vice-President, who was then caught up in an ugly ideological fight with founding President Jomo Kenyatta, leading to his resignation in 1966, was aware of Mboya’s efforts to meet him.
Mr Odera recalled how Mboya approached him on the Tuesday before his death yesterday, 44 years ago, with the urgent message that he (Odera), should see him.
Mr Odera said: “I was waiting to pick my wife at the Public Affairs offices then at Shankadash House near Kenya Cinema when Mboya pulled up in a black Mercedes and his first statement was: ‘You, what are you waiting for? I have sent people to bring you to see me. But you have refused, why?’
Mr Odera said he was surprised because, as an ally of Jaramogi with who Mboya was at constant loggerheads, he had not talked with him for a long time.
“I told him: Bwana Waziri I am sorry I have not got the message and he told me ‘I am going to Addis tomorrow and returning on Saturday. Come to my house at 3pm’,” the 79-year-old beneficiary of the 1959 Mboya airlifts said on Friday.
Mr Odera is also the author of My Journey With Jaramogi, a biography of the father to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Mr Odera then narrated how he went to Jaramogi to ask him whether he had an idea of what Mboya was up to.
“Jaramogi told me he had heard of what Mboya wanted and even mentioned that he (Mboya) had sent then Kisumu Rural MP Tom Odongo-Okello to persuade him for a meeting, but he was yet to convey the message.”
Mr Odera geared himself up for the meeting. But it was not to be. That very Saturday, Mboya was gunned down at 1pm outside a pharmacy on Government Road, now Moi Avenue, two hours before his scheduled meeting with Jaramogi’s confidante.
A possible reunion between Jaramogi, an avowed Eastern-leaning radical and Mboya, a suave politician and a darling of the West, particularly, the USA, would have changed the course of Kenya’s history.
It is not clear if the imminent meeting with his former foe hastened his killing, but Mr Odera said Mboya was being shadowed all over and his moves to see Jaramogi must have been noted by intelligence.
Mr Odera intimated that Mboya had been restless in his last days and is said to have feared for his life as “his former friends in the Kenyatta administration had changed”.
According to Kenya: A History Since Independence authored by Charles Hornsby and published last year, as early as 1968, there was already manoeuvring and faction fighting aimed at weakening Mboya’s sway in Kanu.
“It was clear the Kikuyu establishment wanted Mboya out as secretary-general and a Kanu delegates conference was planned for where (Charles) Rubia was to be their candidate,” writes Hornsby.
Whoever was responsible for Mboya’s murder has never been determined, but it hardened the Luo community’s feelings about the government, a situation which would lead to the community’s exclusion and subsequent economic stagnation.
Three months later, another event, which further widened the chasm between the Kikuyu and the Luo in general, and their remaining leader Jaramogi in particular, was to occur in Kisumu.
On October 25, 1969 President Jomo Kenyatta travelled to Kisumu to open the “Russia Hospital” (New Nyanza General Hospital), a pet project of his fierce rival, Jaramogi.
The President and Kenya People’s Union leader exchanged harsh words, a scuffle broke out and as the hostile crowd advanced on the dais, presidential security personnel fired into the crowd, leaving more than 10 people dead as the visitors’ motorcade sped away.
Three days later, the KPU was banned and Kenya became a de facto one-party state.
Earlier, Jaramogi’s aides, acting on intelligence from the Special Branch, had advised him against travelling to Kisumu.
Make political point
But Jaramogi, whom Mr Odera projected as stubborn and brave was determined to use the event to make a political point though the results turned out disastrous.
“Jaramogi said ‘if the President is going, I must also go because he is coming to our area,’” recalled the pioneer editor of the defunct East African Journal.
Besides, observed Mr Odera, Jaramogi felt a strong attachment to the hospital since it was built by his Soviet Union friends.
Because of the warning, Mr Odera decided not to accompany his boss to Kisumu. “I remained in Nairobi and monitored events from there,” said the elderly man, who studied Government and Journalism at the University of South Dakota in the United States.
He believes the Kisumu killings were stage-managed and that the youths who heckled Mr Kenyatta during the October 25 meeting, thus provoking the shooting by the presidential guard were “planted” in the crowd by the State.
“They were not KPU supporters … they were strangers,” claims Mr Odera. “Jaramogi had advised KPU supporters against shouting party slogans,” he added.
President Kenyatta’s visit to Kisumu came barely three months after the death of two Luo nationalists — Tom Mboya, and Argwings Kodhek, who died in a suspect road accident.
Further, Jaramogi , Kenya’s first vice-president, had been kicked out of Kanu and had founded KPU.
His sacking and the Mboya assassination poisoned the political environment and created animosity between the Luo and President Kenyatta’s Kikuyu community.
“The Mboya assassination was a turning point,” Mr Odera said. “The tension that gripped the country at that time started with Mboya’s killing.”
These events united the Luo behind Jaramogi, who they perceived as the champion of their cause.
On arrival in Kisumu, Mzee was greeted with jeers and chants of “Dume, Dume”, the KPU slogans. Placards asking, ‘Where is Tom (Mboya)?’” were also brandished.
The jeers infuriated President Kenyatta who threatened Jaramogi with detention, describing him as a “good-for-nothing noise maker”. He declared that “enemies of Uhuru” would be “crushed like locusts”.
Two days after the ‘Kisumu Massacre’, Jaramogi Odinga and other KPU leaders were arrested in a dawn swoop and detained.
He was put under house arrest in Kisumu before being ferried to Manyani.
Other detainees included his deputy, Iveti South MP J.M. Nthula, KPU publicity secretary Achieng Oneko and MPs Luke Obok (Alego), Tom Okello-Odongo (Kisumu Rural), Okuto Bala (Nyando), Odero Sar (Ugenya), Wasonga Sijeyo (Gem) and Ondiek Chilo (Nyakach).
Mr Odera was picked up in Nairobi where he was “monitoring events.” As Kenyatta’s motorcade was leaving the hospital grounds the crowd, incensed by the insults, surged closer displaying what the police later described as a “threatening attitude towards the President.”
Police said the situation deteriorated as the crowds pressed forward on the road.
At this stage, security personnel in the lead car of the presidential escort opened fire on the crowd, killing people, as President Kenyatta left Kisumu.