By Dikembe Disembe
John Kamau, a writer with Nation newspaper recently penned a historical feature which had all the hallmarks of a misleading story. Ordinarily,I would not have bothered to read it, because, disdainfully, I rarely read some columnists who often write with their ethnic minds save for Ted Ngugi and Maina Kiai. Why? Because most columnists who origin is near the slopes have the tendencies I want to point out in the way Kamau engineered, imagined, and then attempted to ‘rewrite’ one of the most foresighted political thinking of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the doyen of opposition politics in Kenya.
The article titled “Intrigues of Jomo’s and Jaramogi’s secret joint account in London“, captured my attention for quite the same reasons it may have captured yours: it would be indeed intriguing!
But reading through it, one is left wondering whether Kamau wanted to get a permit from his bosses to attend the recent presidential media breakfast or he was in a cozy mood in an office probably staring at the portrait of the young Kenyatta smiling sheepishly with him, urging him to do a historically inspired public relations on his old block. Whatever the motivation for Kamau was, I concluded he is a very shallow journalist, annoyingly myopic in his view of the events which shaped the capitalist-communist politics of Kenya in the immediate years after independence.
Was Odinga a ‘socialist sympathiser’?, whatever this means? What was the Lumumba institute for? Here is Kamau’s pathetically shallow analogy:
To Kenyatta, Lumumba Institute, named after Congoâ€™s Prime Minister who was assassinated by the CIA,Â was a dream come true for the ruling party Kanu. The party,Â he thought, would now have a base to train its members, activists and youth wingers. He said as much at the opening ceremony.Â But Jaramogi and his socialist allies had other ideas. It was a plan to take over Kanu.
So what was Jaramogi’s ‘dream’, if any, of the role of this institute? Why was it necessary to have this institute? Because Kamau’s logic, if there is any, only seems to be inspired by the egregiously simplistic but usual mainstream Kikuyu writer’s desire of making the older Kenyatta ‘look good’ and the younger one ‘feel happy’, he veers off completely on this topic. To him, the institute was only Jomo’s dream of having a ‘base’ to train “KANU members, activists and wingers”.
In my view, Kamau suffers from the kind of intellectual malaise which sees Kenya’s history as a constant conflict between Jaramogi, and his scion Raila, and Jomo Kenyatta, and his offspring, Uhuru. In between is the ethnic schism of two very distant tribes-the Luo and the Kikuyu. Sadly, driven by his ‘kikuyuness’, he cannot afford to wallow in the realm of critical exegesis of Kenya’s history in the period just after independence, despite the advantages bequeathed on him by the passage of time.
Sometime in 1958, Kenyan parliament discussed a motion titled “Precautions against Communism”. Tom Mboya, a capitalist creature and fierce defender of western interests, told the legislature that he would do everything to guarantee ‘security for public and private ventures in Kenya’. Masinde Muliro, who would later team up with Odinga to form FORD, amended this motion, where he called communism ‘evil and godless’ propaganda. During the same motion, Moi, who called himself a ‘Christian democrat’, insisted that communism had to be defeated while Gikonyo Kiano, boasting of his extensive study of communist literature, Marxist-Leninism and Stalinism, claimed that “in addition to being the worst type of imperialism, communism is filled with the doctrine of violent revolution and hence is an unacceptable evil”.
At a time when the minister for Internal Security and Defence was one colonial rascal by the name J.W Cussack, who, in the same debate claimed communist support was geared towards depriving the metropolitan the powers of ‘supply and raw materials’, thereby creating unemployment, Jaramogi, and many others, saw a western ploy that this generation is highly ceased of. The election of Kenyatta II, sadly, vindicated these dissenting compatriots. But 1958 through to ’65 is such a long time. We can only say ‘history is tragic, often.
A few did dissent. Though for a while. Taita Towett, in his legendary scepticism, raised an alarm that the colonial government, which Mboya, Moi, Masinde and Gikonyo were furthering its interests, was only using imaginary communism threats to commit Kenya to western capitalism. He concluded that the motion was ‘regrettable’.
Jaramogi, whom the whole motion had been aimed at, while contributing on the floor of the house, urged “those worried about communism to behave in such a manner that they did not by their actions or lack of them help the development of those communist ideas in Kenya”. It was the golden age of ideological warfare, it is no more today. But I digress.
The concerns of Jaramogi during this time, and which today, with the hindsight of history and the passage of time, have been tragically proven to be true, was that Kenya’s economic structure was too capitalistic and too dependent on western multinational companies to be able to long endure. Unlike Kamau who in even 2013 still has the audacity to call Jaramogi a ‘socialist sympathiser’ (the kind of mindless conclusions only arrived at after feasting on a sanctimonious pussy, or reading the Supreme Court ruling!), we see a man who had imagined the country five decades yonder.
The Lumumba Institute was what it ought to have been until western capitalism unleashed communism propaganda on it. In a raft of bilateral agreements between Kenya and Russia in early sixties, political party building was recommended as one of the means to institutionalise progressive development, the institute would serve this purpose, that this noble institution would turn out to be one of the most badmouthed institutions of the 1960s had everything to do with Mboya and Kenyatta-two capitalist bourgeoisies-and Jaramogi, a nationalist per excellence!
Jaramogi, to put it more succinctly, may not have been as widely travelled as Kenyatta by the time of independence. Kenyatta had been to the Soviet Union severally and had even lectured Kiswahili over there; but his western leanings, and the frustrations with communism which replaced race with class and continued the same evils of discrimination, probably had convinced him to chose the lesser of the two, and he went for capitalism.
I here do not argue that Jaramogi was some flawless politician, no! In fact, his obstinate convictions, and personal stubbornness led to the worst ethnic profiling of his ethnic tribe-the Luo. He ‘walked out’ at the wrong time, the ripples of which are still being felt till today. But the Luo are not quitters, they have seen it all and even now, still something is unfinished. In hushed though, the elders are silently passing the button, for the lull in the long days of waiting is slowly breaking once strong bones! Just joking!
Kamau needs to know, that the ‘intruguing bank account’ was an open secret back in the day. Save for Mboya whose obsession with the West clouded his views of the East as potential ‘mutual partners’, most KANU members, especially those like Jaramogi, Towett, Kaggia and others had foreseen western domination of Kenya’s factors of production as a potential source of conflict in the future. The new country, in their estimation, ought to have been free to enjoy the good that would come from the two worlds.
It saddens, therefore, that Kamau, clouded by ethnic chauvinism, and a shocking shallowness of the bits and pieces that Kenyan history has to Â finally be written upon, would pen such a nasty, hollow verbiage!
Dikembe Disembe is a media and political commentator and currently on an exchange programme at Miami University-Hamilton, USA.