Kenya: Phone Taps Reveal Strong Ties Between Jomo and Jaramogi

Photo: The Nation
A combined picture of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga.

Secretly recorded conversations between Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga reveal a strong bond of friendship between the two independence leaders who later fell out bitterly.

The conversations, which the Sunday Nation accessed in London after they were declassified, also indicate the two leaders' common antipathy towards Tom Mboya, and the duo's efforts to get funds from communist states to fight the rival Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) while navigating the intrigues within the Kenya African National Union (Kanu).

On November 1961, the Kanu delegation was in London to press for a constitutional conference to grant Kenya self-government.

Unknown to them, the colonial secretary had applied for a warrant of telecheck, which would enable him to eavesdrop on the Kenyan leaders.

KENYA DELEGATIONIn the application, which was made on his behalf by Major RP Whitby, the Colonial Secretary stated that future constitutional developments in Kenya depended on the outcome of the discussions that were to take place, "and therefore it is of great importance that the Colonial Office should have full access to the private views and intentions of the leaders during their stay in London".

Jomo took up residence at Cumberland Hotel and was bugged on extension 707, while Jaramogi, Mboya and Joseph Murumbi took up residence at Marble Arch Hotel.

Other members of the Kenya delegation, who included Bruce McKenzie and James Gichuru, were also eavesdropped, but on at a lower scale.

In one extract of a telephone conversation between Jomo and Jaramogi on November 12, 1961 at 6.39am, the two had just woken up, although still in bed.

In a bizarre exchange, they seemed to agree that only fools believed in God -- although they needed to keep this view secret to avoid losing popularity.


Jaramogi then said he would travel straight back to Kenya, and wanted to find out what Jomo hoped to achieve by travelling to Ethiopia from London.

Another extract (Number PF 786, 389) marked "secret", revealed how one morning Jomo wanted to come to Jaramogi's hotel room.

After Jaramogi said he was occupied, his political ally --with a light touch -- threatened to come anyway to see what was going on.

One record featured Gichuru and Mackenzie in a room when an Englishman identified as Kenneth walked in.

Gichuru excused himself and left. McKenzie, a post-independence Cabinet minister later identified as a British and Israeli spy, was then recorded telling the visitor that Jaramogi had £10,000 before he arrived in London through Yugoslavia.


Kenneth was surprised and remarked that it is was rumoured that Jaramogi received money from China.

McKenzie went on to give an example of a Kanu delegate who couldn't meet his airfare to London but "Odinga coughed up".

Jaramogi had travelled on temporary documents after his passport was revoked by the colonial government.

However, during his stay in London he secured a Ghanaian passport number 1061, which was issued on December 27, 1961, courtesy of Kwesi Armah, Accra's High Commissioner to London.

Having succeeded in pressing for a constitutional conference during their first visit, the Kenya delegation returned to London on February 1962 for the second Lancaster Conference.

Jaramogi arrived at Heathrow Airport aboard Air India flight AI 115, using the Ghanaian passport.


With him was his 18-year-old son Oburu Oginga, who was to proceed to Friends University in Moscow even though he had been registered to take a course at an academy in London.

During the UK visit, the spotlight was mainly on Jaramogi, owing to his communist links.

Just like the previous visit, an application for a warrant of telephone check on the Kenyan delegates was made and granted.

There was an understanding that only calls to which Jaramogi was a party would be recorded.

He had reserved a room at Morton Hotel, 2 Woburn Place, where the British had installed their devices, but later changed his mind and shifted on February 12, 1962, to Room 717 at Cumberland Hotel, where Jomo was staying.

Whether he shifted after being tipped off by his communist contacts or to be closer to his friend Jomo, was unclear.

OLIVER TAMBONevertheless, the British intelligence still managed to bug the new room. In one telephone conversation, Jomo, who said he had been awake since 5am because he could think better in the morning, apologised for waking up Jaramogi.

Jomo then went on to say how he was fed up with being stuck in the hotel all day and wanted Jaramogi to accompany him to Brighton, a British city.

As the conversation continued, Jaramogi said he was worried about Oliver Tambo of South Africa. On hearing this, Jomo asked to come to Jaramogi's room.

The two were also desperate for funds as revealed in a conversation during their meeting with Chinese diplomats on March 7, 1962.

After cajoling the diplomats with promises of allowing them to open an Embassy in Nairobi and investment opportunities, Jomo and Jaramogi asked why there was a delay in releasing £500,000 previously promised by the Chinese.

"What is happening? Now everything is delayed, if you are delaying we cannot do anything now," Jaramogi, who went on to reveal that there were plans to make Jomo the Prime Minister, and he (Jaramogi) would become the Minister for Defence.


Jomo would later become Prime Minister briefly and later President while Jaramogi was appointed Vice President.

In the conversation with the diplomats, Jomo interjected: "You said the Chinese were friends, where are we now? Things are disgusting, they are not moving anywhere."

In a case of the pot calling the kettle black, at a subsequent meeting with Russian diplomats, Jaramogi, who was alone, informed them that Mboya had received £157,000 from Israel and America.

But, he added, he and Kenyatta had told Mboya that they did not want to depend on foreign funds. This was clearly hypocritical.

Jaramogi went on to tell the Russians to try and organise some money that week to facilitate election campaigns in Kenya.

When the Russian replied that the London Embassy could do nothing, Jaramogi said: "No, but you can do it in Egypt."

KIMANI WANYOIKEThe Russian then informed Jaramogi about some people who had approached their embassy in Addis Ababa saying Jomo really wanted £5,000 for his personal use.

"But you know... that the British and also these boys who are hungry for money, will come like that for propaganda," Jaramogi replied, defending his political ally.

The Russians went on to name one of the people who had approached them ostensibly on behalf of Jomo as "Kimani Vaiyakian".

There was a loud "Aaahhh" from Jaramogi who said he knew the "boy", referring to Kimani Wanyoike.

"He was studying here (London) as a barrister but hadn't finished yet, he had one more exam to do," Jaramogi added.

BONDIn broken English, one of the Russians added: "He (Wanyoike) said that only don't tell Odinga."

Upon hearing this, Jaramogi roared with laughter and warned the Russian to be careful because some of those people were British spies.

"I know that in all these things, Jomo Kenyatta will not do anything without consulting to (sic) me," he said confidently.

The close ties between Jaramogi and Jomo were also noticed by the British, who argued that it derived not so much from an identity of ideological purpose as from a personal bond of sympathy and understanding.

"Personalities count for much and it seems natural for Kenyatta to turn in confidence to the older, quieter man, to both of whom the brilliance and the... confidence of the comparatively youthful Mboya must be anathema," a British official wrote.

The writer is a journalist and researcher based in London

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