Monday, February 18, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

I don’t remember when Kenyans had this kind of nightmare; when so much seemed to happen all at the same time. Like they say; when misfortunes come, they never come single. When they do, their children and grand children follow them in hot pursuit.

This week, every thing than needed to happen, every big story that needed to make it to the headlines made it in quick succession. First, Ramogi Achieng’ Oneko, Kenya’s remaining celebrated and decorated freedom fighter passed on in his Rarieda home.
That was the story that soon hit the airwaves in every media; formal and informal. Just as the FM stations were preparing to beat TV networks to it, mobile phones were already on it like wild fire.

So much has been written this past week about this Kenyan hero, the last of the Mohicans! It will therefore be futile to try and write anything because it won’t be better.
However, as a personal tribute to the fallen hero, I would like to share with Kenyans three occasions when I was privileged to meet and know Ramogi Achieng’ Oneko.

The first occasion was at Club Naya in Museum Hill. This was the club that Ramogi opened soon after coming from his last detention. I had heard of Club Naya but never knew Ramogi Oneko was connected with its business. I also knew that Naya was a name of one of the clans or locations in Uyoma because my class three teacher many years earlier had come from Uyoma Naya.

When two of us young men ventured to go to this club, it was because we had been told that if one really needed to enjoy Luo Music- Benga and Nyatiti, Club Naya was the place to go. If one needed to sample exotic and delicious Luo dishes hot from the lake, it was at Club Naya.

As we entered the club, one of Oneko’s sons who I had known during our university days met us at the door and welcomed us in. Instinctively he offered to introduce us to a slim elderly man who rather resembled him. That man was his father, Ramogi Achieng Oneko. Of course I had seen his pictures in the press a thousand times over, from time immemorial. After all he was one of the living legends of my generation. However, what aroused my curiosity was his humility in the way he warmly welcomed us to his modest club. At first we felt intimidated being welcomed by this freedom hero, a detainee in colonial and post colonial era and a person whose history could fill volumes of books.

As we obliged his invitation to sit with him and share a drink with him, he did his best to make us feel comfortable. Soon we were very much at home talking about Kenya’s current affairs and the politics of the Moi era since Kenyatta, his last detainer had passed on.

When it was all over, it dawned on me why the children of Ramogi I had come across were always humble and self- effacing, unlike children of other politicians who loved to throw their weight around and flounder ill- gotten wealth that they had never worked for.

When Ramogi attempted a come back in politics by contesting Langata and Nakuru seats during the Moi era, I never really came across him but my heart was always with him. I always prayed that he would win the seat and return to politics. However, the politics of the time could not give him a chance to practice what he knew best.

Being the optimist that he was, his was not to give up in life like many independence heroes who had thrown in the towel. And they were a handful. Among the Kapenguria six were Paul Ngei, Fred Kubai and Bildad Kaggia, languishing and finally dying in abject poverty.

Patiently Achieng Oneko bade his time until 1991 when anti- KANU forces forced Moi to liberalize politics. He took the opportunity and teamed up with his life time friend and teacher, Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga to form FORD, the first opposition political party since the demise of KPU in 1969. Along with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga were Masinde Muliro, Kijana Wamalwa, Paul Muite, Kenneth Matiba, Martin Shikuku and several young Turks that included Gitobu Imanyara, Raila Odinga, Musikari Kombo, James Orengo, Ooko Ombaka, Mukhisa Kituyi and Professor Anyang’ Nyongo’ among many others.

Unfortunately, this galaxy of political activists was not to last. First Muliro died suddenly on his way from London while Kenneth Matiba was hospitalized in London. However, when Matiba came from London, he and Martin Shikuku had made up their minds that Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who was the then FORD Chairman did not have to be an automatic presidential candidate. They decided to challenge him, failing which they split the party and formed their own Ford – Asili with Matiba as the party leader while Martin Shikuku became the splinter group’s Secretary General.

As FORD split into Ford-Asili and Ford- Kenya, Ramogi Achieng’ Oneko decided to remain with Jaramogi in Ford Kenya. On that ticket, he won the Rarieda seat in the 1992 elections and continued to represent that constituency until 1997 when again wrangles in Ford Kenya caused him his seat. He was defeated by a political green-horn, Odeny Ngure, who like him, served Rarieda for one term.

The last time I met Achieng Oneko was in December 2001 during the celebrations of Kisumu 100 years. It was by sheer coincidence that I was one of the national organizers in charge of protocol on the big day that Presidents Moi, Mkapa and Museveni were in town. Along in tow were almost the entire diplomatic community that had descended on the lakeside town of Kisumu to witness the celebrations. Raila Odinga was then Minister for Energy in the Moi government and by virtue of that he was the host of these great leaders. As people jostled for vintage positions in the packed Moi Stadium in Kisumu, I saw some elderly people who looked rather familiar.

On moving closer, I realized that one of them was Achieng’ Oneko, the other Oselu Nyalik, both former cabinet ministers in the Kenyatta government. I could see they were struggling and jostling with every body trying to look for seats. It was at that time that I moved fast through the crowd, up the stairs and fished them out and gave them seats in the VIP area. I could not believe the relief in their faces! Then I wondered aloud to myself why in our social psyche, we never really give due recognition to our leaders of yesterday. I could not understand why I had to usher in some MPs that were young enough to be Oneko’s grand children yet, he had to struggle with hooligans in the crowd.

Now that Achieng Oneko is dead, many kind words have been said about him. His enemies, political rivals and friends alike have spent the last week jostling around his coffin to have the last glance of his face before he is lowered to his final resting place. Yes, the high and mighty have paid their last respect to the fallen hero. The government of Mwai Kibaki has given him a national burial befitting his stature and struggles for this country. But I only wish that those great leaders that continued to flock Lee Funeral Home and his humble Woodley apartment could have done more for him while he lived. They didn’t have to have shared their wealth with him. All they needed to do was to share their precious moments with him while he lived.

Which brings me to my last encounter with Ramogi Achieng Oneko. The scene was at the prestigious Grand Regency Hotel in Nairobi. After one of those national days during the Narc government and President Kibaki had decorated him, Raphael Tuju, the current MP for Rarieda decided to feat Oneko. It was a rare gesture that is hardly practiced in Kenya. But Tuju did it and did it in style, not with public funds but with funds collected from friends and well wishers.

What was unique about this Oneko treat was not the amount of food that was consumed. It was the symbol of appreciation that was more meaningful according to me. It gave Mzee Oneko a chance to touch base with his old buddies. There was Charles Njonjo, Odero Jowi, Oselu Nyalik, Dedan Kimathi’s wife, Kaggia’s children, Wamboi Otieno and many more independence heroes that were still alive.

As we said farewell to the last of our Kapenguria Six, we said many good things about him. We cried our hearts out. We spared no expenses to get to Rarieda and be seen there.
However, how much did we reflect on? Can we today promise to make this country a better place for future generations the way he struggled for our freedom? If we do this , it will be the best tribute to Jaduong’ Ramogi Achieng Oneko.