The British Archives have released an interesting 63-page “Top Secret” file on the doyen of Kenyan politics, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
It is interesting because, unknown to Jaramogi, the British intelligence used to secretly open his travel bags and take photographs of his documents at the airport.
It is this information that would inform the British intelligence’s view on Jaramogi — and perhaps his role in Kenya’s politics later on.
The file KV2/40 covers the 1960s period, a time Jaramogi describes as “difficulty” in his autobiography because of “concerted world press campaign to elevate Tom Mboya to the unchallenged leadership of Kenya Africans”.
The first entry in the file is dated November 10, 1960 and this was a covering letter written by the Director of Intelligence and Security, Mr B. E. Wadeley, to colonial Security Liaison Officer in Kenya and Uganda.
“As you are aware,” he wrote, “an operation was mounted on this person (Oginga Odinga) when he arrived at Nairobi Airport on October 26, 1960 on completion of a visit to the United Arab Emirates and London.
“Without his knowledge, 356 documents on his person at the time were photographed. We are now examining these and will be letting you have a report on their contents in due course.”
That now explains — for the first time — an incident that happened on Wednesday, October 26, 1960 when Jaramogi’s passport was impounded at the airport and he was kept busy arguing with Immigration and security officers.
On that day, and the press reported as much, Jaramogi had flown back to Nairobi via Cairo where he had met officials of a Kenyan lobby group — Kenya Office in Cairo — which was bankrolled by the Socialist Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
For that, and his dalliance with Communist leaders, Jaramogi was on the radar of intelligence officers and the British MI5 who wanted to know what he was up to.
Although Jaramogi was the first off the plane, he was kept waiting at the Customs and Immigration for more than 30 minutes and had his passport impounded.
He perhaps died without ever knowing what was happening to his luggage as he argued over the passport.
Actually, that evening, he called a press conference and said he would never use the parliamentary term “honourable” and he wrongly thought the withdrawal of his passport had nothing to do with his visit to Communist countries.
He told the press: “One of the officers was very rude and insolent especially that man who was destined to search me,” said Jaramogi.
“It confirms that there exists a plan from certain quarters to oust me from politics. To this I say: It has never and never will it be my intention to betray my people by using soft words and church manners in order to enjoy the respect of this colonial settler-inspired government.”
Of interest to the intelligence officers was an “address book and numerous scraps of paper bearing the names and addresses of his contacts, either established or intended”.
While forwarding the names of Jaramogi’s contacts to MI5, the Director of Intelligence wrote: “It would be appreciated if your London office could provide us with a thumb-nail sketch of all these overseas contacts known to be of security interest … We are, of course, particularly anxious to find out if any of these contacts have connections with a foreign intelligence service.”
The next letter was comprehensive and was referenced: Oginga Odinga/Communist Activities and dated October 24, 1960.
It is this letter that reveals the kind of dealings Jaramogi was pursuing.
It says that since Jaramogi’s return on August 27, 1960 from a tour of China, the USSR, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, “he has been very active in furthering what appears to be the Communist short-term aim of attracting as many Africans as possible into the Sino-Soviet orbit, either for educational purposes or to undertake tours and visits.”
The British also managed to identify Jaramogi’s link in London – a man called Stanley Ngumbu Njururi – whom they described as “a Communist suspect” and secretary of the Kenya Students Union in the UK.
In later years, Mr Njururi, a journalist, was twice elected Mukurweini MP between 1983 and 1992.
It was Mr Njururi who was to become the London contact person for all the students selected by Jaramogi to receive training in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, East Germany, Russia and China.
Others were to travel via the Kenya Office in Cairo.
The secret letters indicate Jaramogi had sent Mr Hesbon Otieno Oyoo on October 10, 1960 to Leipzig, East Germany, to set up a new office whose purpose was to “route Kenyan students to destinations behind the Iron Curtain”.
It was in this town that Jaramogi took his young son, Raila Amolo, now Cord leader, to study among other Kenyan students.
Jaramogi — in his Not Yet Uhuru autobiography — says it was not easy for the students to leave Kenya to take up the scholarships because if the authorities had known their destinations were socialist countries, the students would have had their passports impounded and they might have also faced arrest.
But from the top secret letters, it is now clear the colonial government knew about Jaramogi’s clandestine operations.
They wrote in a briefing: “All available information points to the fact that Oginga will pay the expenses of prospective students and there is little doubt that he has received considerable funds from Communists to enable him do this.”
The intelligence briefing says they did not know what the amount was and where the money was banked.
“(Jaramogi) is reported to have said that students who have no passports or little prospects of obtaining them should make their way overland to Cairo through either the Sudan or Ethiopia where arrangements for their onward journey can be made.”
It is now known that many students left to socialist countries with Egyptian passports thanks to Odinga’s friendship to President Nasser.
The intelligence service also managed to infiltrate an Odinga meeting held on September 18, 1960 in Kisumu where Odinga proposed that steps should be taken to select one African student from each district for studies in communist countries.
By that time, he had only three names: Msanifu Kombo (he later became a powerful Mombasa mayor), Stanley Mwithiga (then Nakuru branch Kanu secretary) and Mr Musa Nyandusa, a member of the Kanu choir.
But the first people that Jaramogi sent to study were his two formidable allies: Arthur Aggrey Ochwada and Hesbon Otieno Oyoo who left Nairobi on September 19, 1960 “on tickets supplied by Jaramogi”.
The intelligence managed to trace Mr Oloo to East Germany while Mr Ochwada had also taken up a scholarship in East Germany.
Also, they got to know how Jaramogi used to dupe the system with his scholarships.
For instance, two students, Boniface Lawrence Karanja and John Casius Sianda, were issued with passports to study in the US.
They had been issued with letters by the Kenya African Education Society “which is managed by Oginga certifying that they had been awarded scholarships”.
This was, of course, a lie and the intelligence got to know what happened.
The intelligence brief says that “on arrival in London, both contacted Stanley Ngumbu Njururi. Karanja has now left for Communist Europe via Berlin, while Sianda is known to be desirous of reaching a Communist country and is likely to be leaving London at any time”.
Other students who managed to get passports to either go to UK or London but ended up in the Communist countries were Joshua Ondiek Okello, Gideon Silas Owela and Zebedeo Pius Omwando.
The intelligence brief says they did not know whether Jaramogi paid their fares “but it is strongly suspected that he did so”.
It continues: “At the time passports were issued to the persons named in this report, it was not known that they intended going to educational establishments behind the Iron Curtain. On the contrary, it appeared that they intended to go to the USA or the UK.”
With the Odinga documents, the intelligence officers were able to crack a secret that was tightly held by Jaramogi: students destined for Communist countries would apply for passports as if they were destined to the UK or USA.
The Kenyan intelligence told MI5 that there would be an increase of Kenyans applying for passports to study in Western countries “to reach places where travel to the Communist bloc is comparatively easy”.
On Odinga, the Director of Intelligence, Mr B.D. Wadeley, said: “It is also likely that, if they are denied passports, they will attempt to leave the colony clandestinely. Either way, Oginga may be expected to be the prime organiser.”
From the Odinga suitcase, the intelligence also found a list of Kenyans who he had sent to Communist educational institutions or who were in his waiting list.
From then on Jaramogi’s bags and movements were closely monitored together with his allies.
Cards written “Trace Requests” were sent to several intelligence services on the various contacts that had been retrieved from Jaramogi’s papers.
The director of intelligence was largely interested in their Communist leanings.
SOURCE OF FUNDS
Of importance was Prof Gerhard Harif, a former dean of students at Leipzig University, and a member of East Germany’s scientific delegation to China — a man who seemed to be organising the scholarships.
Another was Heinrich Rau, East Germany’s Deputy Prime Minister and a powerful member of the ruling Socialist Unity Party.
He was also a member of the party’s Central Committee Politburo.
The list of addresses in Jaramogi’s address book was impressive. It had 161 international contacts.
“It is of interest that the addresses appear to have been written in the person’s own handwriting indicating that Oginga actually met them,” said the intelligence brief.
The “operation”, as they called it, also managed to know that after the end of the 1960 Lancaster Conference, Jaramogi left for East Berlin and took with him letters from Mr Njururi, Othigo Otieno and Mr Burudi Nabwera to Prof Harif of Liepzig University regarding the Kenyan students.
A final analysis of the Odinga documents indicated that he had opened an account with Barclays Bank, Oceanic House London, and was receiving huge amounts of money.
He had deposited £1,385 on July 13, 1960 after meeting with WPC, meaning World Peace Council, a body set up by the Soviet Communist Party in 1948.
On October 24, 1960, he banked £10,000 “believed to have been brought to London from Cairo by Oginga and one of his couriers”.
“In all probability, the source of the money in both instances was Communist, but it is not known if it is Russian or Chinese,” a brief dated December 14, 1960 says.
Other documents were lists of his appointments and letters, which revealed his connections to Communist groups.
For instance, he was to use a company known as Fields (Eastaf) Limited which was then printing Sauti ya Kanu newspapers to get capital from East Germany and set up business in Kenya.
“Amongst Odinga’s documents was a letter of introduction from Brahm Datt, a director of Fields (Eastaf) Limited to O. Holcraft of Alfred Field & Co Ltd … In the note, Oginga was described as a good business friend of Fields Ltd and was authorised to discuss business on their behalf …”
It was these letters that indicated that Jaramogi was receiving lots of money from Communist countries — but he never got to know that his travelling bags and documents were always secretly opened.
This intelligence would later be used against him.