Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga was a Luo chieftain who became a prominent figure in Kenya’s struggle for independence. He later served as Kenya’s first Vice-President, and thereafter as opposition leader.
Odinga’s son Raila Odinga is the former Prime Minister,and another son, Oburu Odinga, is a former Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Finance.
Jaramogi is credited for the phrase “Not Yet Uhuru” which is the title of his autobiography written in the 1980s during his time under house arrest. “Uhuru” means freedom in Swahili and he was referencing his belief that even after independence from British colonialism, the brutal oppression of opposition in political affairs in Kenya, meant that the country had still not attained real freedom. Jaramogi’s son Raila was also in detention for a period of eight years.
According to Luo tradition, a Ker can not be a politician, so Odinga relinquished his position as king in 1957 and became the political spokesman of the Luo.
The same year, he was elected member of the Legislative Council for the Central Nyanza constituency, and in 1958 he joined the Kenya African Union (KAU).
He was amongst the founders of the Kenya Independence Movement in 1959, and in 1960, together with Tom Mboya he joined Kenya African National Union (KANU). When Kenya became a Republic in 1964, he was its first Vice-President.
As Vice-President he did not agree with Jomo Kenyatta’s government. While Odinga had called for closer ties with the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union and other countries of the Warsaw Pact, Kenyatta was in favor of approaching the United States and the Western bloc. This led to Odinga resigning from his post and quitting KANU in 1966 to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU).
The friction between Odinga and Kenyatta continued, and in 1969 Odinga was arrested after the two verbally abused each other publicly at a chaotic function in Kisumu – and where at least 11 people were killed and dozens were injured in riots. He was detained for two years, and was consigned to political limbo until after Kenyatta’s death in August 1978.
Kenyatta’s successor, Daniel arap Moi, appointed Odinga as chairman of the Cotton Lint and Seed Marketing Board. He did not last long in the post, presumably because he was still outspoken against Kenyatta’s policies.
Odinga attempted to register a political party in 1982, but when Attorney-General Charles Njonjo amended the constitution (which made Kenya a de jure single-party state), his plans were foiled.
Following the failed coup of 1982 against Moi’s government, Odinga was placed under house arrest in Kisumu. In 1990, he tried in vain with others to register an opposition party, the National Democratic Party.
In 1991 he co-founded and became the interim chairman of Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). The formation of FORD triggered a chain of events that were to change Kenya’s political landscape, culminating in ending KANU’s 40 years in power – eight years after Odinga’s death.
Odinga was polygamous and had four wives: Mary Juma, Gaudencia Adeya, Susan Agik and Betty Adongo. With these wives he had seventeen children. Mary is the mother of Raila and Oburu. Mary died in 1984.