Retracing the footsteps of their fathers, 50 years later


Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga at a past political rally [File]

When former Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited Kayole this week, he unwittingly followed in his father’s footsteps in search of blessings. He sought out 91-year-old Mukami Kimathi, widow of freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi.

Raila seemingly believed that Mukami’s support was crucial in his quest for the presidency. When pictures of Raila receiving blessings from Mukami emerged, they triggered memories of another trip, about five decades ago, by the former PM’s father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

When Odinga fell out with Jomo Kenyatta, the two resorted to some contest. And when things completely fell apart in 1966, Jaramogi was kicked out of Kanu. He formed his own party, Kenya People’s Union. 

When MPs who subscribed to Jaramogi’s political ideologies resigned, they occasioned a mini general election. The two giants fought for survival and relevance as a defeat for Kenyatta would have meant a no-confidence in his government.

It is against this background that the two went flat out in wooing supporters. Mukami was conflicted since both were her friends.

She recalls how both men sent emissaries, each beseeching her to support his cause. Mukami relives her dilemma in her autobiography, Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau freedom fighter.

“Both Kenyatta and Jaramogi constantly sought me out for support and to hear my opinion on the Mau Mau position on what was going on in the country. Their differences were increasingly framed by their followers in ethnic lens as the Gikuyu verses Luo,” she writes.

According to Mukami, the country was tense and things worsened after Cabinet Minister Tom Mboya was assassinated in July, 1969.

Mukami says she was conflicted because one of Jaramogi’s associates, Achieng Oneko, was a close friend of her husband. She was also close to Jaramogi and Kenyatta.

Around that time, one of the estates in Eastlands, Nairobi, where she had been arrested earlier in the freedom struggle had been named Kimathi after her husband. Mukami’s life was entwined with freedom struggle and she could not run away from the political discourse which took traction in the 70s championed by, among others, Willy Mutunga and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Fifty years later, the sons of Jomo and Jaramogi have patched up their political difference and are now reading from the same script. And besides seeking Mukami’s blessing, Raila has also been to Karunaini in Nyeri where Kimathi was shot.

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