Oginga Odinga was, undoubtedly, the doyen of opposition politics in the colonial and the post-independence eras. Since the colonial times, he was known for his political and ideological consistency.
Odinga was a fearless leader. Unlike many politicians, Jaramogi, as his admirers fondly referred to him, would not compromise his ideals, notwithstanding the consequences. He was in the first Cabinet at independence in 1963 as Minister for Home Affairs. In 1964, when Kenya became a republic and Kenyatta the President, Odinga was appointed Vice-President and Minister for Home Affairs. But when he differed with the President in 1966, he resigned.
Indeed, Odinga had joined opposition politics early in his political career. In 1961, he made history as the first member of Kanu to be suspended (as vice-president) for “making statements with communistic tendencies and supporting non-Kanu candidates and the Kenya Action Group”.
Kanu chairman James Gichuru had announced the suspension after a one-hour meeting with secretary-general Tom Mboya.
Odinga believed socialism was the best way to serve the poor. He described it as “equalisation of opportunities” and called on the rich to extend a hand of generosity to the poor.
Born in 1911 and educated at Maseno and Alliance, mathematics and history were his best subjects. When hockey was introduced at Maseno, he played for his school. He then joined Makerere College for a diploma in education. His colleagues at Makerere included Godfrey Binaisa, who became Uganda’s Attorney-General and later caretaker President, and Walter Odede, Kenya’s first veterinary scientist.
After Makerere, Odinga landed a teaching job at his old school, Maseno, where the famous Carey Francis was the principal. Armed with a diploma, Odinga had hoped to pursue further studies in Britain, but Carey Francis told him: “The education you have is enough and you should now use it to help those who have none.”
The rebel in Odinga showed early. When he taught at Maseno, he took issue with the use of Christian names, and dropped his biblical name Adonijah in favour of Ajuma. He insisted on Oginga son of Odinga. By the time Carey Francis left Maseno, his fondness for Odinga had waned and he said his former student “was discontented with life and grumbled at everything”.
This was despite an earlier encouraging letter from Francis’ mother saying Adonijah’s future would be bright and he would grow up to be a great man. In his autobiography, Not Yet Uhuru, Odinga would write: “I loved teaching mathematics and the students knew that I placed no limit on the time I would spend helping them to solve problems. I became known as the Master of Mathematics. Even my sermons were said to be arithmetical and I told the students: ‘The word of God is like an arithmetical problem. The important thing is to find a solution’.’’
After a three-year stint at Maseno, Odinga moved to the Veterinary School, where he served as principal for four years. He then quit and tried his hand in business through the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation that he had set up. Odinga and his colleagues also started the Luo Union movement to unite their community throughout East Africa.
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