The day 'frothing' Jaramogi lost his cool at Lancaster

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga arrives at Nyayo Stadium for Madaraka Day celebrations in June 1993. [File, Standard]

The second round of independent Kenya's constitutional talks began on Valentine's Day of 1962 at the Long Gallery, Lancaster House.

For five weeks, the two opposing sides, Kanu as majority and Kadu as minority, had debated endlessly on their opposing forms of government, with Colonial Secretary Reginald Maulding acting as the grand inquisitor.

Kanu was not giving up on its demand for a unitary state and neither was Kadu slackening its resolve for majimbo. Kadu threatened to walk out of the talks and to continue no further until the structure of government was agreed upon.

By March 19, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga  could take it no more and took on the Colonial Secretary head-on, accusing him of shedding crocodile tears.

Maulding was mudding the waters, was loving the deadlock, was playing divide and rule, Odinga declared. The British, he claimed, had planted agents in Kadu and Kanu to cause confusion.

Odinga complained that he was being stabbed in the back, and branded a communist yet he was one of the biggest capitalists in Kenya, with 12 children at the time, and therefore with a huge stake in the country, perhaps more than any of them.

Nobody could lure him, he said, from a united Kenya to any form of regionalism. Odinga complained that some sponsored elements in Kanu were going around claiming he was training an army to take over power as soon as Kenya got independence.

“He’s the only man I have ever seen actually froth at the mouth in a moment of excitement, and the moments of excitement were many,” Maulding later wrote of Odinga’s performance at Lancaster Two. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, a few months out of detention, seized the moment. He told his own delegation that it was not possible to return to Kenya without a Constitution, urging them to accept a compromise and revisit it after independence.

“Kanu members, many now eager for office, accepted his advice with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Even Odinga, however reluctantly, went along with it because it came from the lips of his hero-figure,” Keith Kyle writes in “The politics of the independence of Kenya.”

And so it was that the entire constellation of Kenya’s political class which had been away from Nairobi for months returned to Kenya with a political settlement that later led to Kenya’s independence constitution.

As they had promised, the political class trashed the settlement a year into independence.

The Standard
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