ARCHBISHOP ONDIEK: WHAT MANNER OF A MAN!
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
Former Ugenya MP Archbishop Stephen Oluoch Ondiek was Tom Mboya incarnation in matters education for Kenyans. It is my contention that in numerical terms Archbishop did better than Tom Mboya in that aspect.
Legend has it that Archbishop Stephen Ondiek Oluoch has no known school mates let alone class mates and the legend may be true. His legend further alleges that Archbishop Ondiek:
•never went to school
• never went through school
• never went round school
• As a matter of fact he never went about school.
Incredibly Ondiek is the one solitary man who brought schools to the people, forget about going to school. While Tom Mboya was airlifting students to Kingdom Come institutions of higher learning in the United States Archbishop was bringing schools to the people without a single foreign aid. 30 years later when Kenyans, drunk with paternalism are still heckling about girl child education, Archbishop Ondiek had seen the problem and taken corrective action quietly without a fuss.
ONDIEK EARLY YEARS
True Archbishop’s early years is not clear but not murky. He is recorded to have been born in 1945 which makes him a mere 13 years older than me. Had he been of the secular world like me we would have met in my Masat catchment area of James Ogoma King, Boxer Stephen Moi and all the sports fraternity of Masat. He rose through the church just like southern US Baptist politicians. He was not in the mainstream Catholic church or the Anglican church. This was quite a disadvantage in Catholic deep fishing waters of Ugenya and if he missed school on account of this I can understand because as an Anglican I know the challenges that were there and for a Legio Maria faithful growing up in Ugenya in those days. A non Catholic was practically a pariah. With their chang’aa, vulgarity and feminine provocativeness, Ugenya is still a very sectarian people. I went to school when Anglicans could only go to Anglican schools which were far spread out unlike the numerous Vatican powered Catholic schools. The amount of jeering and at times bullying that you faced with teachers cheering on left a sour taste in our mouths. I think Ugenyans were caught in this because of the sectarian politics in Uganda spilling over to Ugenya areas. And The East African Community essentially ensured that there were no visible boundaries really between Uganda and Kenya. Remember protestant Milton Obote was was out voting Kabaka and Kiwanuka because of the sectarian politics. The Baganda protestants had no problem voting for a non Baganda Obote. How Legio Maria Archbishop managed to squeeze through the Ugenya law making role we will discuss later.
Early years say he was in some NGO capacity Greek/Cyprus Orthodox church and mainly concentrating in Legio Maria community development activities until 1979 when he threw his hat in the ring for Ugenya Constituency. There are two things that made Archbishop Ondiek the most unlikely candidate to bother anybody let alone incumbent all powerful Cabinet Minister Mathews Ogutu.
Development wise Ogutu had done much better than immediate post Independent Odero Sar or nearby Alego- Usonga MPs of Okudo and Luke Obok put together. In fact, by his second term, Mathews Ogutu was a shoe in. One because he came from the populous and numerous Kapuny clan of Ugenya. The Kapuny clan are so populous that they have belligerently joined the Ugenya Kanyada (Kanyadians) to intermarry. Kanyada were ethically allowed because of the twin Homa Bay settlement with Kakan of Alego but Kapuny case is just tyranny of numbers. Anyway beating Kapuny in a numbers game is practically impossible and there is nothing they enjoy than blocking Ugenya Boro clan and Ugenya kaGer in a popularity contest. Fortunately for Archbishop Ondiek, he was from an Ugenya assimilated clan. Ugenya Kanyalaro have immense business acumen given their history of being frontier people. They are fast and they easily bend rules without breaking them. Making friends comes easy to them. So if Kapuny clan wanted an alternate then this was readily available cellophane, of no consequence assimilated clan candidate in the person of Kanyalaro’s Archbishop Ondiek.
Then there is the issue of sectarian politics of Ugenya. Archbishop Ondiek was a non-Catholic but he was not fierce rival Anglican. In fact, being a ‘mere’ Legio Maria was so deceptive as they were very much derided in Ugenya. This was a futile miscalculation on the part of Archbishop Ondiek rivals. Catholic is readily welcomed in Ugenya because it does not bar deep seated Luo rituals like polygamy, wife inheritance, and all those intrigues of Ugenya rituals that Anglicans frown on. Then Catholic has the added advantage that what pricks the conscience to an Ugenya man, the Catholics have prayers for anything that you want to do, e.g. tero lemo mar nindo, lemo mar chiew, lemo mar XYZ…. So Ugenya people were in a comfort zone with this African friendly denomination. However, Legio Maria went a step further. First it admitted all the heathens that were excluded from the church in the way Jesus would do for underworld lifestyle and they were allowed to live and continue prophesy, heal the sick, cure the sick and all the other things I cannot talk about as I claim Fifth Amendment. And Ugenya being a war front, community matters of deep faith resonated with the mass. Now Archbishop had all of the Legio Maria faithful while Mathews Ogutu could split with him the Catholics and protestants voters who did not care much about denomination loyalty.
Mathews Ogutu was so deceptively hoodwinked by this non quantity image of Ondiek that in the 1979 elections Archbishop was literally robbed at gun point by Mathews Ogutu. No, let me reword. Archbishop Ondiek was robbed at pistol point by my all-time favourite MP candidate Mathews Ogutu. The high court later nullified the, 26 votes win by incumbent Ogutu. However, Ondiek either through naivety or inexperience or bastard legal support carried and kept safely some of the wrongly spoilt ballot papers as evidence. The excitement of watching Ogutu being pummelled at the high court by his transgressions got the better of Ondiek and in the heat of the back and forth “spoiling of his votes clash” in the court room and apparently to trying to impress the white judge, he shouted, “bwana mbula kata moko bende eki” while producing the Ogutu wrongly defaced ballot papers. And believe it was wrong. Pistol in hand Ogutu had phyiscally defaced the Ondiek ballot papers at Siaya counting hall. Those days the law made it illegal to possess any ballot paper out of the voting centre whether stray ( Muli/Maranga) or hanging chads (Florida). That was a fatal mistake no matter how innocent it was.
That is something you don’t do with Attorney General Njonjo on prowl for his man Mathews Ogutu already punch drunk in the docks. The error made the judges find a route to block Ondiek and nullify the elections. Ondiek fielded Orengo his brother in law to face Ogutu in the by-election. Ogutu must have cursed why Ondiek carried the ballot papers to court. Did Orengo trick Ondiek his brother in law to get barred for 10 years after being found guilty? In Ugenya peoples mind and to the naked eye, it was Ondiek that had floored Ogutu again in the by election and it was Ondiek who was in charge.
In the eventual by-election, Orengo pipped Ogutu but still found a very popular Ogutu, with the sectarian catholic votes not moving for Legio Maria corner wholesomely. Then while Orengo was effectively representing Ugenya people in parliament, fate smiled on Ogutu as Orengo ran away into exile to escape government incarceration for some jail able offences of trumped charges false mileage claims or false pretence (issuing a cheque of shs 2500 without corresponding funds). Nobody had ever been jailed for such offences before. In the second by-election Ogutu romped back as Ondiek was still serving a 10-year bar for electoral offences. But fate had other plans as there was a twist to the tale from Nyakach Plains of Kisumu District.
The aftermath of Nyakach led 1982 coup brought fresh elections in 1983 and a Moi reprieved Ondiek now joined parliament after beating Ogutu. Strangely enough Ogutu still had his 20K plus catholic votes in his back pocket. Also noticeable was that there was less violence as compared to the Orengo by-election violence. It is very important to stress that this violence was not coming from the government or Ondiek or Jaramogi camp. A new force in Luo politics was consolidating their power and re arranging the plan right in front of Moi’s nose.
If Ondiek’s Siaya counting hall incident of pistol brandishing was not spectacular and the ballot papers in court was also not spectacular, then wait for this. In a meet the people tour by President Moi that took him to Ugenya after the coup where Moi wanted to assert his popularity to the western contries of US and UK, Ondiek handed Moi a life line with an out-of-sight rib cracking laughter.
While inviting the president to speak with students of Ambira High School in attendance, the newly elected Ugenya MP had spoken in river-Ndhoya Ugenya Oswahili, “Rais ata hii stima sisi naona tu onapitaaaaaaaa ikienda Busia. Si bado onja hii stima.”. (basically the electrification is bypassing Ugenya)
Ambira High School students who found this hilarious held their laughter in check not knowing that the president was also dying of laughter. Moi could not wait to burst out in a broad grin. So when a beaming President Moi got to talk, already there was love and laughter in the air. The entry point was there waiting to be picked up and shown to western world how popular Moi still is as the president.
“Archbishop hii mambo ya kuonja-onja he .. he.. he. Sitaki hiyo mambo. Ukionja hii stima,.. he hehe, utakufa”. (Basically it is alright for electrification but don’t use the wrong words)
Ondiek’s record must only be compared with either Ogutu or the combined 3 MPS of Alego Peter Oloo Aringo, Luke Obok and Okudo. However, against the 3 Alego MPs this would be very unfair and we will revisit when we tour Alego.
Against Ogutu who was much much better than the first MP Odero Sar, Ondiek charted his Own race in development. He was faced with Ogutus exemplary record in road network, schools and water. This was quite a tall order in Nyanza because undeniably Ugenya had the best road network in Nyanza. Ogutu seemed to be hang up on roads and water and some other things.
Ondiek did not do too badly in roads network in his 5 years in parliament. He did not better the roads but he did not let Ogutu standards drop. This means if you gave Ogutu an A* in roads network you must give Ondiek an A. Anything less will be unfair. In the ensuing terms there was the intervention of previous poor governorship and El Nino to make his roads works almost impossible when he returned in 2002.
On Access to Water Ondiek did better than Ogutu. If Ogutu developed and maintained existing natural sources, Ondiek went for Man-made sources of water. With his almost no education he managed to get public/ Third sector partnership with a Scandinavian Third Sector organisation to construct hand pumps all over Ugenya and central points.
His most remarkable development efforts was in the field of education. With zero formal education Ondiek went for Education just like Tom Mboya who also had his own education hampered. While Tom Mboya went for elites then chopped 30% Kenyan budget for education, Ondiek had his own ace up his sleeve.
He went around setting up private schools with very friendly terms and low cost structure for secondary schools. These schools reduced the competition for places for students seeking secondary schools from Ugenya. A student from Ugenya was almost on a soft scholarship. They were bursary friendly for needy students.
Then he upped the tempo in education. Traditionally the killer in education has been the cost of boarding. Never the tuition. With his down to earth attitude Ondiek pioneered day scholars for secondary schools in Ugenya. This magic wand almost wiped out the number of students failing to report for secondary schools places due to cost of boarding. It enabled even relatives to pool resources and now fund the needy in the family set up.
Finally, the master stroke in Education was something I almost laughed at and did not really appreciate until I saw Tony Blair’s programme for "mature students" in the UK. Mature students (up to 80 year olds) are still getting support for formal University degrees. In most cases because Mature students have invaluable experience in life and at place of work they either get massive exemptions or go straight for higher degree programmes. I only saw it in practice and did not bother to read it because I was dying with envy that once again an idea from Ugenya was being exploited in the world, (like former Envoy Dan Owino’s FIFA Football For All).
Girls education cannot and will not be provided equally until we bring in some equitable supply of that education to the girls. To the armchair gender activists, I say it is completely futile to talk of Girls education being equal when a girl can get pregnant drops out of school and their is no spring board to bring her back to school. In addition, in the Education for girls there must also be diversity taking into account the cultural chores that awaits the girl at home as opposed to boys. There must be a levelling of the cultural playing field for the girl child through diversity and not adversity. And here is where Archbishop Ondiek is my all day long star because he did it even before the western world coined Equal Opportunity and Diversity, let alone legalise them.
In Nairobi, Ondiek set up a girl’s school known as St Marys on Tom Mboya Street next Lengo house. This girls school had two features, it had half-day classes only and encouraged returning students who had fallen out of school for very many reasons. This at a time when those girls who did not procure abortion would never agree that they have conceived let alone that they had given birth. This enabled relatives to bring back relatives back to school instead of just having them as free house help. I am not talking of ancient Kenya. I am talking of early 1980 when single girls’ pregnancy was still a stigma. Then in Yala on the boundary of Ugenya and Gem he set another girls school to mirror Nairobi except this had boarding. And this coming from a person who had never been to school let alone a seminar in an NGO or meeting of Maendeleo ya Wanawake siasa kali! How he knew such things beats me. However I say a prayer for him when a product of that system and now a senior lecturer in a Western European University came out of St Mary's half day school.
Ondiek also had smaller projects that were innovative in conception. With the knowledge that his constituents had an attachment to ritual burial in Ugenya, he set up free transport for urban labour migrants in Nairobi who needed free transport body home for the body and the dependants.
Given that his down to earth local dialect plea to Moi at Ambira High School led to prompt rural electrification in Ugenya, we will have to wait for a long time to have a similar MP
MODEL. I am not saying Ondiek was a paragon of virtue or a model of excellence. He could mix it if need be but he was very moral. I am not saying this because he married nyamera (my sister). Agreed marrying nyager Oloro is an achievement in Luoland. You see in Luo land, men kiss the ground in which Kager ladies walk. I told you that Siaya people believe in a trodden path. There is this myth that Nyi kager ema nyuolo ga ruoth (Kager ladies are king makers) it emanates from the Big-man theory. So it counts for something to be associated with Kager lady. But I am judging Ondiek on his own merit not this nyager mythology.
Ondiek was not averse to mixing it when necessary. Once in a Siaya Kanu tribunal a vulgar Alego VIP had discounted a Gem VIP from chairing Kanu Siaya branch with very vulgar reason. The vulgar Alego VIP contended that a woman should not "sit" certain position in the district Kanu branch. When the meeting was called to condemn the Alego VIP, Ondiek who had the casting vote was faced with a dilemma because he needed both sides. After a while he claimed stomach upset and went to the toilet never to return due to serious bout of diarrhoea (diarrhoea my ass!). Welcome to American Filibuster restyled in upper River Ndhoya.
With no quorum the meeting was called off. It was a win- win situation for Ondiek. He maintained both sides. He won didn’t he? In any case my in-law Ondiek believed that Winning is not everything but loosing is nothing!
One time there was this nosy and noisy civic aspirant in Siaya who was embarrassing Ondiek like a boil on the back side. Legend has it that on nomination day one of the candidates with the knowledge that “Ohangala jig is to Alego people what Chang’aa swig is to Ugenya people” paid the Ohangla man to up the tempo near the 1.00pm deadline for nomination and lead the dance away from the nomination centre. With about an hour to go, the Ohangla man spiked with Alego brew shifted the gears of thumping the instrument and dancing away from the Siaya nomination centre. You know how Ohangla is so captivating, that even mother in-laws are quarantined and locked down at ceremonies when an entourage walks at the venue. Any how by the time the compromised Ohangla team made it back to the Siaya nomination centre it was 30 minutes past closing time. The nosy and noisy aspirant was barred. Do not repeat this elsewhere that I know who paid the Ohangla man plus a team of chang'aa spiked flirting women dancers.
Born in 1945, Ondiek a Legio Maria adherent had achieved more than enough in the first term. Legio Maria is derived from Roman Catholic, “Legion of Mary” or simply foot soldiers of Holy Mary, mother of God. Their practices are more of the Eastern Orthodox.
TUSSLES WITH ORENGO
Ondiek was the opposite of Orengo in every way. Orengo belongs to the populous Kapuny clan while Ondiek is from the minority assimilated cans.
Orengo is a top lawyer while Ondiek is nothing near that. Orengo is into advocacy and campaigns. Ondiek’s lane is less talk more action. That in 1992 Orengo dethroned him yet he is the one that brought up Orengo was a bitter pill to swallow in but Orengo is his brother in law just like me. You see even if I met Archbishop Ondiek having collected a whole terms school fees, and took it, he would do nothing. I am a brother in law. In Luo customs its the joy of being a brother in law. Or the pain if you are on the receiving end and you can do nothing, to ang' no nind kure. And we Luos have never complained to anybody that we want to change our Luo culture to put our brother in laws in jail. That is who we are. And that is how we spoil our wives. End off.
Orengo then hang in there for 2 consecutive terms before Ondiek wrestled the seat back in 2002 in a campaign riddled with personal tragedy where he lost 5 children in a freak accident. It is not the first time tragedy that followed Ondiek in parliament. One time a German swindler strangled his son and left the dead body in a hotel in River Road. Like the the great Great US Kennedy's and sinohonoho of young girls deaths, Archbishop Ondiek had this family tragedy. We all do have our own unique family sinohonoho, but I am not going to tell you my family's sinohonoho. (kwenda huko).
However, Ondiek was himself, never playing another face that he was not. He was a real person that you can touch and feel. He was an un-apologetic polygamist. He never even bothered to up his education despite marrying nyaGer a Phd holder. It is this Christ like humility that endeared him to Ugenya people that made him recapture the seat. He is never forgotten in the hearts and minds of Ugenya people because in a list of development conscious Ugenya MPs during the centralised government he is up there tussling with Ogutu for Number 1 without even a distant no 3 or 4.
The Luo legendary cultural kidology against a brother in law should make me vote Mathews Ogutu ahead of him but I want swallow my pride and say Ondiek silently went about his task to earn the right to be my no 1 MP in Ugenya.