Revealed: UK campaigned for Cold War dirty tricks to slander Kenya’s first vice president | Kenya

British Cold War propagandists smeared Kenyan Vice President Oginga Odinga with “black” propaganda operations in the 1960s, newly released files show.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ propaganda arm, the Information Research Department (IRD), targeted the Kenyan nationalist in a three-year campaign led by its dirty tricks division, the Special Editorial Unit (SEU).

Odinga’s son, Raila Odinga, may be elected president on Tuesday as Kenyans go to the polls.

Oginga Odinga was an important figure in the struggle against British colonialism. After independence in 1963, the British identified pro-Western President Jomo Kenyatta as their favorite leader. Vice President Odinga was left-wing and open to relations with the communist bloc. Concerned that Odinga might replace Kenyatta, constitutionally or otherwise, the British sought to undermine him.

Although, as British diplomats acknowledged, Odinga was not a communist, according to historian Dr. Poppy Cullen of Loughborough University “a direct threat to British interests”. Odinga not only supported radical domestic policies, he also accepted financial support from the Soviet Union and Communist China. But President Kenyatta could not sideline Odinga because he represented the powerful Luo tribe.

Released files reveal four “black” operations against Odinga. In September 1965, the Daily Telegram ran a story with the headline “‘Revolution’ document in Kenya”. It reported on a pamphlet issued by the “Popular Front of East Africa” ​​attacking Kenyatta’s government as “reactionary, fascist and dishonest”. But it praised Odinga as “a great revolutionary leader” who would be brought to power by a “newly formed People’s Revolutionary Kenya Socialist Party”.

In fact, it was a cunning propaganda operation that raised suspicions that Kenya’s vice president was collaborating with communist China. The IRD sent 80 copies of his pamphlet to “leading personalities and the press,” the SEU noted. Kenyan newspapers wrote about it en masse. Kenyan ministers were said to have been convinced that the leaflet was genuine.

Referring to Odinga’s right-wing rival, Tom Mboya, SEU’s John Rayner wrote: “A classified report said Kenyatta had believed it to be the work of the Chinese, that Mboya had assumed it was released by Odinga and that Odinga claimed it was the work of the Chinese. the work of the CIA.”

dr. Cullen says, “It clearly shows that Odinga was seen as the greatest threat to British interests, and how far the British were willing to go to slander him.”

Odinga suspected he was the target. In 1964 he complained publicly about a “stream of slander and easy criticism” in the British press. Sorting out British newspapers, including the Telegraphwhose correspondent Odinga was expelled from Kenya four months later, he complained of reports that he was plotting against Kenyatta.

“British intelligence agencies,” he concluded, “were sanctioned by their government for passing official information to the so-called ‘independent’ press of Fleet Street.”

A declassified report from June to December 1964 reveals what appears to be the first SEU operation against Odinga. In October, the SEU released a leaflet claiming to be from the “Loyal African Brothers”, labeling the Kenyan leader as “an instrument of the Chinese” communists.

Jomo Kenyatta is sworn in as Kenyan leader in 1963
Pro-Western politician Jomo Kenyatta is sworn in as Kenyan leader in 1963. Photo: Bettmann/Bettmann archive

The Brothers were an invention of the IRD propagandists. In nine years, 37 pamphlets were issued by the bogus organization that claimed to “liberate Africa from all forms of foreign interference”.

Claims by Kenyatta in April 1964 that “Mr Odinga and his associates might take some armed or other action to seize power” led to plans for British military intervention should fears of a coup d’état materialize.

It also sparked another SEU operation in which Odinga was accused of being involved in a left-wing coup.

Despite raids on the offices and homes of Odinga and other radicals resulting in the seizure of weapons, no concrete evidence of a coup was found and he remained vice president.

An assessment by Britain’s high commissioner pointed to Russian arms supplies, weapons in communist embassies and buildings under Odinga’s control, as well as his involvement in military training for Kenyans in communist countries as evidence. But even he concluded that “the conspirators expected that the overthrow would be possible by more or less constitutional means, and that the weapons and trainees should only give them extra security and support when needed”.

According to Cullen, author of Kenya and Britain after independencewhile the fears were genuine, “the coup was most likely largely fictitious,” a “pretext to oppose Odinga.”

Nevertheless, the IRD’s propagandists armed the high commissioner’s report. An article titled “Kenyatta thwarts leftist coup” was planted in a Swiss publication in an effort to push it into the Western European media. “It is now clear,” it says, “that only resolute action by President Kenyatta successfully thwarted a pro-communist left-wing coup in Kenya.”

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According to Professor Scott Lucas, a specialist in British foreign policy at the University of Birmingham: “The story of the British propaganda operations in Kenya reminds us that the days of a declining empire were not so much pomp and circumstance as deceit, misinformation and filth. tricks. ”

Essentially, it was an attempt by those in London to maintain control over a former colony long after it gained independence, Prof. Lucas said.

Odinga resigned from Kenyatta’s government in 1966 and founded a new political party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU). But the country’s experiment with multiparty democracy did not last long. Members of the KPU were detained without trial under draconian new laws.

In 1969 the party was banned. Odinga was taken into custody and later imprisoned by Kenyatta’s successor, Daniel arap Moi.

His son Raila, who followed his father into politics, was repeatedly imprisoned without trial before Kenya returned to democracy. It remains to be seen whether he will fulfill his father’s ambition and become president of Kenya.

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