The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: The Day Jaramogi Stood Firm Over Kenyatta's Release

Fifty three years ago , the member for Nyanza Central, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, broke the silence on a subject regarded as taboo in Kenya.

Unknown to many, it was Odinga who demanded the release of Jomo Kenyatta and other political prisoners from colonial detention on November 12, 1959. Kenyatta and five others were released in August 1961 from Kapenguria prison where they being were held.

He ascended to the throne on December 12, 1963 during the first Jamhuri Day whose 49th anniversary is being marked today. The question is, did Odinga live to enjoy the trappings of power and the comfort that goes with it?

The answer is a resounding no. His rewards in the hands of Kenyatta and his successor were frustrations, persecution, detention without trial, house arrest, exclusion in active politics and a ban from attending national day events for 26 years, save for two years before his death when competitive politics resumed in the country.

He died in 1994 as parliamentary opposition leader. Below are excerpts of the memorable Odinga's verbatim contribution on the taboo subject many of his peers dared not touch:

Mr Speaker the ending of the emergency without the release of our national leader, Mr Jomo Kenyatta, is not complete in the minds or in the hearts of the Africans.

It is not complete at all because an African would like to feel that these people just as His Excellency the Governor has so rightly expressed here - he made a very honourable statement here when he said, "In the growing spirit of challenge and adventure which I find so striking around me here, let us put the darkness behind us and look bravely to the future".

Mr Speaker, this is very honourable statement and I consider it so and I am also very pleased to see that His Excellency feels that there is a growing spirit of challenge and adventure which means that his Ministers are prepared to go into the adventure, to see that we all remove the dark past and come forward to the bright side of things. Well, that cannot happen; we cannot deceive ourselves that it will happen if our national leader Mr Jomo Kenyatta is still in prison or detention.

It cannot possibly happen. In the eyes of the African people, they feel also that their hearts are also in the wilderness where Jomo Kenyatta is.

And as such you can never, never get their co-operation without bringing all these people back and therefore I thought that the Government together with His Excellency should have made a bold step of just saying, "Let us end the emergency. Let all these people come back".

Mr Speaker, the last time I raised here the question of this money which is being spent - huge sums which are being spent on rehabilitation -and when I raised this point the Minister concerned only wished in his reply that I should have been given to him to rehabilitate me.

I can now only tell the Honourable Minister that I think the time has come when all Ministers who had something to do with the emergency, either ought to be rehabilitated or, if rehabilitation is not possible, they must be relieved off their duty.

They are not prepared to see anything beyond the emergency. Everything has to be seen in the light of the emergency, and so on, and I think that that is the problem.

Now that we have got the new Governor, and as we have also a new Colonial Secretary, I think the time has come when many of the Ministers also should be renewed.

Mr Speaker, I do believe, and I know that it is a waste of time and waste of public money in trying to keep these people behind the iron bar with the excuse that they are being rehabilitated.

I can assure you there is no question of rehabilitation of a full-grown man. He has held his opinion in life. Those people who are still held in detention camps are the very sincere people - the people who hold strong principles, and will sacrifice everything but their own political beliefs.

They will not change simply because you are threatening them with rehabilitation and so on. They are the true and genuine people who when you convince by reasoning and fair play would co-operate for the good of Kenya.

Such are the people now remaining and suffering in the detention camps. And I think that it is time the Government, if it is being realistic at all, returned these people to their homes, because they will not change any of their strong political views unless they are convinced, of course, by reason and fair play and not by threats.

As we have said in the House, let us all forget the past. We have all learned from our own experience and mistakes and now let us start afresh again in this country.

Well, we might hear that some people are still harbouring the unnecessary fear in their hearts that if this is done probably something serious will happen.

But I tell you and I assure you that Kenya is the only country which has not had very many riots as you have had in other countries, even in countries round about us here.

Probably every two or three years you hear there is a riot somewhere or something of that kind but in Kenya the only thing which has happened has been this but this happened when people had struggled to get their rights and what they wanted for many, many years and it is only after so long that they actually got frustrated and they broke into all this confusion.

And as such, I think that if the Government becomes bold now and says that we should start afresh, "Let us forget all these grudges, let us not keep grudges but start afresh again".

I am sure that Kenya would return to normal and would become a much happier country than it would become with the present suppressive measures that I have seen here.

- Hansard November 12, 1959.

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