Sunday, December 06, 2009
The great Luo political Kitendawili Part 3
Sometime in 1969 Jomo Kenyatta was settling in for a sumptuous lunch at the PCs house in Kakamega (Western Kenya). One police officer based in the town at the time who had to coordinate the president’s security on this particular day was extremely surprised when the president rose to leave just 5 minutes later. He had hardly touched his soup (which was the first of several courses). The president was leaving for Kisumu in what would be his last trip to that town even though he would continue to president of those who lived there along with the rest of Kenya for another 9 years.
Jaramogi, Kenyatta and Mboya shortly before independence.
That police officer (now long retired) still remembers the events of that day as if it was yesterday and as he hurried to get into one of the police cars to escort the president to the border of Kakamega and Kisumu, he was worried. It was obvious that the president was in a very bad mood. Constitutionally all who work for the government work “at the pleasure of the president.” In simple terms what this means is that a president in a bad mood could simply not like your face and decide that it no longer pleased him for you to serve the government of Kenya. (President Moi once sacked a police officer by telephoning the Police commissioner while he was about 2 hours away from Nakuru and saying: Sitaki kuona hio nyagau nikifika Nakuru roughy translated it means; I don’t want to see that animal when I arrive in Nakuru.)
The cars left without any incident and as the officer handed over he felt a great sense of relief and at the same time dread for his colleagues serving in Kisumu who had the daunting task of taking care of the president in very hostile territory.
Every Kenyan who cared to read newspapers at the time knew that there was a lot of tension in the country after Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had resigned in a huff to form his own political party called Kenya People’s Union. The assassination of Tom Mboya earlier that year in July had made things worse and one wondered what the president expected going through Kisumu and Luo Nyanza in his motorcade.
The fears of that policeman had on that fateful day were not unfounded. A few hours later dozens of innocent people lay dead their bodies strewn all over the place. To this day the exact number of people who died on that day is still a closely guarded government secret.
Details are scanty as to what exactly happened on that sunny afternoon of late 1969. According to my source who was on the ground on that day, on arriving in Kisumu Kenyatta and his aides were confronted by a very angry Oginga Odinga who had some angry words for Jomo. Wikipedia actually says that the two hurled abuses at each other. An interesting photo that I had hoped to publish here today but did not find on time, shows Oginga talking angrily to a calm Kenyatta who was surrounded by his aides who appeared to be carefully listening to Odinga senior.
There was a chaotic public meeting after that where President Kenyatta dwelt on insulting Oginga Odinga and the Luo community. At one point he said that the Luo were lazy and could not cultivate land like others and instead just wanted free hand outs. Fascinatingly as Kenyatta made his speech, Oginga who was seated not too far was replying to his accusations and sometime the microphone Kenyatta was using picked some of Odinga’s words. The other highlight of Kenyatta’s abusive speech was when he said in Swahili that his government would crush Odinga and his followers until they were “powder”. Don’t say I didn’t warn you he said to Odinga.
All through the meeting there were shouts of Ndume which means “bull” and was the slogan for the then recently registered Oginga political party called Kenya People’s Union (KPU).
What happened next is not clear. However impeccable sources from a member of the security forces present on that day insist that the following happened;
The crowd had been very hostile throughout the entire proceedings and the presidential guards were extremely nervous. Suddenly a chair was hurled from the crowd in the direction of Jomo Kenyatta. It was a harmless missile because one of the guards easily caught it in mid air before it could hit Kenyatta. It was then that an order was issued for the guards to open fire.
Time magazine reported in their issue later that week that at least 9 people were killed and 70 wounded (read the full TIME article). My source says that they counted no less than 50 bodies of women children toddlers and men as well.
In retrospect the problem that day was more of a personal issue between Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga. Some would say a clash of political ideologies. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Luo people and Odinga senior should NOT have dragged his people into his spat with Kenyatta and the government. It is instructive to note that these were the early beginnings of politicians using tribal politics to enhance their personal interests and political ambitions. Odinga sold the idea to his people that the government of Kenyatta was finishing Luos.
Admittedly what also raised the tensions very high was the move by the Kenyatta administration shortly after the assassination of Mboya to resume Mau mau oath taking only this time those taking the oath swore their allegiance to Jomo Kenyatta. All this was coupled with the fact that the man convicted of firing the fatal revolver shots that had slain Mboya one Nahashon Njenga, was a Kikuyu. And so it was easy to sell the idea to the Luo community that the Kikuyus were “finishing them.”
Kenyatta toured many parts of the country until his death, but never Kisumu again. KPU was banned for “attempting to overthrow the lawful and constitutional government of the Republic of Kenya.” All 8 of it’s MPs as well as Oginga Odinga himself were picked up two days later by the dreaded Special branch police and detained without trial.
This is how the deep hatred between the Luo and Kikuyu communities was launched. By the sad and chaotic events of that day in Kisumu. The Kenyatta government went on to actively encourage and promote the stereotype views many Kikuyus still have concerning Luos to this day. This includes the view that Luos are cowardly boys at best because their culture does not allow for circumcision. Of course the fact that the Luo rite of passage for men of having 6 of their front teeth literally knocked out was much more painful than circumcision was totally ignored. And besides the Luo may be many things but they are certainly NOT cowards.
It is no secret that the Luo have always been led by leaders with magical powers. Right through the days of heroes like Luanda Magere. In fact Wikipedia the online encyclopedia says of Jaramogi;
His (Oginga odinga) efforts earned him admiration and recognition among the Luo, who revered him as Ker (spiritual leader) – a position previously held by the fabled ancestral Luo chief, Ramogi Ajwang, who reigned 400 years before him. Vowing to uphold the ideals of Ramogi Ajwang, Odinga became known as Jaramogi (meaning son of Ramogi).
During Oginga Odinga’s long years away from politics, the Luo believe that he was protected and kept alive only by his magical powers. One particular incident during the Moi era stands out. Wary of Jaramogi’s increasing political activities at the time in backing opposition to Moi’s government by insisting on the repel of the famous section 2 (a) of the constitution which made Kenya a dejure one party state, government agents embarked on a mission to plant guns on Odinga’s farm in Nyanza. The idea was f0r the guns to be later “discovered” and used as “evidence” that Oginga was planning an “armed rebellion” against the “democratically elected government of Kenya.” The mission was done in the dead of the night but the Luo believe that Oginga Odinga’s magical powers enabled him “to see” what was being planned. He is said to have woken up and confronted the government agents by simply asking them what they thought they were doing.
These magical powers it is believed were passed on to Jaramogi’s son, Raila Odinga. Indeed this belief spread to many other communities countrywide who voted for Raila in 2007. In late 2007 I met a Giriama man in Mombasa when I was doing one of my many political surveys on the ground. He told me that he would vote for Odinga because he admired his magical powers which are the only thing that had kept him alive and enabled him to escape assassination when it was clear that he would win the presidency from Mwai Kibaki.
The controversial truth is that to this day many of our Luo brothers believe that it is impossible for Raila to be felled in politics. Reading some of the comments in this blog that display of only blind faith and no substance in support of the Prime Minister, is easy to detect.
Back at the entertainment spot in Kisumu, I ignored the dashing smile from the stunner and decided to pick a conversation with a man seated next to me on the table who I had been observing for sometime. I wanted to ask him what he though about Raila’s political future. To be honest I was not prepared for what he was going to tell me. It shocked me a great deal knowing what I already knew.
Why were you shocked at the honesty of that man, Chris. We Luo people are brutally honest when you catch us at an unguarded moment or when we are in a good mood. But it means nothing, we never walk our talk.
...To be continued. Don’t miss the fourth and final part of this riveting series
Posted by Chris at 12:49 AM