Is this end of the five decades Kenyatta, Odinga rivalry?

President Uhuru Kenyatta meets ODM leader Raila Odinga during a breakfast prayer meeting at the Safari park hotel on May 31, 2018. [Evans Ouma/Standard]
When Bethel Music songwriter and singer Kalley Heiligenthal said, “The war is over, turn around, lay your weapons on the ground, the smoke is fading, before the light...” she hardly had Kenya in mind.

But her sweet, melodic rendition and the lyrics capture the ebullient mood in the country as it witnesses what could be the death of the five-decade rivalry between the Kenyatta and Odinga political dynasties that has been characterised by a love-hate relationship.

Birthed in the 1960s, the rivalry mirrors the 1594–96 long-standing feud between Capulets and Montagues, the two families in Romeo and Juliet written by William Shakespeare.

Whereas it took the death of their children Romeo and Juliet for the Capulets-Montagues feud to end, the Kenyatta and Odinga rivalry marked by hedonistic pursuit for power and supremacy has lived through ethnic clashes that have led to bloodshed.

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And when Nasa leader Raila Odinga, after the now-famous handshake on March 9, said no Kenyan blood would be shed again because of politics, he intuitively and subconsciously could have acknowledged the pain and suffering that the two families’ chauvinistic battle had resulted to.

However, Prof Edward Kisiangani, who teaches political science at Kenyatta University, believes there is just a lull before the dynasties return to their feud. 

Prof Kisiangani said even Jaramogi and Kenyatta made several attempts at ceasefires, but they always failed.

“It is like a dormant political volcano, but the current ceasefire between Kenyatta and Raila is still eruptive. If any of the promises they made to each other during the handshake fails, then we will be back to the war again,” says Prof Kisiangani.

Interestingly, when episodic love visits the families, they refer to each other as brothers.

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The same happens in times of grief. When Raila’s first born son Fidel Odinga died in 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta offered Raila a fleet of planes, including two Kenya Air Force 212 and 306, a military chopper and the Kenya Wildlife plane to facilitate the movement of the body and the family.

Sibling rivalry

Though seen more as a sibling rivalry, could the battle between the capitalism and socialism have been at the heart of the political divide?

In the 1960s, Raila’s father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, seemed to be leaning towards socialism then espoused by China, East Germany, Russia and most of the states in Eastern Europe.

As a beneficiary of the ideology, Jaramogi had his son and hundreds of Kenyans earn scholarships in the Marxist leaning countries.

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On the other hand, Jomo Kenyatta, a British political protege, had swallowed capitalism hook and sink. He spent nearly two decades in the UK, where many believe was a period of his grooming before taking over Kenyan leadership.

So even as they played their politics immediately after independence, Jomo and Jaramogi already knew that they were not made of the same material.

But in a book The Reds and the Blacks published in 1967, the year after Jaramogi resigned as the vice president, William Attwood notes that the doyen of opposition was roped into politics by Mzee Kenyatta who found him an accomplished businessman in the early ‘50s. Jaramogi was then struggling to empower his community under the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation registered in 1947.

It is perhaps Jaramogi’s business acumen and organisational skills that endeared Kenyatta to him. Attwood says Jaramogi lent Kenyatta money at the time of the struggles and in return, Jomo endeared him into politics.

It will be for the historians to evaluate the impact of the rivalry and award the best starring performance to either Jaramogi and Kenyatta duo or their sons. The chaos in which several people were shot dead in Kisumu when Mzee Kenyatta had gone to open ‘Russia Hospital’ was the culmination of the bitter feud.

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Mzee Kenyatta, irked by being shouted down and Jaramogi telling him to his face that Luos were not happy with him, told Raila’s father that he would have crushed him like maize flour had they not been friends.

Ceded ground

There are those who believe that the sons surpassed the performance of their fathers. What with the last General Election that saw Raila pull out of the repeat election, only to swear himself in as the people’s president months later?

Their political war ended at a zero sum game in the scheme of things. Uhuru ceded ground and, in a statement shared with the media signed after the handshake, referred to Raila as “His Excellency” 15 times. According to the National Assembly Order of Precedence Act, “His Excellency” is only entitled to the president and his deputy.

It could only be a brotherly agreement for in return, Raila has compounded friends and foes alike as being a brother’s keeper.

Today, Raila seems to have decided to politically insulate and help Uhuru to possibly secure a legacy that could easily have evaporated into thin air with each and every moment of their rivalry.

The Uhuru-Raila dalliance has walked the country, which was on the brink of abyss, back to vibrancy and a promising, cohesive future.

The sixty-four-dollar question is, will this be the last of the Kenyatta, Odinga rivalry or how long will the truce hold before the fissures emerge again?

president uhuru kenyattaraila odingakenyatta-odinga rivarlykenya's founding fathersNasa leader Raila Odinga