Obituary: Oginga Odinga

Ajuma Oginga Odinga, politician: born Nyanza 1911; Vice-President, Kenya African National Union 1960- 66; Minister for Home Affairs 1963- 64; Vice-President of Kenya 1964-66; married four times (18 children); died Kisumu 20 January 1994.

WITH THE death of Oginga Odinga, Kenya has lost its most colourful survivor from its heroic era of anti-colonial nationalism and the father figure of its present parliamentary opposition.

He was a natural rebel, but never a revolutionary, a distinction that the British colonial government appreciated more clearly than Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta; it would be truer to call him a conservative populist. More outspokenly honest than is wise in a politician, in no way a tactician, disadvantaged by the poverty of his rural home and its distance from Nairobi, he inspired widespread affection and respect in his use of romantic visions of the communal African past, to criticise the kleptomania of independent Kenya's rulers, no less than late-colonial plans for individualistic land reform. In a political system that valued the spoils of office more than consistency of vision, it was a remarkable tribute to his personality that he retained the support of most of the Luo people through all his long years in the political wilderness, from 1966 until the false dawn of multi-party democracy two years ago.

Born in 1911 in the far west of Kenya, near the shores of the Victoria Nyanza, Odinga was one of the earliest to be sent to an Anglican mission school. He learnt how to combine the new religion with service to his people in boyhood journeys as bag-carrier to the Luo inspector of rural schools, later entered into close but critical relations with his white mission teachers, was involved in school strikes over food and clothing regulations, became a dedicated teacher himself and a businessman, as much concerned to show white (and Kikuyu) doubters that Luo could run anything as to make money. He was nicknamed 'Jaramogi' after the legendary founder of his Luo nationality.

After the Second World War, he joined the nationalist congress, the Kenya African Union, but was never at its heart; he remained a farmer, rural trader and local councillor and never became a townsman. His genius lay in mobilising, as president of the Luo Union, the Luo to invest in their own educational and social progress. It was as local boss that he was elected to the Legislative Council in the first African elections in 1957 and thereafter, in all the heated politics that led to independence in 1963 he remained the rural sheet-anchor of Luo participation in nationalism, outmanoeuvred at the centre by his much younger, streetwise rival for Luo leadership, Tom Mboya. It was Mboya's access to American funds that drove Odinga to seek links with the People's Republic of China, as much as any ideological conviction.

In 1964 Odinga became Kenya's first vice-president more by virtue of his ethnic leadership than any political affinity with Kenyatta, who marginalised him. Driven from the ruling party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), in 1966, Odinga formed his own, the Kenya People's Union (KPU), in alliance with the Kikuyu radical Bildad Kaggia. Kenyatta's KANU government did all in its power to suppress the KPU, culminating in 1969 with Kenyatta's bodyguard shooting on hostile, but scarcely violent, Luo demonstrators, the banning of the KPU and Odinga's detention for two years.

He never regained Kenyatta's confidence, and any hope of rapprochement with the new president, arap Moi, was dashed by the strong Luo involvement in the attempted Air Force coup in 1982. Thereafter, Odinga became increasingly disillusioned with government oppression and corruption, his son Raila being his chief supporter. It was not until 1990 that Odinga acquired the powerful allies that made an organised opposition look plausible, when the Kikuyu ex-cabinet ministers Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia launched a campaign for political pluralism.

By early 1991 Odinga had reluctantly agreed to play a leading role in FORD - the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy - which sought to unite the opposition. Under international as much as internal pressure, the Moi government legalised opposition parties in late 1991 and it seemed, briefly, that FORD might triumph in the forthcoming elections. But an ethnic and personal rivalry (between Odinga and Matiba) split FORD; KANU kept its head, its organisation, and its real support among minority ethnic groups and Odinga lost his chance for a comeback.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London