The day Daniel Moi rejected lunch from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga

President Daniel Moi (right) and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga during the commissioning of the Turkwel Power Project in 1987.  


Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • President Moi had gladly attended a fundraiser organised by Jaramogi, but to express displeasure over the politician’s calling of Jomo a land grabber.
  •  Moi declined to eat at the event, writes Odongo Omamo in his memoir, the ‘Path to Kaliech’

I did not finish my tenure at the helm of both the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) and the Nairobi University Council.

I left in a hurry because of a by-election which (John Hezekiah) Ougo precipitated in Bondo (constituency) by resigning as MP, midstream, in early 1981.

Viewing things from the high pinnacle of the university and the AFC, my first reaction to the news that Ougo had announced relinquishing his parliamentary seat, in favour of Jaramogi (Oginga Odinga), was a surprise.

Truly, I pondered over the news for a while and finally said to myself, “Let it be”. Why? At the national level, I had a plate full of work and I needed a breather from Parliament.

I went on record as saying that since Ougo had stood down for Jaramogi, Bondo voters should consider returning Jaramogi to parliament unopposed. 

Truly, no one was particularly keen to vie for the Bondo seat against Jaramogi. Bondo was enjoying unprecedented political peace. However, that peace proved to be short-lived.

For some unexplained reason, Jaramogi himself got overexcited about the announcement. He quickly reaffirmed himself as a force to be reckoned with.

Supported by the sitting Luo MPs, he volunteered to organise a fundraising meeting for Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology (RIAT). The fundraising meeting was to be held right there on RIAT Hill (in Kisumu). President (Daniel) Moi was invited and accepted to be the guest of honour.

Fundraising meetings

To collect funds, Jaramogi was involved in a chain of preliminary fundraising meetings in Luo Nyanza and among Luo Social Organisations in urban areas. On the material day, however, things did not appear as rosy as Jaramogi had expected. 

The President spoke harshly against leaders with negative approaches to development and obliquely alluded to some activities and uncalled for utterances from certain leaders.

Jaramogi felt ill at ease because his attack on President (Jomo) Kenyatta in Mombasa the previous week was still biting.

To cap it all, the President and his entourage refused to take lunch which had been prepared for them in the main administrative hall of RIAT. The ‘no lunch’ incident confirmed to every Luo leader and to all the Kisumu residents that something had gone amiss. 

Traditionally, for a guest of honour to go without even tasting food prepared for him or her, was the height of insult among the Luos.

As a member of the organising committee, I and others remained behind to eat the presidential lunch and to do a kind of postmortem of the harambee.

Political observers around the table were quick to observe that President Moi was probably reacting to Jaramogi’s outburst in Mombasa a week before the harambee meeting. 

Jaramogi had gone on record as having claimed that the relationship between him and Moi was excellent and that before he was appointed chairman of Cotton Lint and Seed Marketing Board the previous year, the president had invited him for a tete-a-tete; and that during the private discussions, the President referred to him, Oginga Odinga, as his “political father”.

At the same meeting in Mombasa and in the presence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Robert Ouko, Jaramogi had accused the late President Jomo Kenyatta of having been a first-class “land-grabber” and that it was the reason why he, Jaramogi and the late President, could not see eye-to-eye.

Those utterances attributed to Jaramogi, evoked indignation and a sharp reaction from a wide section of the Kenyan public. The member for Gatundu South, Ngengi Muigai, who was President (Jomo) Kenyatta's nephew and had inherited his parliamentary seat, appealed publicly to Jaramogi to let President Kenyatta’s spirit rest in peace. 

So, President Moi’s pointed remarks at the RIAT harambee and his refusal to take lunch were read across the country as a rebuff to Jaramogi's loud, uncontrolled mouth in the political arena.

 A fortnight later, Kanu headquarters invited candidates to fill the vacant seat of Bondo constituency. The traditional aspirants of the Bondo seat, including Gordon Jalang’o and myself kept cool, assuming that Jaramogi would be the sole candidate.

But out of the blue, a character known as Karani from Kiambu went on record as vying for the Bondo seat. I first thought that Karani was joking.

But to my surprise, he went further and detailed what he would do for Bondo people if elected as their MP. Matters came to a head two days before the clearance of candidates by Kanu headquarters. 

Political status

Prominent Bondo voters in Nairobi approached Jalang’o and I separately and expressed grave concern about the political status in Bondo.

They argued that if people were not careful, Karani could forward his name and go to parliament unopposed as Bondo MP.

They pointed out that with the ‘no lunch’ at RIAT incident still fresh in the air, Kanu headquarters might again block Jaramogi from running, even though Ougo had stood down for him.

Later in the evening, I discussed the whole issue with (my wife) Mama Joyce. She advised “caution”. However, it became obvious that it would be disastrous to allow Karani to represent Bondo by default.

I observed that it was better for me and other Bondo residents to at least apply for clearance and that if during the exercise Jaramogi was cleared, then we would decide on what to do.

It turned out the following day, that the same thoughts crossing my mind were equally disturbing Jalang’o. So, without further consultation, I took the bull by the horns — first by tendering my resignation from both the University of Nairobi Council and the AFC and second by filling and submitting the necessary documents for the Kanu headquarters clearance process. As fate would have it, the clearance exercise started the following morning. In the corridor, there was only one other applicant, Jalang’o.

The person who had called himself Karani never showed up and Jaramogi was not there either. As there were no formal interviews, I returned to my office at Development House by midmorning and handed over the keys to the general manager, Mr Francis Maina. The following morning, there was news that Jalang’o and I were the only applicants cleared. 

Journalists who went to check the correctness of the announcement from the acting secretary-general of Kanu, Mr Robert Matano, found him sitting relaxed and puffing away his pipe. They put several searching questions to him. He only told the media that the decision to bar Jaramogi from standing was taken by the party headquarters and that he had nothing to add.

Within a week of our clearance by the party, District Commissioner Siaya, Mr Gichochi (who was in charge of the election in the system then), invited candidates for nomination. With the help of my political supporters, including councillors Henry Ouma Okendo of Uyoma location and Ojwang’ Orodo of Yimbo, I made a thorough search and found sufficient supporters required for the nomination. On the nomination day, I presented the papers and the DC, who after perusing through all the documents, declared me validly nominated to vie for the Bondo seat.

My only opponent, Jalang’o had not received sufficient support. The DC waited and waited for Jalang’o to submit names of his supporters, but to no avail. He was time-barred. The D.C, therefore, marked Jalang’o’s nomination paper as not validly nominated. Jalang’o stormed out of the hall fuming with rage. His supporters including Mrs Esther Odero booed him for having messed around the previous day and night — without getting the minimum number of supporters required for the nomination. Admittedly, getting supporters who had valid Kanu membership cards in Bondo, in April 1981, was not an easy task. The members were few and far between.

Twenty minutes later, while the DC was still briefing me and talking to the press, Jalang’o returned wanting to take back ID cards and other papers of the few supporters he had left behind with the DC. The DC took time to check the papers again. He looked through the documents in his hand several times while Jalang’o was breathing fire across the table. Eventually, he decided to give Jalang’o the benefit of doubt by accepting some of the cards that he had rejected, and went on to amend his nomination papers to read, ‘validly nominated’. I did not bother to pick up a quarrel with the DC as the atmosphere was already charged with temperatures running high.

Over the night, I did a postmortem of Jalango’s nomination process and convinced myself that he was not validly nominated. The following morning, I went back to the D.C with a complaint that his decision to amend the nomination papers was improper. He argued in support of his action that there was nothing he could do and that after all, the papers had already been posted to Nairobi, to the election supervisor. That gave me the courage to dash to Nairobi to consult my lawyers. My lawyers, Messrs AH Malik and Co. Advocates, advised me that the DC had committed an election offence and that I should file a case to stop Jalang’o from contesting the Bondo seat.

Things moved in quick succession. The court case was drafted, filed and a copy of the summons served to Mr Jalang’o. The political temperature in Bondo reached boiling point. Mzee Jaramogi's and Ougo’s supporters ganged up to support Jalang’o. My lawyers, AH Malik Advocates and Pheroze Nowrojee, belted themselves up to argue my case at the Nairobi High Court. The court proceedings became the talk of the town with Jalang’o’s supporters and my supporters refusing to see eye-to-eye in the crowded streets of Nairobi. When the lawyers from both sides had finished their arguments, judgment day was fixed.

My political advisors, including the gracious lady, Mrs Pamela Mboya (widow of Tom Mboya), cautioned me not to go to court on the judgment day. They argued that the final judgement, whether in my favour or not, could precipitate the kind of confrontation in a manner likely to cause a breach of peace. I took their advice and arranged with Mrs Mboya to convey to me the judgment through a cryptogram, using the quickest means possible. She was to ring a young lady in Kisumu, Miss Prisca Auma, (later to be the mayor of Kisumu Municipality). Miss Auma would then pass on Pamela’s message to me by either calling my Bondo office, or by me calling her Kisumu offices by 12.30pm.

Short supply 

If I won the case, Pamela was to tell Miss Auma to inform me that, “The tea leaves which have been in short supply in Nairobi are now in plenty.”

If I lost, she was to tell her, “The tea leaves that have been in short supply in Nairobi, continue to be in short supply.”

For sure, when I rang Auma in Kisumu, she said she had just received a telephone message from Mrs Pamela to the effect that, “The tea leaves that have been in short supply in Nairobi are now in plenty.” I thanked her for the message and quickly walked out of my Bondo office to break the news to my supporters. 

Dr William Odongo Omamo

The cover of 'The Path to Kaliech'  the memoirs of Dr William Odongo Omamo.

Photo credit: Pool

Within minutes, the whole of Bondo town was ablaze with the good news. It took exactly one hour after the judgment was passed in Nairobi, for my supporters in Bondo to start celebrating. Pamela, the Gracious Lady, must have been very happy especially when she remembered her wish when we both mourned Tom Mboya (after his assassination in 1969). She had urged me to take over and continue the good fight.

The favourable court judgement put an end to the campaign. On the scheduled election day, I merely reported to the Acting District Commissioner Siaya, Mr Yusuf Haji (who later served as MP for Ijara) who declared me elected unopposed. The acting DC was actually the DC Kiambu and was posted to Siaya to supervise the by-election and ensure fair play. I checked his credentials and found him clean. Since then, Haji climbed up through the civil service ranks to become the PC (Provincial Commissioner) Rift Valley. He retired from government service and got nominated by Kanu to the National Assembly following the 1997 elections. (Yusuf Haji went on to rise to be the Minister of Defence and Senator of Garissa County. He died in 2021). To this day, I still owe Haji deep gratitude for having played a significant role in my checkered political life.

My political opponents were confused and confounded by my return to Parliament through a court order. Some refused to recognise it. Shame on them.

They made noises which were like the Luo saying, “Ywak ogwal ok mon dhiang’ modho.” Which means, the croaking of a frog does not deter cattle from drinking water.

Ougo (the MP who resigned) was heard saying that he was made to play the role of a fool and greatly regretted having thrown away his parliamentary seat by default. Later, he summarised his resignation saga as a case of, “Motwo nowuondo manumu.” Meaning, a dry light wood deceived the wet heavy wood to join in the diving exercise in deep waters. Apparently, he (Ougo) was the wet heavy wood and somebody else was the dry light one. He surely “dived” but never came up again.

               **

On my return to Parliament, I asked Jeremiah Nyagah to lead the pair of MPs that were to conduct me to the Speaker's desk for swearing-in. My choice of Nyagah was symbolic. He was a senior Cabinet minister in the government, was honest, level-headed, and least controversial. I admired him.

Back to Bunge, I found myself wielding a lot more political power than I had imagined. My services to the government both as the chairman of Agricultural Finance Corporation and the Nairobi University Council enabled me to gather tremendous clout. The Bondo harambee funds collection effort was revisited. The happiest elder was my uncle, Senior Chief John Robert Ang’awa, whose delight was just to see me back in the line of national politics and as a Member of Parliament for Bondo. But I soon noticed that ill health was catching up with him. I took pains to give him appropriate medical treatment. However, when the doctors conveyed to me the diagnosis, it was very upsetting news for the whole family. He was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the colon and the liver. The prognosis was death sooner than later.

While undergoing treatment, Uncle John Robert paid me two visits at our Lavington house in Nairobi. I grabbed the opportunity to take a full-size photograph with him. On his return home, his condition changed rapidly for the worse. Last attempts to prolong his life by inviting specialists, herbalists and other medical practitioners bore no fruit. He spent the last three days of his life at Aga Khan Hospital, Kisumu, where he passed away peacefully on in July 1982.

**

 A major event not long after that was the attempted coup led by a few soldiers of the Kenya Air Force on August 1, 1982. The coup was quashed with great speed. The government quickly instituted a Board of Inquiry to uncover those involved. A minor Cabinet reshuffle followed on August 10, 1982 and I was appointed Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, replacing (Alego-Usonga MP) Peter Oloo Aringo. It was like homecoming for me as I was back to my former ministry.

Tomorrow in the Daily Nation: Day President Moi sacked Omamo for praising Jaramogi


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