Echoes of family rivalry in race for top job



 PHOTO | FILE The scions of the Odinga and Kenyatta families, Raila Odinga (right) and Uhuru Kenyatta, at a past public function.NATION MEDIA GROUP

In Summary

  • It is getting increasingly clear that the March election will be a replay of the age-old rivalry between two families which have shaped Kenyan politics since independence
  • The longevity of the ethnic kingpins is largely attributable to the perception of power as an avenue for the acquisition of public service jobs and resources which are to be shared by the president with members of his ethnic community
  • The ugly side of the Kenyatta-Jaramogi animosity resulted in the October 25, 1969 shooting of Kisumu residents during a confrontation between President Kenyatta and Jaramogi during the opening of the “Russia Hospital” (New Nyanza General Hospital)

The year 1969 was a turning point in Kenya’s political history. The assassination of independence nationalistTom Mboya shortly after the sacking of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga as Vice-President created animosity between the Luo and the Kikuyu.

It also heightened the rivalry between Mr Oginga and President Kenyatta who rallied his Kikuyu community behind him.

The feeling among the Luo was that the Kikuyu elite around President Kenyatta were determined to block them from rising to the presidency.

“Regionalism was dismantled. The Constitution protection faded away,” he argues. “They (Rift Valley) saw one of their own appointed Vice-President (Moi). They saw a handful of their leaders become exceedingly wealthy but they lost control of their land. Kenyatta implemented large settlement schemes in Riff Valley.”

Two-horse race

Mr Odinga, the Orange Democratic Movement nominee, has declared that it will be a two-horse race between him and Mr Kenyatta, a position the latter’s campaign acknowledges.

Four decades later, it is getting increasingly clear that the March election will be a replay of the age-old rivalry between the two families which have shaped Kenyan politics since independence, this time with their sons, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, as the main protagonists.

Jomo’s Kanu

As senior counsel Pheroze Nowrojee has pointed out, the marriage between Mr Kenyatta’s The National Alliance and William Ruto’s United Republican Party also echoes the 1964 pact between old Jomo’s Kanu and Kadu, then led by Daniel Moi and coastal politician Katana Ngala, with adverse consequences on Rift Valley.

This has effectively laid the ground for a highly emotive fight between the two sons of Kenya’s post-independence leaders. And, like during the post-independence period, the two combatants have tagged along their communities.

“It feels like 1963 all over again,” says Mr Timothy Kaberia, a Washington-based consultant on African politics and human rights activist.

He says that at independence, Kenyan politics revolved around President Kenyatta and his VP, Mr Oginga. “Fifty years later, whether by design or by default, Kenya is dancing around the scions of the two men who inadvertently conceived, bore and nurtured Kenya’s incurable cancer of tribalism,” he wrote in a local daily on Wednesday.

“Kenyatta and Odinga brainwashed their tribesmen to believe that any differences between the two of them translated into hatred between the Kikuyu and the Luo.”

The election campaign has taken a similar tone. And with the emergence of the two as key rivalries, the rest of the presidential candidates and Kenyans are being rendered passengers in either the Uhuru or Odinga bandwagon.

The Odinga-Uhuru rivalry is fuelled by the case at the International Criminal Court. Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta, who have been committed to trial for crimes against humanity, have painted Mr Odinga as the principal instigator of the 2007/8 violence who engineered their prosecution and vowed to stop him from ascending to the presidency.


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