25 DECEMBER 1964, Page 9

The Role of Mr. Odinga


VICE-PRESIDENT Odinga Odinga is Kenya's pioneer African capitalist. Although some twenty years younger than the President, he represents the transition from traditional to modern in more extreme form. Until the age of fifteen, by which time Kenyatta was at mission school and in European employ, Odinga had a purely traditional upbringing, minding the cows and goats for his fathers When the first mission school opened in the area his elder brother trekked miles on foot to attend and at night, by im- provised candle-light, taught Odinga to read the Bible. A strong-willed missionary got him away to boarding school against his father's wishes, whereupon he ran away and lived wild for a Year. Finally, he was picked up in a barley field and returned to school, where after passing exams and doing duty as a pupil teacher he entered Alliance High School, from which so many of Kenya's elite have come, at the age of twenty-five. His favourite teacher there was James Gichuru, the present Finance Minister, who is a much Younger man. Gichuru remembers him as a very quiet student, given to religious devotion.

Odinga qualified as a teacher at Makerere, East Africa's Oxbridge, and being relatively senior in age at once became a headmaster at Maseno, in Western Kenya. Here he became in- creasingly conscious and uneasy about the extent to which he had been cut off by his education and profession from the community around him. He found he enjoyed `a fictitious sort of respect' as a teacher in some circles, but that those Africans who were getting on and making money, like owners of rural buses, despised education and regarded the educated as `accomplices of Europeans.' Odinga persuaded some of his col- leagues to join with him in proving that educa- tion was helpful in business. They formed a limited liability company, the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation, which at present owns an impres- sive block of buildings in Kisumu, the lake port which is the principal town for members of the Luo tribe. Through the corporation, financed mainly by the small African investor, Odinga owns a printing press, a flour mill and a general wholesale and distributing business.

In the columns of Dania Keuta, an English- language periodical put out on Odinga's Ramogi Press shortly before the Mau Mau emergency, the future Vice-President propounded principles that would not have disgraced Poor Richard's Almanack. In the May 1952 issue he listed the qualities required ror success in business: Physical fitness (`no effort, no profit; no work, no income'); farsightedness and mental alertness; Perseverance; purity of mind and body; talent for far-reaching decisions; honesty and responsibility. Hatred and dislike of those who claim trusteeship and leadership over the Africans will not help; the only way is for us to apply our efforts in right-thinking and leadership on the development

of our own economy through which other people will be forced to recognise our maturity.'

However, about this time Odinga did first enter politics, joining Kenyatta's KAU (Kenya African Union) and presiding at a meeting of the party's council in Nairobi when Kenyatta was absent. This does not seem to have compromised him with the authorities, who throughout the Emergency allowed him to operate freely as a businessman and as president of the Luo Union, a tribal welfare organisation which represented the majority tribe in Nairobi once the Kikuyus had been expelled. Yet he managed with great dexterity both to keep out of trouble and to avoid odium with the radical element in his own tribe. In this his traditionalist style, his partly natural, partly cultivated posture of old-world courtesy, an elder's' cussedness and awareness of what is due to him, and total absence of intellec- tual snobbishness, was of great assistance; above all he spoke, and speaks, the authentic earthy language of the people.

Odinga is a profound believer in simplifying issues. In 1958 he decided that Kenya would not become independent and unified without Ken- yatta. He therefore said so, boldly, repeatedly, almost to the point of monomania. At that period, difficult as it may be to recall it now, the British who were playing God (or Stalin or 1984 or something) were still resolved that the very name and knowledge of the existence of Ken- yatta should be wiped off the face of the earth, that no man should speak his name, that it should be as if he had never been. Odinga was chairman of the African parliamentary group and he listed Kenyatta among the great African heroes in a parliamentary speech. There was an appalled silence, then a rush by the African members to dissociate themselves from their leader (who had not wanted to compromise them). But the deed had been done, the name had been spoken. From that moment onwards Kenyatta's return was certain. For Kenyatta ever to repudiate Odinga- unless the reasons were absolutely palpable— would be to give him among many Africans a reputation for base ingratitude.

How, then, about Odinga and communism? There is nothing whatever in his background that prepares us for this strange association. Odinga had not had, and has not to this day, any Marxist training. There is no evidence that he understands Marxist economics or would approve of them if he did. Most of his comments on business, even today, would pass muster before any cham- ber of commerce anywhere in the world. How then has the association come about? There is. of course, this `divine simplification' in his post- Mau Mau political career--he was 'against im- perialism' and any stick' was a .worthwhile stick. Then again the British habit of putting a 'black spot' on anyone who had been to Moscow or Peking meant that once having gone there Odinga was excluded from other international contacts. But far the most important factor was his jealousy of Tom Mboya and his firm convic- tion that rumours very much like those which have recently been published about Odinga and communist plots were true of Mboya and American plots.

Mboya is of the same tribe as Odinga—but of a totally different generation. His international re- cognition and apparent command of unlimited American funds came when Odinga was still Mboya's parliamentary leader. Odinga's reaction was: T11.show him that he is not the only one who can get money from abroad.' Mboya has always said-=and I have never seen proof to the contrary—that his American funds were always for specific projects. However, Mboya was a for- midable pluralist and there were quite a number of these specific funds. Apart altogether from his American executive style, he seemed to his non-admirers to be galloping for the Premier- ship with too many American backers. To compete with him politicians found that as a minimum they needed vehicles (to get around and organise), overseas scholarships (since constituents came to expect this from their leaders) and air tickets (to attend international conferences, as well as to hand to scholarship-holders). What country or group of countries would supply these items and spare cash besides to a man who looked as if he might succeed in cutting a rising pro-American leader down to size? The motivations are not hard to understand.

Mboya is not and never has been 'pro-Ameri- can' in the 'cold war' sense, but at one time I think many people in Nairobi and in the reserves genuinely thought he was. In the political bars of Nairobi one moves in a miasma of alarmist political rumour. A journalist who was politically so inclined could have found ample material it, 1961 for a scare story about a coming Mboya dictatorship which would lock up political rivals and admit an American military base.

Whether or not he thought then that he was exactly matching MI soya, Odinga undoubtedly (he is quite open about it) received general sub- sidies from communist countries, particularly in later times from Peking. It is in keeping with his traditionalist style that he uses much of the money that comes to him as personal largesse. Just how much this amounts to in political terms, however, it is next to impossible to say.

Kenyatta does not seem to me to be losing his grip at all. He is under an obligation to Odinga; besides which he could never forget, even if a foreign observer might, that the Kanu party and Kenya's political life were almost totally paralysed at the time when he took over because of the feud between Odinga and Mboya. Now Kenyatta has brought off what many people of all races think is,a political miracle; he would be mad to throw it away by getting involved in a feud himself if he .can honourably avoid it.

To every thinking African the very worst kind of internal feud is one which coincides with the lines of the international cold war because this draws the cold war into an African country. For this very reason the many Kenyan politicians who do not want Odinga to be Kenyatta's heir regard it as politically unsound to choose as their public grounds his links with Peking.

Odinga has been Vice-President of Kanu (out- ranking Mboya, who has been General Secretary) since its foundation. Not to have made him Vice-President of the Republic in the circum- stances would have been to have broken with him. Is he the heir-apparent? Not necessarily, but as of now the odds are mildly in favour. Would this bring the danger of a communist Kenya near? Again, not necessarily. Odinga has no foundation of communist discipline or philosophy. The constructive aspect of his charac- ter, apparent in his business career, has not vanished. When it was clear that Kenya was go- ing to get its `Uhuru' he was the first major politician to stand up (in the rain, too) and say that up till now he had ignored economics be- cause political agitation was paramount; from now on the economic well-being of Kenya must be the first priority. Next to Kenyatta he is the man best able to get through to the man in the bush on such topics as hard work, modernisation, land reform. He is a man who yearns for respect, responsibility, status; he thinks of himself as nobody's stooge. It is not out of the question that he could make a great African statesman. But it is obviously a gamble, and a westerner can surely be forgiven for preferring that such a gamble should not be takbic. •