October 25, 1969, is termed by many as the turning point for Kenya’s political landscape when the founding President Jomo Kenyatta and the then opposition leader Jaramogi Oginga Odinga became total political enemies till death.
This was three months after the assassination of Tom Mboya, the then most accomplished Kenyan politician who was seemingly a “threat” to President Kenyatta’s leadership.
Mboya, who came from Rusinga island, had gained a lot of following across the country and a cult-like following from his community, the Luos.
The brutal murder of the young Mboya, though no official confirmation, was associated with the Kenyatta regime, which was worried about his growing popularity in the country.
As a result, the Luo community led by Jaramogi became anti-government, with a feeling that Kenyatta had abandoned Mboya at his hour of need, or was involved in his killing.
On October 25, 1969, President Kenyatta decided to attend a rally in Kisumu to inaugurate the newly built New Nyanza Provincial General hospital, which was also attended by Jaramogi.
The two were engaged in a war of words, and the crowd became hostile to President Kenyatta linking him to Mboya’s assassination.
Infuriated Kenyatta could not take it in, and to stamp authority, he accused Jaramogi of fueling riots through his party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU). Jaramogi formed the KPU in 1966 after resigning from the government after differing with Kenyatta.
Historian Derek Peterson says, “Kenyatta threatened to ‘crush’ the restive crowd, and told Oginga Odinga that ‘you are hungry because you do not want to work. You have got people to expect free things. I, Kenyatta, am self-sufficient.'”
As a result, a riot erupted and President Kenyatta’s guards shot to the crowd, killing 11 and injuring several others according to the official tally. However, other reports indicate that over 100 were killed in the rally.
Some of the victims were shot in Ahero and Awasi, up to 50 km away from the site of the actual riots.
Here’s a clip of the riots in the day courtesy of the Associated Press as published on Twitter by Derek Peterson.
The 25 Oct 1969 rally in Kisumu was a key point in Kenya's history. There's v little footage. Here's a clip.
The crowd was justly angry about the assassination of Tom Mboya, Kenya's most accomplished politician. They shouted at Kenyatta; he responded by insulting Luo people. 1/ pic.twitter.com/YXS0IkXsQg
— Derek R Peterson (@Unseen_Archive) September 3, 2021
Two days after the massacre, all KPU members of parliament and a number of prominent party supporters were arrested. KPU was banned, turning Kenya into a one-party state until 1991 when Section 2A of the Constitution was repealed, thereby making Kenya a multi-party state.
The rivalry between the two was never resolved until they died, which have played in the Kenyan political scene for years as depicted by the sons of the two, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.
In 2018, the two sons sought to bury the hatchet and engaged in a handshake in a bid to unite the country and resolve historical injustices.