- With the continued death threats against Kenyatta, it was the mild-mannered Oneko who was, literally, putting his life on the line for him.
VAT 69 was Jomo Kenyatta’s drink in the evening after the Lancaster talks.
Together with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, they would sit and while away the time on the veranda of their hotel, according to Fitz de Souza, a lawyer who was at the negotiating table.
In his newly published memoirs, De Souza says that “when official meetings were finished, we talked over the day’s events, or socialised a little. Kenyatta, avoiding Tom Mboya and Njoroge Mungai, his personal physician, spent most evenings drinking on the veranda of his hotel room with Odinga.
"Kenyatta drank only VAT 69. He joked it was the Pope’s phone number. They would sit and chat for hours, and being both older, I think felt they understood one another”.
According to De Souza, “it would transpire that Kenyatta wanted Odinga as his number two, and Finance Minister in the new Government.
When the British overruled this, however, he accepted their wishes, and it shocked us all that he gave in just like that.
"We realised Kenyatta was very fond of Odinga in a way, while at the same time he wanted to make sure he was the right man, who would implement and support his own policies.
"There was only one other person close to Kenyatta during the Lancaster House conferences; anyone wishing to see the Kikuyu leader at his hotel had first to get past Achieng Oneko, who slept in the next room, barring the door with his bed.
"With the continued death threats against Kenyatta, it was the mild-mannered Oneko who was, literally, putting his life on the line for him."
Another little-known aspect of the Lancaster House conference was the mystery Odinga: In some photos he is seated next to Kenyatta and in others he is seated behind him. In most photos, Kenyatta is seated next to Fitz.
He explains: “Kenyatta, now around 70 years old, was also well aware of young Tom Mboya’s appeal and potential as a leadership contender.
"At Lancaster House, knowing Tom’s gift for oratory, he urged me not to let him take the stage but to answer every question myself and not worry that people might think I was talking too much.
"That wouldn’t have been a problem for me, as once I start talking I just can’t stop, but because of the seating layout, if I sat next to Kenyatta, Odinga would have to sit behind us. I told Kenyatta this wouldn’t be fair to Mr Odinga, who was Vice-President of Kanu, while I was nowhere in the party.
"Odinga though seemed unconcerned and told me not to worry: ‘Fitz, I know you’re a good man and you’re not going to take my job. I’ll sit behind you, and if there’s a photo opportunity I’ll just put my head out in front.’
I assured him there was no need to do that; whenever any pictures were being taken he must take his rightful place and have my seat.
"He appreciated this and was a humble man in that sense, willing to step back from his official position and let someone else speak. And speak I did! Anyone looking back over the minutes of the Lancaster House Conferences of 1962 and 1963 will probably find I talked more than anyone else.
"There were more technical discussions, trying to find compromise between the numerous communities – Indians, Muslims, Hindus, Kanu, Kadu, the two European parties, the Mau Mau party, which wanted independence at the coast, and the Kenya Freedom Party, supporting Kanu and the Congress Party. The sharpest division was between Kanu and Kadu.