This week, many were astounded when Former Kenyan Premier Raila Amollo Odinga opened up on his epic 1991 escape to exile in Norway.
Until yesterday, many of his young followers were oblivious of the fact that at one point in time, the man they call ‘Baaba’ had to sneak through the eye of a needle to save his life.
Perhaps, this would not have happened hadn’t little known Robert Njura spilled the beans days earlier.
But in a typical show of statesmanship, ‘Baaba’ as he is affectionately known, decided to reach out to Njura, a then Senior three student at Makunda Secondary school in Budalangi who paddled him to safety.
In a tear evoking testimony, he recalled how he left Kenya as a Catholic Priest and left the Ugandan territory as a Muslim, in a Thursday August 28, 2020 Facebook post.
“For my flight to exile in Norway via Uganda, to avoid a fourth detention and possibly assassination, I once again honor Robert Njura for his steady hands on the boat,” Odinga extolled.
Trouble started brewing in 1982 when a group of young malcontents within the army led by a one Hezekiah Ochuka Rabala attempted to oust President Arap Moi in a badly staged coup.
After subduing the plotters, a paranoid Moi went on rampage incarcerating political opponents and insiders who dared him.
By 1992, Odinga, who then was a thorn in the flesh of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), had already endured three prison spells and numerous threats.
However, around June 21, 1991, he received credible intelligence that state agents were planning to do away with him once and for all.
This prompted him to immediately take to his heels.
“I was evacuated from here following first; an attack by some goons who had been hired, they were following me. They had attacked me in front of my house and I was admitted at Nairobi Hospital,” Odinga recalled yesterday.
Under the stewardship of the Catholic Church, a plot was hatched to sneak him outside the country before the worse got to the worst.
“So I took off through the grace of the Catholic Church, one father, Mark Opio and a catholic nun, Sister Dianne from the United States,” Odinga retorted.
“The father was wearing a collar, the sister was wearing white and myself I was being carried with a collar. And my name was Father Augustine from Machakos,” he stated further.
Thereafter, the company proceeded to a catholic mission in Kisumu where they were served a meal before heading to Ranga’la Mission.
At night, Odinga was taken to a canoe at Sirongo beach located in Bondo and entrusted to Njura, who first steered him to a Lake Victoria Island known as Ndende.
On the waters of Lake Victoria, they came into contact with a boat being manned by Ugandan businessmen.
“These were businessmen, they were bringing timber and they would go back with manufactured products. They would take clothes, sugar, mattresses and so on,” he disclosed.
After acquiring fake Ugandan documents in the name of Joseph Ojiwa, they set off again and arrived at another island where they found only one resident, a man who was related to Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Ouko.
Their next journey took them up to an island near Iganga from where Odinga boarded a Jinja bound taxi and changed to another one which took him to Kampala.
“At the entrance of Owen falls Bridge, we found a road block and they were expecting identification. They saw my name Joseph Ojiwa Odero there and I had also certificates of tax called ‘emisolo’,” he intimated.
After maneuvering through obstacles of all kinds, Odinga arrived in Kampala.
This time he was alone had parted ways with his fellow Kenyans who had helped him evade arrest.
Within a blink of an eye, he raised his long time friend, a one Shem Konga who came to his rescue.
On top of housing Odinga for the unspecified time he was in Kampala, Konga assisted him to get documents for asylum in Norway.
“They were again looking for me in Uganda and I had to be camouflaged again. Here I departed as a Ugandan Moslem with a kanzu and my name was Al-Hajj Omar, a Moslem who was going on pilgrimage to Mecca. And that’s how I boarded a plane from Entebbe,” Odinga explained.
Risks at hand
Whereas Government apologetics might claim that Odinga’s persecution was a hoax, media records say otherwise.
A 1992 British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) “Focus on Africa” article written by Mitch Odero, who at the time a deputy editor of ‘The Standard’, offers some important leads.
In his article contained in the October to December 1992 issue, Odero recalls a series of mysterious deaths that gripped the nation starting with that of Kenya’s Foreign Minister Dr Robert Ouko in 1990.
Two years after that incident, Hezekiah Oyugi, Powerful Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President also followed suit.
“He died with vital information about the people who murdered Kenya’s Foreign Minister Dr Robert Ouko in 1990. Mr Oyugi was in charge of internal security and provincial administration,” Odero writes.
At the time of his death, Oyugi was interrogating circumstances that led to Ouko’s sudden death but all of a sudden, a judicial commission appointed to this matter was disbanded a day before he could tender in evidence.
Instead, he was named as a suspect in Ouko’s death, incarcerated and died shortly after being released.
“A former International Police (Interpol) Chief in Nairobi, Nehemiah Ombati who had arrested Mr Oyugi and Mr Biwott, died at a Nairobi hospital a day before Mr Oyugi was buried,” Odero further intimates.
A week later, Forum for Restoration of Democracy (FORD) Vice Chairman Masinde Muliro, a close friend of the Odinga’s followed suit.
In an intriguing twist of events, he passed out after returning from a foreign trip where he had met a dissident, a one George Luchiri Wajackoyah.
“A week before Mr. Ombatti died, the vice chairman of FORD, Mr Masinde Muliro collapsed and died at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi. He had just returned from London where he had met a former police officer, George Luchiri Wajackoyah,” the article stipulates.
Wajackoyah had reportedly run to London with a cache of evidence incriminating top Government Officials on the murder of the Oyuko.
“Wajackoya had fled to London early this year, claiming to have in his possession highly damaging information about leading politicians gained when he tapped their telephones as a member of the police ‘music box’ unit,” Odero further alleges.
Coincidentally, Moi’s total man, Biwott, had travelled on the same flight with Ouko to and fro but absolved himself saying it was mere chance that they boarded the same flight to the same place.
Perhaps what sums this conversation is an interview of (Raila’s) father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga that is contained in the ‘Law Magazine’ issue of January 1992.
Asked whether the President’s advisors were to blame, he replied, “He cannot be a good person. Advisers go according to your feelings; behave according to your feelings. If they know that Moi likes this or the other thing, then they advise him in that direction.”
“Kenyatta was more humane and at the same time public opinion influenced him. He tried as much as possible to meet people halfway. Moi’s regime is quite ruthless,” Oginga juxtaposed.
At the time, Oginga was interim Chairman of FORD, having parted ways with the ruling KANU as early as 1966.