In every child’s upbringing, grandparents, like other close kindreds, play a significant role in how they are molded to complete human beings.
From advice, culture, myths and crucial information about one’s community are passed on by the grandpas to their grandchildren.
However, due to many reasons this is not the case to every kid and one such case is that of ODM leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, his siblings and maternal cousins.
The children of late Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga had a very short interaction with their maternal grandfather, Chief Justo Odimo, who found himself in a serious crime that earned him a life sentence. And when he was about to walk to freedom again after a successful appeal, he was murdered in the prison.
As if that not enough, tragedy struck their grandmother who even attempted suicide after she was tricked into poisoning Justo to death.
Justo was a polygamous man who sired Mary Juma, Raila’s mother. He was a successful administrator in the colonial government as he was among the few Kenyans educated at Maseno School.
His popularity was rising when his life got jinxed. He was destined to become a powerful Chief but a mistake he made in a fit of rage cost him the job, freedom and life later.
Raila in his book “The Flame of Freedom” recounts how Justo became a convict and by the time the ODM leader was being born, the grandfather was cooling heels at Nairobi’s Industrial Area Prison.
Justo was drinking with friends and relatives when one of the drunkards called Ahomo provoked him by urging him to give one of his many wives to his brother.
An inebriated Ahomo further agitated Justo offering to be a volunteer as the facilitator of his proposed wife donation exercise.
Raila’s grandpa felt offended and vowed to teach Ahomo a lesson. He followed him out of the drinking den and a distance away in a secluded spot, hell broke loose.
According to Raila, his guka confronted Ahomo about his earlier utterances and in the midst of an altercation, Justo stabbed him in the stomach, killing him on the spot.
Nobody witnessed the murder but overcome by remorse, he reported the matter to another Chief Amoth Awira who happened to be his rival. He was immediately arrested and charged with murder.
The case was presided over at His Majesty’s Supreme Court of Kenya where Justo argued that he was heavily drunk and thus incapable of forming an intention to kill.
The court didn’t sympathise with him. He was sentenced to life and was locked up at Industrial Area Prison.
However, through a lawyer only identified as Archer, he appealed the sentencing at the East African Court of Appeal but the court upheld the previous court’s ruling.
His hope for freedom was dashed and by January 1943, when Raila’s father Jaramogi was marrying the old man’s daughter, he was lonely inside a walled cell.
Raila and his elder brother Oburu Odinga were not yet born when Justo was jailed but they visited him at the prison albeit a few times. One time in 1948 when the ODM leader only three, he recalls meeting his grandpa during one of the visits.
Justo did not give up on pursuing freedom. He appealed again and this time round, he was lucky. The sentence was reduced to manslaughter and was lucky to be set free.
Raila says the news of his release enlivened them but back home, some of his rivals who feared he was set for big things in colonial government once he was free plotted to stop him.
His adversaries engaged a medicine man to convince one of Justo’s wife that her husband needed some cleansing and protection so as not to be killed by his alleged enemies.
She was convinced that a curse would shadow her husband so she had to take him some concoction to protect him from a purported curse.
Raila’s grandmother innocently believed the medicine man, took a portion of the ‘cleansing product’ and added it to tea she gave the old man while in prison.
She regularly visited Raila’s grandfather with something to drink but when she gave Justo tea in this last visit, she unknowingly took a poisoned beverage.
Justo drank the tea happily as he looked forward to walking out of the prison in a few days’ time but once he gulped the last drop he dropped dead on the spot.
Once the wife realised the grave mistake she had innocently made, she was distraught and blamed herself for Justo’s murder, something Raila says haunted her for the rest of her life.
“My grandmother stripped naked, weeping and wailing… She was only barely restrained from committing suicide and she never really recovered from the incident for the rest of her life,” Raila narrates.
The two tragedies denied Raila and his siblings the love of their grandfather who could have been very instrumental in his leadership development as he looked forward to a more powerful chieftain post once a free man.