Jaramogi and Raila Odinga [Photo: Courtesy]

Although Kenya is not at the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia, Nairobi has had a long and torturous association with Moscow since the Cold War when USA and Russia were the only super powers in the world.

The only difference has been in political ideologies. Kenya adopted capitalistic democracy while Russia was a communist dictatorship until 1989.

In fact, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta went to Russia in the 1930s and was enrolled at the University of the Toilers of the East where students learnt “history, foreign languages, economics, political science, sociology, party and trade union organisation, techniques of propaganda and agitation, public speaking and journalism... from a Marxist point of view”. 

But Jomo got disillusioned and could not swallow the communist diet and shortly returned to London after less than two years. His trip to Russia was at the urging of his Jamaican-born friend, George Padmore, a communist sympathiser who introduced Jomo to bhang smoking aboard the ship to Russia as we are informed in, Kenyatta, Jeremy Murray-Brown’ s eponymous biography of 1973.

George Padmore was honoured with a road in Nairobi.  

When Jomo became Kenya’s President, he embraced capitalism, but his Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, looked East. To fight political supremacy battles with Tom Mboya, the other rising star from Luo Nyanza, Oginga became a  socialist adherent creating a leadership kerfuffle with Jomo.

Matters came to a head when Oginga began receiving communist funds for his political ambitions.  

While Mboya spearheaded the airlift of Kenyan students to American universities and who later became the technocrats after independence, Oginga did the same by taking students to communist countries.

Little wonder that his son, Raila Odinga, attended his mechanical engineering studies at Leipzig in the then communist East Germany and still wears the Mao suits favoured by Kim Jong-Un, the strongman of communist North Korea.

 Jomo, on the other hand, sent his son, Uhuru, now president, to Amherst College in Boston where his other blood relation, Ngegi Muigai, also studied political science.

The Russian backed Lumumba Institute in Nairobi had Jaramogi as a patron. Its aim was to train radicals for staging political coups within the ruling party to replace politicians with capitalistic mind sets to back Oginga!

When Jomo, who had also been made patron got wind of it, he deported Alexei Zdravomyslova and Andrei Bogdanov, both lecturers of “Principles of Socialism” at Lumumba Institute.  

To buttress his foothold in Parliament, Oginga roped in nominated MP Pio Gama Pinto as the conduit and treasurer for the communist funds. Pinto was to table a motion of no confidence in the Jomo Kenyatta government after Easter of 1965. But his dalliance with Oginga’s communist agenda got Pinto killed that February, becoming independent Kenya’s first political assassination.

Undaunted with Pinto’s death, Oginga took his begging bowl to Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev seeking ‘development assistance’ and got Sh140 million for  construction of the then 2-bed Russia Hospital in Kisumu, later the New Nyanza Provincial General Hospital which also received Sh8.5 million in medical equipment.

The ceilings for what is today the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital were made so high - Communist style - to intimidate patients. When bulbs ‘burnt’ the Russians did the replacement as the suspicious Communists couldn’t trust anything from capitalist West!  

By the time of its acrimonious opening by Jomo Kenyatta in 1969, Oginga had been out of government for three years.

The ensuing shootout of the crowd by police during the opening of the Russian Hospital led to consigning Luo Nyanza to political Siberia by Kenyatta and subsequent regimes after his death in 1978.  

It is these political differences with Russia at the centre which has had the Odingas and the Kenyattas at political loggerheads for over 50 years.