The Day Raila Escaped Assassination Plot

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This is a continuation of an analysis of former PM Raila Odinga’s autobiography, ‘The Flame of Freedom’.

Raila describes his three prison stints – 1982-1988, 1988-1989 and 1990-1991 – as some of the most difficult periods of his life. He however says he made most of it through deep reflection of issues and reading the Bible and the Quran. Through the reflection afforded by the state, he could make certain value judgments with authority:

“In my view the decisive event in Old Testament is not the creation but the exodus, through which the people of Israel are freed from Egyptian slavery,” he says in the book.

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He also makes mention of something he reflected on during prison days which is at the heart of a present confusion among religions in Kenya and the world: the contrast between redemptive religions and morality religions where the former believe in a system of reward and punishment entailing life after death while the latter believe in system of punishment and reward in lifetime.

“I found reflection on these and other issues stimulating and rewarding. I forgot all about my present privations while my musings and studies lifted me to a higher plane,” he says.

He reveals how he reluctantly agreed to testify against Njonjo in the Commission of Inquiry against him by concocting stories to save the 82 Air Force men on death-row. Unlike Miguna who described Patrick Shaw a “literary walking toilet”, Raila only describes him as “the gargantuan reserve police officer.”

His brief release in 1988 in the countdown to the infamous mlolongo elections did not offer any respite. He described how hurt he was to see Kanu ministers toppling over themselves to justify the queue voting idea.

While Sharrif Nassir was militant that mlolongo was the best wapende wasipende, then minister for national guidance and political affairs James Njiru dubbed it “positive patriotism” and Mark Too described it as “open-air democracy”. Assistant ministers Archbishop Stephen Ondiek divinely endorsed it, saying what was passed on earth had also been passed in heaven, while Prof Sam Ongeri, a medical doctor, said “health-wise, mlolongo had no tension.”

He narrates a 1991 attempted assassination which he says was revealed to him by a US embassy political attache Alan Eastham. On the appointed day, Raila went under hiding in James Orengo’s house where he’d play all day long with his son Bob and later moving to Mukhisa Kituyi’s home where’s he’d play with his sons Sitati and Makari.

The dramatic escape to the US embassy in which Kituyi’s wife worked on him with makeup, powdered him and added him reading glasses is retold.

“With these specs perched on my nose I could hardly see a thing but they completed the disguise,” he says.

His escape to Uganda through Kisumu in the company of Catholic priests Kwanga Mak’Opiyo and Ndikaru wa Teresia on orders of Archbishop Zaccheaus Okoth is retold. The story has been told before but this time round there’s no mention of him dressed in nun clothing. He says in the car there was a middle-aged American nun, Sister Diana, dressed in her nun’s habit.

Raila himself says he was dressed in a jacket and tie and sporting dark glasses and a hat. He says he sat reading newspapers as Fr Mak’Opiyo drove and Sister Diana sat beside him. They arrived at a hillside Catholic mission of Kiboswa where he was introduced as Father Augustine from Machakos where he claims to have used his knowledge of engineering projection to mimic making sign of the cross ahead of prayers.

He later escaped through the lake at night into Uganda where he would be dressed as a pilgrim on his way to a Mecca, a Haji Omar, complete with a kanzu and a fez on facilitation of Museveni. He went to Oslo.

Raila also corrects the impression that he is the country’s longest political prisoner. He transfers those credits to his father’s old friend and neighbour Achieng Oneko. He spent two long stints in jails, 1952-1961 and 1969- 1976. His credentials notwithstanding, Oneko opposed multi-party idea in April 1991. Raila says “perhaps his extended stints locked away from the world and the fear of further incarceration urged him now to gainsay any suspicion.”

He tells of the early 1990s multi-party intrigues. He depicts former minister Kenneth Matiba as conceding to his father’s towering political figure at the time. In fact, he quotes Matiba describing Jaramogi as a cock that crows too early when people are still asleep.

“Now that the people had woken up, said Matiba, they would like Jaramogi to lead them as their general, “ he says. He re-asserts that Matiba repeated the same to British Minister of State for Overseas Development and Africa Lynda Chalker in London when he was being treated there for stroke and when Raila, then in exile, had gone visiting:

“He explained that there is an old man, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who had struggled for change for so long and had dedicated his life to justice and freedom, and who was therefore the natural choice.”

He reveals that Chalker attempted to incite Matiba against Jaramogi’s advanced age: “But he’s no longer young” to which Matiba retorted: “He’s our father figure.”

He goes on to claim that Matiba was not willing to run in the 1992 election but he was “bombarded” with requests to do so from John Michuki, Matu Wamae, Kimani wa Nyoike and Maina Wanjigi who traveled to London on that mission.

He also reveals that Nginyo Kariuki and Rubia attempted to lure him from Jaramogi’s camp to Matiba’s with a promise to be his running mate. “They said Jaramogi was too old to run.”

Raila also confesses to Uhuru Kenyatta’s democratic credentials by mentioning that he alongside other sons of prominent Kenyans – Peter Mboya, Caesar Argwings-Kodhek, Alfred Getonga and Francis Michuki – came out to plead with the government to allow free debate on multi-party when it began to clamp down.

Raila claims the late Vice President Wamalwa Kijana’s rise through Ford Kenya ranks was largely accidental. He confirms a story written by his aide Sarah Elderkin sometimes back that Wamalwa was not on cards at the Ford national elections held at City Stadium in late 1992. He says Wamalwa had only joined them to serve on “Ford Kenya Masinde Muliro funeral committee”. He showed up at City where the man earmarked for first vice President James Osogo stormed out after lawyer Paul Muite backtracked on earlier arrangement to ran for second vice.

“After Osogo’s exit he came and pleaded with me to support him for the second vice chairman. Wamalwa was not well known as a party member having joined us only recently, so he felt my name would swing things in his favour,” he says and adds: “Wamalwa was thus duly elected, almost by accident. He was in the right place at the right time but had never previously been part of the reform struggle – having not long decamped, and after a lot of persuasion, from Kanu.”

He says Wamalwa had been living beyond his means and was heavily indebted. He confirms Elderkin’s story that Jaramogi ordered that a descent house be acquired for him after the election since he did not have a permanent house in Nairobi: “We rented a house in Kileleshwa, and furnished it throughout before Wamalwa moved in.”

He reveals that Wamalwa remained in huge debts and that even after his death in 2003, his debts amounting to millions had to be settled under a special parliamentary vote.

Raila claims Moi rigged the 1992 election long before the election date. He says by plucking a heavily indebted Chesoni from the streets to manage the historic polls, Moi was clear on what he was up to. He reveals that Kivuitu, Chesoni’s deputy, began his career of “oddball remarks” early.

“He announced during a TV conference, in an answer to a journalist’s question, that he did not know what rigging was, and he requested the public to send lists of actions that would constitute rigging.”

Raila accuses the press of being complacent or compliant throughout 1992. He says the press failed to play its role in ensuring free and fair elections, saying they “gloried” opposition lack of unity and lack of preparedness. He said the opposition fought two wars in one; Kanu machinery and hostile media.

The opposition lost. He says Jaramogi who came fourth after Moi, Matiba and Kibaki took it stoically. He reveals the opposition was confused on whether to accept and move on or to create a crisis by refusing to take up their parliamentary seats. They eventually accepted the verdict. Shortly after the election, Goldenberg Scandal exploded and not long after, Jaramogi died.

He recounts his last moments with his father and how the old man died under Kisumu’s sunset in the presence of his doctor and Orengo. He also recalls the cheap politics played on Jaramogi’s death with Moi agreeing to a state funeral, lying-in-state in parliament and possible internment in Nairobi only to reverse it all. Even Dalmas Otieno, the Kanu representative in the funeral committee, ducked.

No order was given on flags to fly half-mast until very late while Jaramogi’s casket was draped in a Ford Kenya flag. After the funeral service in Uhuru Park during which the speaker of national assembly Francis Kaparo and vice president George Saitoti were heckled, Jaramogi was taken to his Lavington home to spend the last night in Nairobi. On arrival, electricity went off as the casket was being lifted inside the living room.

Since the government had reneged on most of its promises on the funeral, Raila recalls, the family was not counting on its promise to airlift Jaramogi to Kisumu for the funeral even if they were to honour it. When the helicopters arrived the following morning, the convoy to Kisumu had already been flagged off.

“The helicopters with their uniformed pilots stood impotent and rejected on the grass as the cortege swept triumphantly by, off on its odyssey to Nyanza, Jaramogi’s last journey home,” he says.

He recounts the chaotic but largely peaceful journey to Kisumu in which the hearse was lifted off the ground by mourners in Ahero “leaving its passengers high and dry.” Similar stopovers in Nakuru and Kericho had been similarly emotional and dramatic.

“The atmosphere as we entered Kisumu was something I have experienced neither before nor since,” he writes.

He tells the story of the break-up of Ford Kenya thereafter blaming it on greed and departure from “principles Jaramogi and others had stood for.” For the first time, he reveals that he bought National Development Party (NDP) for half a million shillings. He also had to surrender his old Mercedes to the party owner Steven Omondi Oludhe.

He narrates how opposition unity failed in 1997, with proposed compromise candidates  – Kivutha Kibwana, Willy Mutunga and Wangari Maathai – either refusing to accept or being rejected. He says an alliance between her and Charity Ngilu flopped after Ngilu refused to concede to run under NDP banner preferring her SDP. As it were, they were all hanged separately by Moi.

In the book, Raila also delves deeper into his Pan African cause recounting his role in the restoration of peace in Burundi, his involved with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo who launched the book and his involvement with international organisations. He reveals how his friendship with Obasanjo had earned him the first trip in the Kenyan presidential jet to the inauguration of Obasanjo in 1999.

He reveals that he visited Obasanjo in 2006 and prevailed on him to reject a third term presidential term. In the book, Raila does not hide his disdain for a group of politicians which he claims soiled the NAK-LDP alliance once Kibaki was in power. He calls it a “nebulous group” and described its chair Titus Mbathi an alleged fraudster and spokesman Wanguhu Ng’ang’a a failed politician.

The group calling itself Narc Council had assembled at Narc’s Mwenge House to denounce the secret MoU and trash the “summit” arrangement. He says he blames a Dr Mwongera for Matiba’s health problems which has afflicted him to date. He says when the doctor was called in to examine them in 1991 when they were in prison, his verdict was that they both pretended to be sick in order to escape to the relative comfort of a hospital.

He says he was forced to quit his university teaching job after being denied a scholarship opportunity to do his PhD and that he is the one who suggested Prof Yash Ghai to chair the first constitutional review commission having met him through his brother Dharam Ghai when teaching at UoN. Largely quoting historian Prof Bethuel Ogot, Raila traces his descent from the Wanga dynasty of the present Mumia and Matungu region.

The book recounts events which are largely in public domain and may therefore not surprise keen observers and evolutionists of Kenya’s politics. It’s nevertheless laden with interesting and valuable tit-bits, insights and confessions which explain the drama that has characterised Raila Odinga’s political journey.

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