The honest truth about my father Jaramogi Oginga: He didn't want us to grow up as town boys

East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala) MP Oburu Oginga  says his troubles with the colonial government began when he wanted to join high school.

It didn’t help that his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, had been fighting the mzungu mentality that Africans could not do business or become rich, the reason he resigned from his teaching job at Maseno School.

“He was passionate about the belief that people could only do well in life or be wealthy if they united. He wanted the unity of the Luo community and also for them to learn and teach them how to make money, save, borrow and pay back,” he explains.

According to Oburu, his father’s venture into public life was to unite the Luo and thus he started a movement known as Luo Union in the 1950s.

It was however the killing of Nairobi Councilor Ambrose Ofafa whom certain Nairobi estates are named after, that made his father realize it was time to join politics.

“Ofafa was killed in Nairobi while coming from work at City Hall. Luos were enraged but my father, then the Luo Ker (cultural leader) was convinced that colonialists had killed Ofafa to trigger a tribal war between the Luo and Kikuyu. My father was forced to travel to Nairobi to stop them,” he narrates.

In no time, he was agitating for Africans to be allowed to build storied houses within the city centre — at a time when they were prohibited from even owning land in the city centre.

“His turning point came in 1957 when the colonial government allowed Africans to have representation in Parliament. He contested for a seat in the Legislative Council (Legco) as member for Central Nyanza constituency and won against big names like Apollo Ohanga. He was so happy because he had trounced tough people who were supported by the colonial masters,” recalls Oburu.

Problems after Kenya Primary Education

Oburu who went to PE Hill secondary in Migori wanted to join Alliance High or Kisii High School but he recalls that he was stopped from joining his dream schools by Alliance High Principal Carey Francis who said he would bring politics to school.

“I had a lot of problems after my Kenya Primary Education with the colonial authorities because at that time my father was an MP in Legco.

“He had problems with the colonial government because he had passed what was called the “Iron curtain” by traveling to Russia, China and Japan. The trip triggered a serious debate in Parliament when he returned,” Oburu recalls.

Oburu who was born in 1943 says, he was consequently forced to join a secondary school in the then Siaya District instead.

“I could not join Alliance High School because headmaster Carey Francis had disagreed with my father when he was a teacher at Maseno. He had told my father that he was an intelligent person but his political tendencies would not take him far.

“Eventually, when my father became MP he was disappointed and he refused to admit me, saying I would be trouble. Kerry even blocked my second choice which was Kisii high school,” he recalls.

Having been stopped from joining his dream school which was Alliance High, Oburu joined Maranda Secondary School against his wishes.

“I was admitted to Maranda Secondary School which had just started and I was not pleased. I joined it but I did not last there long as my father was making arrangements to have me study abroad,” he adds.

Trouble followed us

Later one day, his father picked him up from school and they traveled to Nairobi where he applied for his passport which was declined. His furious father called the then governor Patrick Renison and asked why his son’s passport to travel out of the country was declined.

“Sir Renison initially said he was not aware that my passport was declined and promised to ask the Minister of Interior. Later when he called my father he said I could not be allowed to have a passport because of security reasons and said I was free to apply in the next year to be considered,” he reveals.

According to Oburu his father did not take it lightly and promised to ensure he travels out of the country with or without the passport. He adds that his father used his passport after including him as a minor and they managed to travel out of the country.

But later when his father became the vice president they began to enjoy the trappings of power and for the first time he got his passport with so much ease. He had initially been traveling with a passport given to him by the Somali government.

Oburu says with their father being the vice president he  took him and his brother Raila Odinga on a vacation in Zanzibar for the first time. And when they returned to school he gave them pocket money which they worked hard for initially.

“When my father became a vice president, Raila and I were away for studies, so we did not enjoy the trappings of power but my sisters did enjoy because they were around, however I remember it was the first time I got my passport immediately after independence when I came home. All those years I never had one,” Oburu says.

Moving to the village

Oburu says his father resigned in 1948 as a teacher in Maseno and went to Kisumu and started a business known as North Rift and Trading Corporation limited.

They stayed in lower Kaloleni estate which boarded Kisumu cemetery commonly known as Kaburini and later moved to upper Kaloleni.

“We used to hear loud cries of cats at night, we were told they were prisoners who died and were not buried deeply at Kaburini. The cats would take away the flesh of the dead people and eat. There were stories that they were devils, especially black cats with red eyes.

“That is where we spent our early days before moving from the lower parts of Kaloleni to the upper parts where we stayed until I moved out of the country to study in Russia,” he said.

He adds: “We studied  at Kumolo which changed its name to Kisumu Union Primary  School until my  father decided to take us  to study at our rural home in Bondo in the early 50s.

“He did not want us to grow as town boys and so together with Raila and others we moved to our rural home. We were taken to Nyamira Kango village and my mother also joined us and we were  staying at our uncle’s home where my father had built a small house ‘simba’.A grass thatched house. We would go to school early in the morning.

“It was a beautiful experience coming from town to the rural home. We saw the level of poverty and people struggling. People regarded us as a higher class, who knew Kiswahili.”

Later he would leave his brother Raila in Maranda Primary School and join Kisumu Union again where he sat his CCE.