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Raila Odinga – enigma of Kenya politics

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AN EXCERPT FROM RAILA’S BIOGRAPHY ; RAILA ODINGA : AN ENIGMA OF KENYAN POLITICS

There was a day Raila Odinga arrived in Kisumu, Ugenya and Bondo but the people who normally give him a rousing welcome could not recognise him. That was around the time Raila quietly boarded a motorboat at Ndeda Beach in Bondo at 4pm and sailed with other passengers at night to Uganda without being noticed.

Travelling under different names, sometimes dressed as a priest and other times as a Sheikh, Raila staged a dramatic escape from Kenya by boat at night, through Lake Victoria to Uganda then to Norway, to avoid arrest just before a 1991 Forum for Restoration of Democracy rally at Kamukunji, Nairobi.

That day, Raila was introduced to Kisumu and Ugenya as Father Augustine from Machakos, complete with a priest’s robe. He arrived in Uganda under the name of Joseph Ojiwa Wadeya. By the time he was leaving Uganda for Norway, his name had changed to Haji Omar, going to Mecca on pilgrimage, complete with a kanzu and a fez.

The Lang’ata MP would probably be dead today had he not made this dramatic exit. Raila remembers in his biography that as the Ford Young Turks and the six elderly men were mobilising for the Kamukunji rally, a US Embassy official, Alan Eastham, told him they had intelligence that the Government was panicking and blaming Raila for all the tension that had gripped the country then.

According to the US Embassy, the Government believed Raila was the man behind the movement despite the fact that Raila held no leadership position in Ford. The Embassy told Raila that he was likely to be arrested two days before the October 5, 1991 rally. It was not going to be an ordinary arrest. “The Moi Government had concluded that Raila no longer feared detention and Eastham warned that they could do him physical harm or assassinate him.

The advice was that Raila should take care,” the biography, Raila Odinga: An Enigma in Kenyan Politics, says. Police raided Raila’s offices in Agip House, but missed him, as he had gone to lawyer James Orengo’s office within the building. A team of lawyers, including Martha Karua, Japheth Shamalla, Martha Koome and media houses were soon at hand to witness the siege. The raid was foiled. But the struggle was not over. It was after this that Raila, Orengo and Anyang’ Nyong’o decided that it was too risky to play games with “a desperate enemy”. From this time on, Raila’s life changed.

A decision was taken that Raila should go underground. The solidarity of the Young Turks paid off for him. At that time, Raila, Mukhisa Kituyi, Paul Muite, Oki Ooko Ombaka, Karua, Kiraitu Murungi, Gibson Kamau Kuria, among others, were allies against dictatorship.

After a night at Orengo’s place, Nyong’o, Raila and Orengo decided that even that place was not safe enough. Another “trustworthy friend” took over when Raila moved to the home of Dr Kituyi, a long time activist who had been expelled with Otieno Kajwang’ from the University of Nairobi for their role in student politics.

Nyong’o drove Raila to Kituyi’s place where the Lang’ata MP stayed for a week while police hunted for him. On the first night at Kituyi’s place, police raided Raila’s home in Kileleshwa. Ida, now used to battles with the police, refused to open, insisting the man was not at home. She pretended to be looking for the keys, while she was in fact calling the press.

She asked the watchman to count the police loudly. When he reached 17 they beat him hard. Then they left with a message to Ida to tell Raila, “if he was man enough, he should come to the police station and they would know who they were.” It was time to get Raila out of Kituyi’s house, to the US Embassy. The task fell on Kituyi’s wife, Ling, who had to take him through the many roadblocks without police noticing. She changed Raila’s beards and hair, fixed him with glasses and took him to the Embassy with Dr Kituyi driving and Nyong’o following.

The Embassy gave audience to Raila, but was not willing to host him. Earlier, it had given exile to Kamau Kuria, to Moi’s chagrin. That day, Raila went to Nyong’o’s house, fearing that police would follow him to Kituyi’s house. Muite showed up. They decided Raila needed to be moved to a friend who was less politically active. They moved him to Jalang’o Anyango’s residence in Loresho where he stayed for another week.

From here, Raila issued a statement that his life was in danger. Moi, on the other hand gave an interview where he said Kenya was a one- party State by law and those going against that were guilty. The die was cast. The Catholic Church took over Raila’s issue, with Archbishop Zacheaus Okoth plotting how to get Raila out of Nairobi.

Raila moved to his sister-in- law’s house, met his children and promised them he would never go into detention again. A white American nun and a Kenyan priest Father Mak’ Opiyo, dressed in their religious dresses, got Raila out of Nairobi. They also dressed Raila as a priest, gave him glasses and with a clean-shaven head, Raila became a different person. Sitting on the back seat, Raila read newspapers as they passed police roadblocks, where they were easily waved on.

That day, even Kisumu could not recognise Raila. When the three reached the Catholic Station in Kisumu, the two priests booked a disguised Raila as Father Augustine from Machakos. He was later transferred to Rang’ala Mission in Ugenya where, again, he was booked in as Father Augustine. His father sent a car to collect him at midnight.

It was time for Raila to leave the country by boat. At 4pm, Raila went to Olago beach in Bondo and boarded a diesel- powered boat. The lake was rough that evening, and the driver had to collect other passengers at Ndeda island. They left Ndeda at 8pm and headed for Uganda. “The boat moved slowly using only the moon and the stars for navigation on an initially calm night,” the biography says.

After two hours, the driver, Hezron Orori, who was also carrying one of his wives who was sick, announced that they were in Uganda. That provided some relief for Raila, before a heavy storm hit the lake. It was cold, and Orori’s sick wife began to shiver. “Raila lent her his jacket and became cold himself,” the writer says. Raila turned to a bottle of Vodka a friend had given him. It gave him some warmth. Raila spent the night in Sigulu, one of the formerly Kenyan islands that had been annexed by Idi Amin.

Here, with the help of sympathetic Kenyans, Ugandans and Tanzanians, Raila acquired Ugandan papers. But his name changed. He became Joseph Ojiwa Wadeya. In Kampala, Raila landed in the hands of a friend who had worked for his company, the East African Spectre, who reported his arrival to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Uganda reported to Kenyan authorities that Raila was there.

There was fear that Kenyan intelligence forces in Kampala could abduct Raila and return him home. UNHCR asked Raila to remain underground saying Kenya had sent security forces to search for him. But Uganda declined to help the Kenyan forces. Germany, US and Britain, all keen not to ruffle relations with Moi, were reluctant to give asylum to Raila. Only Norway, which had cut relations with Kenya, accepted Raila.

To leave Uganda for Norway, Raila had to be disguised again. Ahmed Sayyid Farah, a Somali national who was the UNHCR country representative in Uganda, decided they were not going to take chances. Farah got Raila a kanzu with a fez and a jacket similar to those of Uganda Muslims to wear. His name changed to Haji Omar, going to Mecca on pilgrimage. A friend who had boarded Sabena Airlines in Nairobi could not recognise Raila when he boarded in Kampala.

His sisters who waited for him at the airport in Oslo could not recognise him either. Back home, Raila’s wife Ida was still fighting. She issued a press statement detailing why Raila had to, and stubbornly insisted that if anything happened to her husband, she would hold the police responsible.

She said thugs had attacked Raila’s car at their gate and a day later, an unidentified persons left a bucketful of faeces on their backyard. Police were calling their house every day and leaving death threats, she said. “The latest telephone message that police will shoot him if they caught up with him is the most terrifying.

The police have created a lot of fear in our children with these threats. The children freeze every time the phone rings or whenever there is a knock on the door,” Ida protested. “Last week, our daughter broke down in class. I am afraid our children can’t take it anymore. I appeal to the police to stop it for the sake of the children. In this country, all children are supposed to occupy a special place in the hearts of the leaders,” Ida said.

She insisted that those hunting Raila down were not ordinary policemen. “Never before have I heard policemen leaving death messages to people they intend to arrest. May be the tactics have changed. When they say openly that he will see fire or he will see what he has never seen before or that he will never see the sun again, these messages mean the same thing, that they will kill him.”

Ida complained that on October 4 1991, a rowdy and rude group of about 20 uniformed and plain clothed policemen attempted to get to their house by force. Earlier, police had invaded East African Spectre and harassed employees, staged continuous surveillance on the company and at Raila’s home.

At the company, they left the message that Raila should report to Central Police Station. “It was ominous that when we reported to the Central Police Station, no officer at that station knew about his requirement to report,” Ida said in the lengthy statement. “I want to state very clearly and in no uncertain terms that if something happens to Raila, my family will hold police wholly responsible.”

A day later, Raila’s father, Jaramogi weighed in with a statement asking police to leave his son alone. “I appeal to the Commissioner of Police to put a stop to this nonsense. I appeal to the head of the Special Branch, whose professional duty is to advise the Government on political matters as they relate to the security of society to advise against the Gestapo behaviour.”

Apparently, Raila had not left the country or even Nairobi, when this statement was issued. But it created the impression that he was out. It was not the first time Ida was showing this act of defiance in what was increasingly becoming a family’s battle with the State. A few years earlier, Ida had been sacked from her teaching job “in public interest.” That came after she took the State to court in 1988 to demand Raila’s release. A letter of retirement was delivered to her at Kenya High School on September 12, 1988, telling her to handover all school property and leave within six hours. Nobody, not even the Kenya National Union of Teachers protested.

Only the late Bishop Alexander arap Muge did. When international pressure mounted, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) changed tact. Mr J Kang’ali wrote to Ida about a week later: “The TSC has carefully reviewed its decision on this matter and having taken into account your previous record of service as a teacher, it has been decided that you be reinstated back to the teaching service, on humanitarian grounds.”

TSC declined to take responsibility for the inconveniences to Ida. In early 1991, an uncowed Ida fired a lengthy letter to Attorney General Mathew Muli, demanding to know why Raila was being persecuted. “Why is it that up to now, Raila has not been told specifically what it is that he did to warrant detention without trial? Would you not agree that general reference to his involvement or association with persons is not specific at all? How can he change if his offences are not specified?” she asked. In the end, Norway gave Raila an asylum, a job and a passport that allowed him to travel to all countries except Kenya. He had lived to fight another day and launch an attack on the Nyayo Government from abroad. He returned later to take the Lang’ata seat in 1992.

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