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Ajuma Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, The Man Kenya Can Never Forget

Ajuma Jaramogi Oginga Odinga (1912-1994) was one of the leaders of the African political organizations which secured Kenya’s independence. He was a foremost critic of Kenya’s ruling party after he resigned as the country’s first vice-president in 1966, and he remained a vocal opposition leader until his death.

He was born in Bondo, Nyanza Province in Kenya in 1912. Odinga was a member of the second largest ethnic group in Kenya, the Luo. He entered politics in 1947 and soon found himself a staunch supporter of then political leader, Jomo Kenyatta.

Kenya gained independence in December 1963, and Kenyatta, a member of the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, became president. Odinga, a leader of the second largest ethnic group, the Luo, was appointed minister for home affairs in 1963, and in 1964 he became vice-president. Kenya became a de facto one-party state that year when KADU merged with KANU. Odinga increasingly opposed KANU’s direction after the merger, which in his opinion helped turn the government’s policies to the right. He openly challenged the government’s use of private and foreign investment capital and its close ties with the West.

Throughout the 1980s, international criticism of KANU’s human rights record grew and Odinga remained vocal in calling for democracy. In 1991, Odinga founded the National Democratic Party, but the government refused to recognize it and briefly jailed Odinga. However, international protests were effective and later that year Odinga and five other opposition leaders formed the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), the nucleus of a pro-democracy movement. When other nations cut off aid, KANU was forced to allow opposition activity.

The new party, Kenya People’s Union (KPU) was constantly harassed and its activities sabotaged by the government. In his quest for democracy, he formed the National Democratic Party (NDP) but Kenyatta’s government refused to recognise the party. Daniel Arap Moi took over the presidency after Kenyatta’s death and managed to convince Odinga to come back to the ruling party, Kenya African National Union (KANU). The reunion was brief as once again, Odinga left to form the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). The new organisation proved successful in forcing the government to allow for opposition parties. Odinga died on 20 January 1994 at the age of 92.

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