Revealed: UK ran cold war dirty tricks campaign to smear Kenya’s first vice-president

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British acold warfare propagandists smeared Kenyan vice-president Oginga Odinga successful the 1960s successful achromatic propaganda operations, recently declassified files reveal.

The Foreign Office’s propaganda arm, the Information Research Department (IRD), targeted the Kenyan nationalist successful a three-year run tally by its soiled tricks section, the Special Editorial Unit (SEU).

Odinga’s son, Raila Odinga, whitethorn beryllium elected president connected Tuesday erstwhile Kenyans spell to the polls.

Oginga Odinga was a large fig successful the conflict against British colonialism. After independency successful 1963, the British identified pro-west president Jomo Kenyatta arsenic their preferred leader. Vice-president Odinga was leftwing and unfastened to relations with the communist bloc. Concerned that Odinga mightiness regenerate Kenyatta, constitutionally oregon otherwise, the British tried to undermine him.

Although, arsenic British diplomats recognised, Odinga was not a communist, according to historiographer Dr Poppy Cullen of Loughborough University, helium “posed a nonstop menace to British interests”. Not lone did Odinga favour extremist home policies, helium accepted fiscal enactment from the Soviet Union and communist China. But President Kenyatta could not side-line Odinga, arsenic helium represented the almighty Luo tribe.

Declassified files uncover 4 “black” operations against Odinga. In September 1965, the Daily Telegraph ran a communicative headlined “‘Revolution’ papers successful Kenya”. It reported connected a pamphlet issued by the “People’s Front of East Africa” attacking Kenyatta’s authorities arsenic “reactionary, fascist and dishonest”. But it praised Odinga arsenic “a large revolutionary leader” who would beryllium brought to powerfulness by a “newly formed People’s Revolutionary Kenya Socialist party”.

In fact, it was a blase propaganda cognition that accrued suspicions that Kenya’s vice-president was successful league with communist China. The IRD sent 80 copies of its pamphlet to “leading personalities and the press”, the SEU recorded. Kenyan newspapers gave it monolithic coverage. Kenyan ministers were thought to person been convinced that the leaflet was genuine.

Referring to Odinga’s rightwing rival, Tom Mboya, the SEU’s John Rayner wrote: “A concealed study said that Kenyatta had thought it to beryllium the enactment of the Chinese, that Mboya had considered it to person been enactment retired by Odinga, and that Odinga had claimed that it was the enactment of the CIA.”

Dr Cullen says: “It intelligibly shows that Odinga was considered the main menace to British interests, and the lengths to which the British were consenting to spell successful bid to smear him.”

Odinga suspected helium was being targeted. In 1964, helium complained publically of a “spate of vilification and facile criticism” successful the British press. Picking retired British newspapers including the Telegraph, whose analogous Odinga expelled from Kenya 4 months later, helium complained astir reports implying helium was plotting against Kenyatta.

“British quality agents,” helium concluded, were “sanctioned by their authorities to walk connected authoritative accusation to the truthful called ‘independent’ property of Fleet Street.”

A declassified study for June to December 1964 reveals what appears to beryllium the archetypal SEU cognition against Odinga. In October, the SEU produced a leaflet, purporting to originate from the “Loyal African Brothers”. branding the Kenyan person “a instrumentality of the Chinese” communists.

Jomo Kenyatta is sworn successful  arsenic  Kenyan person  successful  1963
Pro-western person Jomo Kenyatta is sworn successful arsenic Kenyan person successful 1963. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

The Brothers were an invention of IRD’s propagandists. Over 9 years, 37 leaflets were issued by the fake organisation purporting to privation “to escaped Africa of each forms of overseas interference”.

Claims by Kenyatta successful April 1964 that “Mr Odinga and his associates whitethorn effort immoderate benignant of equipped oregon different enactment to prehend power” prompted plans for British subject involution successful lawsuit fears of a coup materialised.

It besides prompted different SEU cognition accusing Odinga of engagement successful a leftist coup.

Despite raids connected the offices and homes of Odinga and different radicals, resulting successful the confiscation of arms, nary factual grounds of a coup was found, and helium remained vice-president.

An appraisal by Britain’s precocious commissioner pointed arsenic grounds to Russian arms shipments, weapons successful communist embassies and premises nether Odinga’s control, arsenic good arsenic his engagement successful subject grooming for Kenyans successful communist countries. But adjacent helium concluded that “the plotters expected the overthrow to beryllium imaginable by much oregon little law means, and that the arms and trainees were simply to springiness them other assurance and backing if required”.

According to Cullen, writer of Kenya and Britain After Independence, though fears were genuine, “the coup was astir apt mostly fictional”, a “pretext for moving against Odinga”.

Nevertheless, IRD’s propagandists weaponised the precocious commissioner’s report. An nonfiction headed “Kenyatta Frustrates Leftist Coup” was planted successful a Swiss work successful a bid to propulsion it into occidental European media. “It is present clear,” it states, “that lone resolute enactment by President Kenyatta successfully frustrated a pro-Communist leftist coup successful Kenya.”

According to Professor Scott Lucas, a University of Birmingham specializer successful British overseas policy, “The communicative of British propaganda operations successful Kenya is simply a reminder that the days of a declining empire were not arsenic overmuch pomp and condition arsenic deception, disinformation and soiled tricks.”

At its “heart it was an effort by those successful London to proceed to exert power implicit a erstwhile colony good aft it had go independent”, helium said.

Odinga resigned from Kenyatta’s authorities successful 1966 and established a caller governmental party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU). But the country’s experimentation with multi-party ideology did not past long. Members of the KPU were detained without proceedings nether draconian caller laws.

In 1969, the enactment was outlawed. Odinga was placed nether detention and aboriginal imprisoned by Kenyatta’s successor, Daniel arap Moi.

His lad Raila, who followed his begetter into politics, was repeatedly imprisoned without proceedings earlier Kenya returned to democracy. It remains to beryllium seen whether helium volition realise his father’s ambition and go president of Kenya.

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