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JARAMOGI OGINGA ODINGA

Oginga Odinga

He is fondly referred to as the Octogenerian of Kenyan politics for his long and productive contribution to the Kenyan political scene. Jaramogi was a very prominent figure in Kenya's struggle for independence, especially during the period of Mzee Kenyatta's arrest and detention by the colonial government. He was forefront in the clamour for Kenyatta's release, and was graciously rewarded with the Vice-Presidency in Kenyatta's first independent Kenya government. Together with Tom Mboya, Odinga heads a string of very prominent politicians from the Luo community in Nyanza Province who have played a very significant role in Kenya's politics. His son Raila Odinga, has clearly inherited his political talents and has gone on to establish himself as one of Kenya's leading politicians.

Odinga, like many other prominent Kenyan politicians, got his education at the prestigious Alliance High School. His emergence in the political scene can be traced to the 1940's when he formed the Luo Thrift and Trading Company in an effort to boost the economic base of his Luo community. His rise to the top however came after 1952, with the declaration of the state of emergency and consequent arrest and detention of Mzee Kenyatta. With Kenyatta in Prison, he could easily have become Kenya's first president but instead insisted on Kenyatta's release, showing the true nationalist that he was. In 1963, when Kenya became independent, Kenyatta appointed him his Vice President. In 1969, following a clash with Mzee Kenyatta, Odinga resigned and formed a new party, Kenya People's Union(KPU) that was later proscribed and led to his detention. It was Kenyatta's contention that at that time, Kenya needed only one political party, KANU, in order to keep the country united.

Odinga's struggle for a multi-party state put him in trouble with Kenyatta's successor President Moi who also kept him in detention. The veteran Odinga, resurfaced in the 1990's with the demands for a multi-party system in Kenya. Together with Kenneth Matiba, Martin Shikuku, Masinde Muliro and others, they founded the Forum for The Restoration of Democracy(FORD), a popular pressure group that forced the Moi administration to adopt Multi-Party politics in Kenya in 1991, with the repeal of section 2A of the constitution. With FORD also came a brand of young vibrant activist, the likes of James Orengo, Paul Muite, Gitobu Imanyara, and Dr Mukhisa Kituyi. FORD later evolved into a political party and was clearly poised to wrest power from the KANU government in the 1992 General Elections. In a surprise turn of events, Odinga and Matiba parted ways leading to a bitter split in the popular party. Odinga's party became FORD-Kenya while Matiba's became FORD-Asili. Asili is Swahili for "original". The result of this split was a loss for the opposition parties to President Moi's KANU. In the 1992 Elections, Moi got a total of 1,927,640 votes. Kenneth Matiba(FORD-Asili Party) came in second with 1,354,856 votes, followed by Mwai Kibaki(Democratic Party) who got 1,035,507. Odinga came in fourth with 903,866, well below the expectations of many. Even after his lucklustre showing at the 1992 General Elections, the ageing Odinga still maintained an active role in Kenya's Multi-Party era politics until his untimely death in 1994. He is regarded in many quarters as the father of Multi-Party politics in Kenya because of his long and painful struggle towards that end, and needless to say, will go down in history as a great Kenyan Nationalist and Hero.

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