Kenya suspects its Mr. 'Double O' had links to foiled coup plot

By , Special To The Christian Science Monitor

One of Kenya's most colorful political figures, Oginga Odinga - known as ''Mr. Double O'' - may be in the deepest trouble of his long political life. Kenya authorities suspect he was one of the high political personalities involved in the abortive Air Force coup Aug. 1.

The suspicion has not been proven, but the government placed Mr. Odinga under a sort of house arrest at his home at Kisumu in western Kenya.

On Monday the Nairobi Times reported that police took the former vice-president from his home on Jan 1. Police in Nairobi have denied the report, but it is difficult to verify either story because, by government order, Odinga's phone has been cut off and he cannot receive visitors. His passport has been removed, and police guard his house.

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At one of the courts-martial of Kenya Air Force men that followed the coup, Odinga's name was mentioned. Witnesses said he had ''given his blessing'' to the coup attempt and that he had sent money to help recruit rebels. His son Raila is slated to be tried for treason.

Odinga was Kenya's first vice-president after independence, serving under President Jomo Kenyatta. But he never hid his radical and socialist views, and in 1966 he resigned after giving a series of speeches described as leftist. Odinga became an opposition politician, operating with a new group called the Kenya People's Union, whose limited support came mainly from the Luo tribe (of which Odinga is a member) around Kisumu.

In 1969, after allegations surfaced that Odinga had tried to overthrow the government, Kenyatta banned the Kenya People's Union, and Odinga and some of his colleagues were detained.

When President Danial arap Moi succeeded Kenyatta, he released Odinga from detention in a general bid for pacification among political groups and tribal communities.

Mr. Moi tried to bring Odinga into the establishment fold, giving him a job heading the nation's cotton development drive. But Odinga gave up his opportunity to have a role in Moi's government by making abusive statements about Kenyatta, who is a kind of Kenyan folk hero. Odinga lost his job and was expelled from Moi's Kenya African National Party (KANU).

Odinga gained new public attention by making it known in London that he was interested in forming a socialist party in Kenya to oppose KANU. He worried about the increasing influence of the United States in Kenya and about what he said was a deepening split between the rich and the poor.

The government then passed legislation to make KANU the only party in Kenya, foiling Odinga's plans for a new socialist party. Some key supporters were detained; others fled to London and continued the campaign against the Kenya government.

Under Kenyatta, Kenya had pursued a policy of encouraging an open society with a mixed, capialist-oriented economy, strong encouragement of foreign investment in industry, and alliances with the West. He fostered strong links with Britain and the United States.

Odinga has always been an opponent of those policies, which have produced a growing middle class of businessmen and entrepreneurs with little interest in socialist ideas. But recession has hit the poorer sections of the population and created more unemployment, which have given radicals such as Odinga plenty of ammunition.

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