However much leaders tried to hide their differences as they headed to London for the 2nd Lancaster conference, the cracks were conspicuous. On one side was the rift between the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) over the system of governance, and on the other was the Jomo Kenyatta-Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya-James Gichuru factional differences within Kanu.
But nine miles away from the opulence of Lancaster House where the talks were taking place, another battle was slowly taking shape at Cumberland Hotel.
A rift had emerged within the Odinga-Kenyatta faction over the award of scholarships and funds from Communist countries, according transcripts of bugged conversations and correspondences seen by the Sunday Nation.
The schism can be traced back to ethnic divisions at the Kenya Office Cairo (KOC) in early 1961.
A Mr Kariuki had written to Ngumbo Njururi accusing his two colleagues — Odhiambo Okello and Wera Ambitho — of sidelining him by making dholuo the official language of KOC, making decision without reference to him, and employing a European woman who was more trusted than him. He asked Njururi, who was then working as Odinga’s contact in London, to visit Cairo to help solve the problem.
These differences later spread to Leipzig in Germany where tribal factions of students clashed over scholarships. Odhiambo, who died last month, had to make a quick visit to Leipzig from Cairo where he clashed with Mufoko Murwa.
In London, a disgruntled group led by Njururi later broke away from the Odinga-sponsored Kenya Students Association to form Kenya Student Scholarship Fund. Among the members of this new organisation were Kihara Mutu — who later became vice chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya — and Kimani Waiyaki who had studied law in the United States.
They were supported by Dr Munyua Waiyaki, who had been convinced by Odinga to vie against Mboya in the 1961 elections, but was trounced.
Despite Odinga rejecting the request to become the patron of the new organisation, its leaders, who were keen to exploit his communist connections, went ahead to list him as their patron.
The group later convinced Kenyatta, who was still in detention, to become their patron after they alleged ethnic bias in the scholarships. This forced Odinga to reverse his earlier decision and accept to be the group’s patron alongside Kenyatta.
He, however, withdrew his support a few months later citing constant bickering between the two student organisations in London.
In a letter dated Aug 8, 1961, and copied to Kenyatta, he stated:
“I failed to understand how and why our students who are obviously working for common objectives should ever come to loggerheads and decide to have two separate organisations at a time our country is crying for unity. And when persistent news from London has confirmed continued dissensions and jealousies, I have had second thoughts. I have now finally decided to withdraw sponsorship of the new separatist Kenya Student Scholarship Fund and will sponsor the parent Kenya students Association in the interest of unity.”
These ethnic and political differences in Kanu came to a head at Cumberland Hotel on February 24, 1962.
While Odinga’s allies complained that Kikuyu students were being incited against him, he was put on the spot for mostly sending Luos to receive military training in socialist countries.
These allegations against Odinga could somehow be linked to a letter written by his personal assistant Oluande K’Oduol to Odhiambo of Kenya Office Cairo on March 22, 1961 in which he said.
“Mzee (Odinga) and myself are very glad to know that you are ready to assist students and we are taking the first opportunity to send you copies of the application forms of a number of them.”
In the course of further discussions after bitter exchanges, a committee made up of members from the two factions was formed to settle the differences, and Kenyatta advised that all scholarships in the form of gift to Odinga should be controlled by Kanu.
He also said that the so-called KOC should become Kanu office. Odinga, however, remained non-committal to the suggestion.
The Kikuyu faction later went on to form Kenya House in Addis Ababa Ethiopia to rival the KOC.
Meanwhile, jockeying by the two groups for communist funds and scholarships still continued. Well aware of the influence Idris Cox, the secretary of the International Department of Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) had on Odinga, and in socialist countries, Waiyaki and Njururi approached him with a complaint of ethnic bias in issuing scholarships. Cox was disturbed by these allegations but refused to intervene unless he got full facts from Odinga.
Earlier, in a conversation with Kay Beauchamp — who was among the founders of the left leaning Daily Worker and also a leading light in the CPGB — Cox had narrated how Waiyaki and Njururi were moving around communist embassies looking for funds and scholarships with a letter bearing Kenyatta’s signature.
When Kay asked him whether it was fake, Cox replied he didn’t know the signatures of African leaders, therefore, he couldn’t tell. But he quickly observed that it was possible Kenyatta had signed since “some of these African leaders” are “careless about what they signed”.
Cox consequently raised the matter with Odinga on March 22, 1962 at a meeting attended by Kay and Dennis Phombeah, a Tanzanian who was the Secretary General of the London-based Committee of African Organisations.
Odinga explained that he did not have any set of scholarships — young people just came to him for advice on how to get to Cairo where they could get scholarships.
Those who succeeded, he said, were the ones who had the guts to walk from Kenya into Sudan to obtain travel documents to Cairo. Odinga denied that once in Cairo, there was still ethnic discrimination on the issuing of scholarships.
Two weeks after this meeting, reports were received that two Kenyan students had been arrested and 15 others restricted after ethnic violence in Moscow.
According to one American newspaper, the Tucson Daily Citizen, the fight started when Luos called Kikuyu students “imperialist stooges and British spies” for travelling through London. Kenyatta dispatched his daughter Margaret to Moscow to help solve the problem and also to secure the release of those who had been detained.
Towards mid-1962, in order to save students from the tortuous and cumbersome journey to Cairo, Odinga, with certain Tanganyika leaders, found a way of circumventing the strict Kenya government policy of issuing passports to students.
“Odinga specifically wanted to ensure that students whose qualification had failed to secure them Kenya passports would be able to leave from Tanganyika,” read a police report.
In this regard, Odinga, who was attending World Congress for Peace and General Disarmament in Moscow, sent K’Oduol to Tanganyika with a letter to Julius Nyerere for travel documents for Kenya students.
Ironically, he was making this request just a year after dismissing Nyerere’s role in the Independence for Tanganyika, instead saying, “The credit should go to Jomo Kenyatta,” according to the Daily Nation of March 31, 1961. Nyerere, who was much closer to Mboya, went on to accuse Odinga of sponsoring Zuberi Mtemvu the leader of Tanganyika African National Congress to communist countries to cause subversion.
Nevertheless O’luande still travelled to Tanganyika on July 13, 1962. Unfortunately he could not meet Nyerere who had travelled out of Dar es Salaam.
Instead, he met Rashid Kawawa who referred him to Oscar Kambona. Since Kambona was also away, Odinga’s envoy was asked to return on July 21. Tanganyika government eventually agreed to the request and four Kenyans were issued with Tanganyika passports.
According to immigration officer’s minute number S.120/204/06-50 addressed to the Minister of Defence, those given Tanganyika passports were Raila Odinga, two relatives of Odhiambo Okello and a lady called Grace Theresa Achieng.
The battle over communist scholarships continued until 1965, when Kenyatta’s government directed that all students going to communist countries had to get approval from the ministry of education, and all the scholarships had to be channelled through the ministry.
The writer is a journalist and researcher based in London