Raila's Classic Move That Saved Close Friend From Police Brutality

  • ODM leader Raila Odinga addressing ODM delegates in Nairobi on Tuesday, November 19. File
  • Having been taken into detention after the 1982 coup, ODM leader Raila Odinga was detained alongside his good friend identified as Alfred Vincent Atieno who had been a Dean at the University of Nairobi's Engineering Department.

    There, he revealed that they picked a habit of sneaking notes out of and into prison - a habit that was rife in the system by then, and whose consequences were dire if caught.

    "There was strong solidarity between inmates, and sometimes those going out would smuggle out notes for others. Inmates would sometimes write on a piece of tissue paper and fold it into a very small ball and drop it into the toilet block or look for another way to sneak it," Raila writes in his 2013 biography Flames of Freedom.

    Raila Odinga during his detention in the early 1980s.
    Raila Odinga during his detention in the early 1980s.

    In the biography, Odinga revealed that while he got away with sneaking the notes a number of times, twice they had almost been caught on the way back from court where the trial over his participation in the 1982 coup attempt was in progress.

    "On one occasion, I pushed the notes inside one of my socks. This was risky because when you are due to go out of the prison for a public appearance, your civilian clothes were brought to you, then when you had put these on, you were taken to the duty office and sometimes told to remove your clothes again for an impromptu search," he narrated.

    While he miraculously got away with it the first time around, luck was not on his side during his next outing alongside the University of Nairobi don, Atieno.

    Raila wrote that Atieno had a note wrapped in cigarette foil to stop it from getting wet, and had pushed it under his tongue to avoid detection.

    At the duty desk, however, the officer spoke to Atieno, who could not answer due to the presence of the rolled-up piece of paper in his mouth.

    "When we arrived at the duty officer's desk, the officer spoke to Alfred, who mumbled something incomprehensible in reply as his tongue struggled to find a way around the concealed note," Odinga recounted.

    He revealed that just as the police got curious, he cracked a joke that caused the officer to turn his attention to him and forget about the note, a matter that he revealed spared his friend the officer's wrath.

    Alfred Otieno who later became the Masinde Muliro University Vice Chancellor.
    Alfred Atieno who later became the Masinde Muliro University vice-chancellor.

    Odinga revealed that if any prisoners were found to have committed a misdemeanor, they would be pushed into solitary confinement where it was cold, dank, and wet, for 24 hours.

    Atieno was released in 1982 while Raila stayed on until 1989 before securing his release.