How Odinga braved series of misfortunes after ‘82 coup

By Stephen Makabila

In August 1982, about three weeks after the failed coup against the Government of President Moi, Jaramogi was rumoured to have mysteriously disappeared from the police surveillance ‘radar’.

The local media reported on August 19, 1982 that Jaramogi was reportedly seen at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport on August 18. The report went on to say he was seen at the VIP lounge ‘heavily guarded’ by the military.

The rumour of Jaramogi’s disappearance was fuelled by the fact that he "did not show up at the funeral of one of his closest friends, Okach Ogada Ondiek," a civilian who was shot dead during the coup.

The Government claimed that from Uganda, he had a chance to fly to Dar-es-Salaam.

Just before the media came up with the story of Jaramogi’s whereabouts, an American friend attached to the University of Nairobi, caught up with me at Plums Hotel in Parklands, Nairobi.

She hinted to me that: "Your friend was spotted at Entebbe Airport, Uganda yesterday."

What many of us were not sure about was whether or not Jaramogi was involved in the planning and execution of the failed coup.

It was common knowledge that the Government had pushed him to the wall: He had been expelled from the ruling party Kanu, legally denying him any avenue to participate in Kenyan politics and legally making Kenya a one-party state.

Aborted coup

It was, therefore, understandable that Jaramogi would embrace the slightest loophole, which could offer him a chance to participate in the governance of Kenya for which he suffered so much and for so long.

This, however, was not good reason for anyone to implicate him in the aborted coup.

The Government did not make it clear to the public what they knew about Jaramogi’s role in the attempted coup. It was only a guessing game when he was first served with an Order restricting him to his Sakwa rural home on August 22, 1982.

On that date, Jaramogi received a letter from Mr Samson Arua, the acting Chief of North Sakwa location, in Siaya District, ordering him not to leave his Nyamira home without written permission from him.

Accordingly, Jaramogi wrote to the DC informing him that he was a resident of Kisumu, and "my visits to Siaya are occasional. For all practical purposes, my fixed abode is Kisumu. It follows, therefore, that if there is to be communication on matters relating to my movement it is the Kisumu DC who ought to communicate with me and not the DC Siaya."

He defied the order and went to his Kisumu home. On November 17, 1982, another Restriction Order was issued, putting him under house arrest.

The Order restricting him to his house in Kisumu town was this time signed by Mr Ole Tipis, the Minister of State in the Office of the President.

Under the order, Jaramogi was only allowed to see his wife, children, and grandchildren and no more than one other person at the same time.

The order was dated November 8, 1982. It remained in force until October 1983 when President Moi made an announcement of its revocation at a Kenyatta Day rally at Uhuru Park, Nairobi.

The revocation was followed two days later with the sudden death on October 22, 1983 of Jaramogi’s son Ngire Agola Odinga, at Victoria Hospital in Kisumu.

Agola had been jailed for dangerous driving, causing the death of a pedestrian. He was out of jail on appeal when he died.

Speaking at his son’s burial on October 30, 1983, Jaramogi said he was not bitter with the Government for placing him under house arrest.

Jaramogi said he was now happy the truth was being revealed. Referring in his speech to the election in September that year of William Odongo Omamo as MP for Bondo, Jaramogi said, "whether Omamo went to Parliament through the back door or through the window, he should be given time to serve wananchi".

Several Luo MPs attended the funeral, among them Arch-bishop Stephen Ondiek, Peter Anyumba, Wilson Ndolo Ayah and Dere Omolo, the Mayor of Kisumu.

In many respects, Jaramogi was like a pumped football that cannot sink in water.

Thick-skinned

If somebody in Government had assumed that after restricting him to his house for one year, Jaramogi would say goodbye to politics, they were mistaken. He was thick-skinned when it came to politics.

He was haunted by the lingering feeling that he had not contributed enough to the country generally and to members of his community in particular.

Jaramogi was, however, confident and optimistic that one day he would succeed in his quest to be the number one leader in Kenya — to the presidency. He strongly believed such an opportunity would one day come his way.

Yet he never forgot the need for business enterprise in raising the standard of living in Nyanza.

In May 1984, Ramogi Development Trust (Radet) was registered, and later launched on September 1, 1984 in Kisumu. I was the chairman and Jaramogi the promoter.

But Jaramogi’s enemies did not stop harassing him. Following the launch of Radet, a newspaper story gave a twisted headline of the meeting, giving the impression that Radet was some kind of a political party, disguised as a company, in order to catapult Jaramogi back to national limelight politically.

Without any cause whatsoever, the Government instructed the Attorney General, Mathew Guy Mulli, to de-register Radet with immediate effect.

Personal tragedy meanwhile continued to haunt Jaramogi. One year after he buried his son Agola, another misfortune knocked at his door. On November 5, 1984, he lost his beloved wife Mary Odinga.

No politician or leader sent condolences to Jaramogi publicly.

Addressing hundreds of mourners during the funeral, on Saturday November 10, 1984, Jaramogi stated that he would not quit politics, saying: "My wife knew how to handle my enemies. I wish to assure those people that although my wife is dead, I am still very solid in politics. Furthermore, people become wiser as they grow older."

In the intervening period in mid 1980s, Jaramogi was pre-occupied and disturbed by the continued detention of his son Raila (now Prime Minister).

Raila was to be later released from detention in 1988.

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