How Moi disarmed skeptics by gracing Oginga Odinga's 1994 funeral

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. His casket was transported by road from Nairobi to Kisumu. [File, Standard]

The burial of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the doyen of Kenyan opposition politics on February 5, 1994, was a major event.

It was witnessed by mourners from around the country and beyond.

British MP Sir David Steel was present to bid farewell to a leader he called “my old friend”.

Envoys representing their countries included American Ambassador Aurelia Brazeal, British High Commissioner Sir Kieran Prendergast and outspoken German Ambassador Bernd Mutselberg. 

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To those attending the burial, the day was like no other; misty, tense and saturated with rumours that President Daniel arap Moi who had collided with Jaramogi on many occasions and jailed his son Raila, would skip the occasion.

But alas! Moi arrived at exactly 10am, unruffled and confident as ever.

Shouts of ok wadwar Moi (We do not want Moi) from raucous university students rent the air. But the president was not bothered. Surrounded by mean-faced bodyguards, Moi briskly strode to his seat, his trademark rungu in hand.

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He was escorted by Nyanza Provincial Commissioner Joseph Kaguthi and a coterie of Kanu leaders, who included Peter Oloo Aringo and William Odongo Omamo.

He had proved by his arrival that nothing, not even the superstitious talk of eerie mists believed to bless the final journeys of prominent personalities, worried him.

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Besides the mist that wafted like clouds in a phenomenon rarely seen on the warm shores of Lake Victoria, unease lingered in the air.

Rumours were rife that the State and the Odinga family had differed over the burial to the extent that the family turned down an offer by the government to fly the casket to Bondo.

The family opted to transport the icon’s body by road, 400 kilometres from Nairobi.

Many people accompanied the casket on foot and on bicycles all the way from Awasi to Bondo; a distance of about 100 kilometres.

While the family had thought that its patriarch Jaramogi would be accorded a State funeral, in the same level as the one accorded President Jomo Kenyatta, the government thought otherwise.

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Angry mourners

Anger in opposition strongholds greeted the State’s decision.

The situation was worse at Kang’o ka Jaramogi when mourners arrived to find only the Ford-Kenya flag flying at half-mast.

Mr Kaguthi had to muster all his administrative power and skill to calm down the mourners.

The casket was placed on a simple table, inches away from where the VIPs sat.

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Heavily armed security personnel struggled to keep rowdy university students at bay.

It did not help matters that James Orengo was the master of ceremony. He kept saying the government was to blame for Jaramogi’s death.

Not one to be disarmed by any situation, Moi, when he rose to speak, greeted mourners in Dholuo: osaore uru uduto (how are you all).

He described Jaramogi as a great leader. He said they had known each other for long, from their days in the colonial Legislative Council (LegCo)

He referred to Jaramogi as his senior in politics, and acknowledged that they differed in opinion, but respected each other.

Said President Moi: “Odinga was a friend, a courageous man and a great Kenyan. I join you in mourning this great man.”

He later joined mourners at the graveside, braving all the commotion, only leaving for his helicopter amid tight security after the coffin was lowered.

Thus Moi left having buried his most formidable political opponent against all odds.

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Jaramogi Oginga OdingaDaniel arap Moi