A date with death or the President: A tale of the Kisumu massacre
As we mark 43 years since the massacre. Paul Amina recalls the events of that fateful day and sayspoliticians should ensure that Kenyans live in peace, political issues notwithstanding.
What starts off well ends up well, goes the saying, but the contrary was the case at the grounds of the Soviet-built hospital in the lakeside city of Kisumu.
The venue was filled with school children, teachers, local leaders and traditional choirs ready to welcome and entertain their President Jomo Kenyatta and his Cabinet at opening the facility.
Those who had turned up to welcome Kenyatta met their death in the hands of his security detail. The new mortuary facility was home to victims of political rivalries.
Unfortunately, the event was more chaotic than anticipated, according to eyewitness accounts. Chaotic is a milder description of the bloodbath that Kisumu was on the afternoon of October 25, 1969.
In pursuit of elusive justice, eleven survivors and witnesses chronicled events of that day and presented a memorandum to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission tasked to probe historical injustices in the country dating to the time of independence.
In the detailed document, they say that on Kenyatta’s arrival at the hospital, drunken youths clad in the opposition Kenya Peoples Union shirts and caps provoked the Head of State with chants of Dume Dume (Bull Bull), the opposition symbol.
“Tunataka Mboya, Tunataka Mboya, Tunataka Argwings Tunataka Argwings”. We want Mboya, we want Argwings were meant to remind Kenyatta of the 1969 assassination of Economic Planning minister, Tom Mboya, on a Nairobi street and the mysterious accident of Foreign Affairs minister Argwings Kodhek in January the same year. The implication of these chants was that Kenyatta knew how the two ministers met their death. Both ministers hailed from Nyanza and participated in the freedom struggles.
A companion of the KPU leader, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, said Kenyatta’s security personnel could tolerate stage managed provocations and promptly reacted with gun fire that was aimed at the unsuspecting audience. In a split second, 20 people lay dead in a pool of blood with bullet wounds. Hundreds of others were injured as hell broke loose.
“Jaramogi was the target of assassination and we had to do everything within our power to shield him from attacks,” says Odungi Randa, Kisumu KPU District Secretary. " We shielded Odinga whom we rushed out of the scene to the hospital rooftop until calm was restored," said Randa.
After the shooting ended, Kenyatta directed his attacks on Jaramogi whom he reminded : “If you were not my friend, I would have today crushed you like maize flour”. Odinga did not take such remarks kindly and responded, “ Nyanza people are angry with you because of the unfulfilled pledges.”
When the Health minister Joseph Otiende took the platform to welcome the president to perform the opening of the hospital, Kenyatta was visibly angry. Otiende pleaded with Kenyatta to take things easy and talk to the audience as a father and to be magnanimous.
Kenyatta ignored the plea and cut the ribbon to declare the hospital open. He then proceeded majestically to his limousine and drove off in a hurry. Hell broke loose after and the shooting continued on the presidential route until he was safely at the border of Nyanza and Rift Valley.
At Kericho, the president stopped, addressed his cabinet ministers who resolved to impose a dusk to dawn curfew in Kisumu district as part of a crackdown on his critics. Odinga and his opposition parliamentary colleagues were arrested and detained without trial.
The ruthless attack on the audience and opposition in particular was an apparent retaliation to the humiliating defeat of the ruling party in a high profile by-election campaign to replace Kodhek in Gem constituency and the pelting of Kenyatta’s motorcade by a female mourner at the church service of the slain Mboya in 1969.
The surging popularity after the assassination of Mboya was a source of worry for Kenyatta who had delayed the first post independence elections, Randa believes. The incident was a ploy by State House operatives to justify the banning of KPU which indeed happened 48 hours after the incident.
Soon after the ban, the first post independent general elections were declared without opposition candidates in the ballot. This was the second time in a year to lock out KPU candidates in an election.
The then Supervisor of Elections disqualified 1,800 KPU civic candidates on account that the signatures of Odinga on the nomination forms were fake.
It did not come as a surprise therefore that few Luos who stuck with Kenyatta and Kanu lost their seats to new comers who had to undertake to vacate their seats to Jaramogi and fellow detainees upon release. This could not happen in Kenyatta’s reign.
For 26 years, save for the re-introduction of competitive politics in 1992, former opposition leaders were locked out of political competition.
Putting up the facility known as Russia Hospital at Kisumu was the culmination of negotiations between the Kenya government and the Soviet Union in 1965 on a number of projects the donor could finance as part of poverty reduction measures.
The ruling party Kanu in its pre-independence campaigns declared war on three national enemies namely, disease, poverty and ignorance and pledged to eradicate the same in society. Building a hospital of that magnitude was a realisation of a dream of the country’s founding fathers.
The Kenyan delegation to Moscow was led by Odinga to negotiate for among other things, the building of Nyanza General Hospital, a paper mill at Webuye, Ahero Irrigation Scheme, Chemelil, Muhoroni and Awendo sugar factories.
Most of these projects could not take off as planned due to super power rivalries in the country that resembled East/West ideological battleground.
The TJRC should recommend in its report that such cruelty should not be unleashed on innocent citizens and political parties should also ensure that Kenyans live in peace, political beliefs notwithstanding.
The writer is a freelance Journalist. Email; email@example.com