Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga (October 1911 – 20 January 1994) was a Luo chieftain who became a prominent figure in Kenya’s struggle for independence. He later served as Kenya’s first Vice-President, and thereafter as opposition leader. Odinga’s son Raila Odinga is the former Prime Minister, and another son, Oburu Odinga, is a former Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Finance.
Jaramogi is credited for the phrase “Not Yet Uhuru” which is the title of his autobiography written in the 1980s during his time under house arrest. “Uhuru” means freedom in Swahili and he was referencing his belief that even after independence from British colonialism, the brutal oppression of opposition in political affairs in Kenya, meant that the country had still not attained real freedom. Jaramogi’s son Raila was also in detention for a period of eight years.
Early years and career
Oginga Odinga was born in the village of Nyamira Kang’o, Siaya County, Nyanza Province to Mama Opondo Nyamagolo and Odinga Raila. In his autobiography, Not Yet Uhuru, Odinga estimates the date of his birth to be October 1911. Christened Obadiah Adonijah, he later renounced his Christian names and became known as Oginga Odinga. He was a student of Maseno School and Alliance High School. He went to Makerere University in 1940, and returned to Maseno High School as a teacher. In 1948 he joined the political party Kenya African Union (KAU).
Spurred to empower his Kenyan Luo ethnic group, Odinga started the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation (registered in 1947). With time, Odinga and his group undertook to strengthen the union between Luo people in the whole of East Africa. His efforts earned him admiration and recognition among the Luo, who revered him as Ker – a title previously held by the fabled classical Luo king, Ramogi Ajwang, who reigned 400 years before him. Vowing to uphold the ideals of Ramogi Ajwang, Odinga became known as Jaramogi (man of the people of Ramogi).
Vice presidency of Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga
According to Luo tradition, a Ker cannot be a politician, so Odinga relinquished his position as king in 1957 and became the political spokesman of the Luo. The same year, he was elected member of the Legislative Council for the Central Nyanza constituency, and in 1958 he joined the Kenya African Union (KAU). He was amongst the founders of the Kenya Independence Movement in 1959, and in 1960, together with Tom Mboya he joined Kenya African National Union (KANU). When Kenya became a Republic in 1964, he was its first Vice-President.
As Vice-President he did not agree with Jomo Kenyatta‘s government. While Odinga had called for closer ties with the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union and other countries of the Warsaw Pact, Kenyatta was in favor of approaching the United States and the Western bloc. This led to Odinga resigning from his post and quitting KANU in 1966 to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU).
Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga In opposition
The friction between Odinga and Kenyatta continued, and in 1969 Odinga was arrested after the two verbally abused each other publicly at a chaotic function in Kisumu – and where at least 11 people were killed and dozens were injured in riots. He was detained for eighteen months until the Government made decision to free him on 27 March 1971. He consigned to political limbo until after Kenyatta’s death in August 1978.
Kenyatta’s successor, Daniel arap Moi, appointed Odinga as chairman of the Cotton Lint and Seed Marketing Board. He did not last long in the post, presumably because he was still outspoken against Kenyatta’s policies. Odinga attempted to register a political party in 1982, but when Attorney-General Charles Njonjo amended the constitution (which made Kenya a de jure single-party state), his plans were foiled.
Following the failed coup of 1982 against Moi’s government, Odinga was placed under house arrest in Kisumu. In 1990, he tried in vain with others to register an opposition party, the National Democratic Party. In 1991 he co-founded and became the interim chairman of Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). The formation of FORD triggered a chain of events that were to change Kenya’s political landscape, culminating in ending KANU’s 40 years in power – eight years after Odinga’s death.
FORD split before the 1992 elections. Odinga himself vied for presidency on Ford-Kenya ticket, but finished fourth with a share of 17.5% votes. However, he regained the Bondo Constituency seat after being forced out of parliamentary politics for over two decades. Odinga died in 1994.
Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga
12 December 1964 – 14 April 1966
Bondo, British East Africa
||20 January 1994 (aged 82)
- Kenya African Union (1948–1959)
Kenya African National Union (1960–1966)
Kenya People’s Union (1966–1990)
Forum for the Restoration of Democracy
Forum for the Restoration of Democracy – Kenya
||Mary Juma (d. 1984)
- Oburu Oginga
Raila Amolo Odinga Ngire Agola Oginga
Beryl Achieng’ Odima
Shadrack Osewe Oginga
(with Mary Juma)
Caroline Walkowa Akinyi
(with Gaudencia Adeya)
(with Susan Agik)
Kevin Opiyo Odinga
Lemmy Odongo Odinga
(with Betty Adongo)
||Nairobi and Bondo
||Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
Odinga was polygamous and had four wives: Mary Juma, Gaudencia Adeya, Susan Agik and Betty Adongo. With these wives he had seventeen children. Mary is the mother of Raila and Oburu. Mary died in 1984.
Tireless Opposition Leader
Odinga remained an opposition leader throughout the 1970s. After Kenyatta’s death in 1978, the new president, Daniel arap Moi, tried to bring Odinga back into KANU. But when Odinga was reinstated into the party in 1980, he attacked Moi and Kenyatta as corrupt and protested U.S. military presence in Kenya. In 1982, the party again banished Odinga and amended the constitution to make Kenya officially a one-party state.
Throughout the 1980s, international criticism of KANU’s human rights record grew and Odinga remained vocal in calling for democracy. In 1991, Odinga founded the National Democratic Party, but the government refused to recognize it and briefly jailed Odinga. However, international protests were effective and later that year Odinga and five other opposition leaders formed the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), the nucleus of a pro-democracy movement. When other nations cut off aid, KANU was forced to allow opposition activity.
But FORD split in 1992, and a third leader formed another party. The splits allowed Moi to win the presidency in the December 1992 elections with about 35 percent of the vote; Odinga, 81 years old, finished fourth. In 1993, Odinga’s reputation suffered when he admitted taking a campaign contribution from a bank accused of bribing government officials. In the months before his death in January 1994, Odinga tried to reconcile his branch of FORD with KANU, but without success. President Moi said at Odinga’s death that “Kenya has lost a great son, a nationalist, and a patriotic citizen.” In truth, it had lost its strongest opposition leader.
Further Reading on Ajuma Jaramogi Oginga Odinga
Odinga’s account of his life was Not Yet Uhuru: The Autobiography of Oginga Odinga (1967). Aspects of his career may be followed in A. J. Hughes, East Africa (1963, rev. ed. 1969); George Bennett, Kenya, A Political History: The Colonial Period (1963); Richard Cox, Kenyatta’s Country (1965); and Ali Mazrui, Violence and Thought (1969). Africa Reportmagazine, March-April 1994, had an extensive obituary.
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