How Kiraitu ended Raila’s hunger strike in detention

Thursday, September 26th, 2019 08:12 |
ODM boss Raila Odinga (centre) with some of the leaders who were in the Young Turks team during the launch of Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o (third, right) book at the University of Nairobi on Tuesday. Photo/PD/TIMOTHY NJENGA

When they first met at Shimo la Tewa prison at the Coast, they consulted deeply and even quarrelled over food. Kiraitu Murungi, then a youthful lawyer, had paid a visit to his new client, Raila Odinga, who had gone on a hunger strike. 

Raila, who was being held by President Daniel arap Moi’s government over his alleged role in the 1982 attempted coup, had refused to eat for seven days in protest of the mistreatment he and other inmates were being subjected to and for fear of being poisoned by State officials. 

Raila had become sick and appeared weak, according to Kiraitu, yet he remained adamant against breaking his hunger strike. Much as Raila had strong reasons for his case, Kiraitu told his client that he may have been playing into Moi’s hands.

“If you continue doing this (hunger strike), you are soon going to die my friend,” Kiraitu told him. 

“Don’t you think Nyayo (Moi’s nickname) will be very happy to see you dead?” the lawyer posed.  That single threat did the magic. The thought of granting Moi his wish was unthinkable and that day Raila enjoyed a sumptuous meal of rice and fried eggs.

Democratic change

That was nearly 35 years ago, and as Kiraitu, the current Meru Governor, narrated his encounters with the former Prime Minister on Tuesday night, at a function at the University of Nairobi, memories of yesteryears came flooding back in the minds of many in the audience. 

The governor was speaking during the launch of his Kisumu county counterpart Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o’s anthology of short stories titled, Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy in Kenya? Choices to Be Made.  

“The former prime minister and I are no longer the boisterous young men of the 1990s who arrogantly and forcefully pushed for democratic change.

Nonetheless, we and the rest of the Young Turks are available and remain the best bet for this country having seen it all and experienced the regimes of Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki and now Uhuru Kenyatta,” said Kiraitu, whose speech was punctuated by chants of “former PM” in reference to Raila. 

“I see my friend Kiraitu struggling to refer to me as former Prime Minister. How do you refer to me as ‘former’ yet to date I have not been replaced as PM?

This is precisely what the nature of our Kenyan politics has done to ideological friends – Kiraitu and I,” said Raila, to the amusement of his audience. 

The Meru governor regretted Kenya’s largely tribal-based politics had ruined many friendships, including his with Raila, saying: “You may call it primitive but ethnic politics is real and this is exactly how we were divided as the Young Turks.” 

Young Turks refers to a team of young professionals, mostly lawyers, political scientists, and university lecturers, who in the late 1980s and early 1990s teamed up to push for the so-called Second Liberation during the Moi regime.

Key members of the group included Raila, Kiraitu,  Nyong’o, the Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Mukhisa Kituyi, Senate Leader of Minority James Orengo, lawyer Paul Muite, former Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara and the late Michael Kijana Wamalwa. 

Imanyara said: “We are just the face of the so-called Young Turks, otherwise the title represents all those who were involved in the push for democratic space in the 1990s,” Imanyara lists Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, Justice Martha Koome, Raila’s spouse Ida Odinga, clergyman Timothy Njoya, the late Kenya National Congress leader George Anyona, among the heroes and heroines of the time.  

There was excitement on Tuesday night as the Young Turks reunited at the university’s Chandaria Centre for Performing Arts for the launch of a book by one of their own.

Although they have since walked different political paths, the men and women whose public careers were nurtured in the trenches, hugged passionately and recalled their political past with nostalgia. 

Team up

Raila recalled how he and Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, were tricked by former Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director Richard Leakey, into having a cup of tea in Nairobi’s Hurligham area, only for them to be locked in one room by the conservationist . 

After giving the two a tough lecture on the need to team up “to defeat Nyayo”, Leakey locked them in his office and left, with instructions that they must agree between themselves who should step down for the other.

Ngilu was running on a Social Democratic Party (SDP) ticket and Raila on the National Development Party.    

“We failed to agree, or rather we agreed to be hanged separately by Nyayo in the 1997 contest,” says the former premier.  

Kiraitu said the journey of reforms is a continuous one and must be pursued relentlessly. “But elections are not the answer.

In fact, elections do not always bring positive change, sometimes they bring pain and nobody knows that better than Raila,” said Kiraitu of the PM, who believes he was robbed victories past presidential elections. 

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