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Day Jomo hid in his limo and Jaramogi in a hospital

Jaramogi Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta at Lancaster conference in London in 1962. [File, Standard]

When two friends turned enemies insisted on attending the launch of a hospital 53 years ago, they rewrote Kenya’s political history with the blood of some innocent Kenyans.

The setting of the titanic clash was the newly built hospital in Kisumu funded by the Russians. The event had been set for October 26, 1969.

The National Security Committee had warned founding President Jomo Kenyatta against attending the event, but he insisted and wondered whether Kisumu was not part of Kenya.

The reception was hostile as agitated masses booed him shouting, "Wapi Mboya? Wapi Mboya? (Where is Mboya?)." They occasionally punctuated the screams with Kenya Peoples Union's clarion call of Ndume…. Ndume.

Earlier on July 5, Mboya, the Planning minister, had been gunned down in Nairobi along what is today named Tom Mboya Avenue. The incident triggered political animosity and distrust between Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.  

Jaramogi, who was flanked by the Russian ambassador, received Kenyatta and stepped back to watch the unfolding chaos, which escalated as soon as Kenyatta cut the tape.

As he walked to the dais, stones started flying. Security guards grabbed seats and hurled them at the charging crowd as they encircled the president. Meanwhile, Jaramogi and the Russian envoy ran into the hospital and hid there.

When the presidential guard tried to evacuate Kenyatta to safety. He refused, insisting that he could not leave without speaking a word.

And in what remains the nastiest public exchange between a president and his vice in Kenya, Kenyatta tore into Jaramogi, threatening to take dire action against him.

But an unbowed Jaramogi shouted Kenyatta down. He dared the president to detain him, saying that his people were hungry. Odinga told Kenyatta: “Detain me at Manyani!” To which Kenyatta shouted back: “Shut up! It is not you to tell me what to do.”

After the bitter exchange, Kenyatta was ushered into his car. Several Peugeot 504 station wagons fitted with automatic weapons and manned by commandos were placed on each side of his convoy.

Angry masses surged forward, determined to stop the convoy.  The commandos opened fire on the crowd to clear the way. More than 50 people died and hundreds were injured. The security detail ultimately delivered Kenyatta to Nakuru State House. October is a month of Heroes and Villains.