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Mboya’s hand in the decades old rivalry pitting Kikuyu, Luo

Mukalo Kwayera @kwayeram

The persistent suspicions and tensions between the Kikuyu and the Luo, which have defined how the two communities — and by extension, the Kenyatta and Odinga families —  relate politically, has often been placed at the doorstep of Tom Mboya.

Observers say the seed of discord was planted when Mboya, at the behest of Kenyatta, outmanoeuvred Jaramogi with the Limuru conference idea.

Writes David Goldsworthy in his book Tom Mboya: The man Kenya wanted to forget. “The Luo community felt marginalised in the distribution of State resources. Mboya might have remained within the Kenyatta coalition and had been instrumental in forcing Odinga out of Kanu and government, but he retained substantial support among the Luo and, in certain quarters, was regarded as the only surviving Luo link with the government.

His ambition to succeed Kenyatta struck a favourable chord within certain quarters in Luoland who argued that it was not in the interest of Luos to put all their eggs in the KPU basket.

But in a cruel twist of fate, Mboya died three years later in the hands of Nahashon Njenga, a Kikuyu whose “Why not go for the big man” puzzle is yet to be resolved.

Mboya’s assassination reopened the raw wound of mutual antipathy. 

Jaramogi’s fallout with Kenyatta and his departure from Kanu was seen by the former and his supporters an act of ultimate betrayal.

During years leading to independence, Jaramogi led a crusade for the release of Kenyatta who had been jailed by the colonial government.    

Jaramogi is remembered for leading a national call under the banner: “No Freedom Without Kenyatta” and memorably declined an offer by the colonialists to form a government while Kenyatta was still in detention.

Following Kenyatta’s release from detention in 1961, he and Jaramogi became inseparable political pals and it was, therefore, not surprising that at independence in 1963, the former named the latter as his number two.

Bad blood

Three years later, however, they went separate ways, with the help of Mboya.

The half-a-century standoff between the ethnic and political constituencies has been on and off in intensity, including long after the demise of the patriarchs, 41 years for Kenyatta and 25 years for Jaramogi.   

The bad blood peaked following the 2007 General Election which pitted Raila Odinga then flying the opposition flag against President Mwai Kibaki who was gunning for his second term. 

The dispute over the election outcome pushed Kenya to the edge, resulting in the death of over 1,300 people, more than 500,000 uprooted from their homes and property worth hundreds of millions destroyed.

Then came the 2017 election that once again directly brought Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was going for his second term, head to head.

After the election was nullified by the Supreme Court, Raila boycotted the repeat poll, which handed Uhuru a walkover. The election dispute resulted in scattered violence and disruptions which stretched into 2018.

With the country polarised into Jubilee and Nasa camps and the economy on the ropes, Uhuru and Raila reached out to each other, culminating in the famous March 9, 2018 Handshake. 

The Handshake might as well have brought down the curtains on a five-decade rivalry pitting the country’s two most politically influential families.

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