BY PHILIP OCHIENG
How would one define any political rivalry between Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere? First, they led two separate states and then, at the time that concerns us here (a few years after independence), the one and the other had already reached the summit of power as presidents of their respective countries. Between the twain, therefore, the question of rivalry could not yet arise.
There was, of course, a third protagonist, namely, Milton Obote of Uganda, across the Great Lake. That reminds us that, by then, there had emerged a solid trophy to vie for – namely, the East African Federation proposed between the three countries just before independence. Which of the three chiefs was to head it – Kenyatta, Nyerere or Obote (or, after the 1972 COUP in Kampala, the dreadful Idi Amin Dada)?
At least two eventualities merged to put paid to the federation. One was the alienation of Kenya when Tanzania and Obote’s Uganda adopted certain principles called “socialism” aimed at nationalising Britain’s colonially acquired neo-colonial property. The other was the alienation of Uganda, especially by Tanzania, as soon as Idi Amin’s human hecatomb became manifest to the world.
If there ever was a rivalry between Kenyatta and Nyerere, this was its original nub and core – namely, a rivalry for a voice in the world between Kenya’s client market economy, buttressed politically by the erstwhile colonial powers, and Tanzania’s bid for economic independence, with econo-political support by a China which had become the world’s pariah in Western Europe and North America.
Idi Amin’s persistence in slaughtering internal opponents by the thousand and his philistine behaviour in the comity of nations combined to thwart all regional co-operation all the way till the guerrilla forces of a young university graduate called Yoweri Kaguta Museveni – with quintessential assistance from Nyerere himself and US President Jimmy Carter – overthrew Amin in 1979.
The recalcitrance of the Man-on-Horseback – as Edmund Burke recognised Amin’s ilk – combined with the machinations of certain well known pro-British individuals in Nairobi to lead directly to the collapse of the East African Community and, in its wake, such vital common services as the East African shilling, East African Airways, East African Harbours, East African Railways, the East African Income Tax Department, the University of East Africa and a number of research bodies.
Of course, the ideological rift between Kenyatta, on the one hand, and Nyerere and Obote, on the other, had contributed essentially to the disintegration of those institutions – and, thereafter, to thwarting the freedom of movement of labour, goods, ideas and skills throughout the region. Despite the EAC’s resuscitation more recently, the region has never fully recovered from these follies of our political ancestors.
Yet Kenyatta’s exact attitude both to Nyerere and to the EAC was never explicit. It may be gleaned only by comments on the community by his attorney-general Charles Njonjo, when he toasted to celebrate its collapse in 1977. The story – probably apocryphal – went round that one day Kenyatta threw a cocktail party at State House, Nairobi, for visiting heads of African state.
So much beer was imbibed that, at one point – because all the urinals were occupied – Kenyatta sneaked out into the rose garden to pass water. However, when he saw Nyerere approach for the same purpose, he tried to hide between the bushes. But Nyerere caught up with him to ask why he was trying to hide his male organ. To which Kenyatta replied: “I know you, young people; whenever you see a good thing, you rush to nationalise it!”
The story was, of course, apocryphal. However, it summarised official Kenya’s attitude towards the spate of nationalizations during the latter half of the 1960s of Britain’s colonially grabbed property throughout Tanzania and Uganda. And it marked a sharp contrast between the foreign policies of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
How was it that all liberation movements in Africa, South America, Palestine, Indo-China, southern Europe and North America (among the blacks) had missions in Dar es Salaam but not in Nairobi? Kenya’s Foreign Ministry was expressly hostile to such movements as Frelimo, Swapo, MPLA, Polisario and PLO. Contrariwise, Dar es Salaam never hid the fact that it supplied money and weapons to many of those movements.
Despite Tanzania’s relative poverty vis-à-vis Kenya, Tanzania went to great extents to harbour and finance those movements, thus risking counter-attacks from such colonial powers – still overwhelmingly present all over the African continent – as Britain, France, Portugal and, across the Atlantic, the United States, their strategic ally and material supplier.
Official Kenya’s fawning towards all Caucasians was personified by the attorney-general. Charles Njonjo’s menial behaviour towards all whites was remarked upon nationwide. But this does not necessarily mean that, at the personal level, Jomo Kenyatta and Kambarage Nyerere were irredeemably hostile to each other. Nyerere, who frequently paid state visits to Nairobi, often declared publicly that, between Kenyatta and, say, Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, he (Nyerere) would sooner celebrate Kenyatta because Kenyatta had played a genuine role in the nationalist struggle, whereas Banda had not.
One day, when I worked as a sub-editor and columnist in The Standard Tanzania – the government’s print organ – a group of individuals, who said they were Kenyans, but whom I had never met before, telephoned to invite me to a room at Dar es Salaam’s New Africa Hotel. On my arrival, they confronted me with a plan to overthrow President Kenyatta and asked me to play a certain role in it.
Although they insisted on addressing me in Kiswahili, I knew from heir accents that they were all Luo. It made no sense to me. They never preached any ideology. It seemed that their aim was only replace a Kikuyu with a Luo at Kenya’s helmsmanship. It so bothered me that I reported the matter to Ben Mkapa, our chief editor (and later president of the republic).
I have no idea what Ben did with the information. But, quite instructively, I never again heard from the would-be putschists. Thereafter, however, Nyerere made his attitude to Kenyatta unmistakable. No, Nyerere never doted on Kenyatta’s economic policies and on Kenya’s servile political servility in front of Britain’ erstwhile colonialists.
Yet during the trial in Nairobi of certain Kenyans accused of plotting to overthrow Kenyatta – a case in which Nyerere was cited in positive light – the Tanzanian leader remarked that, while he would gladly help overthrow Malawi’s Hastings Kamuzu Banda, he would never take part in toppling Jomo Kenyatta because the latter had played a clear nationalist role.