DR. ROBERT OUKO: WHAT MANNER OF A MAN!
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
Dr Robert Ouko was not known by a constituency, he had no grassroots in popular politics. Dr Ouko was a technocrat through and through. I liked him even though I had never spoken to him, never got in his crowd and as a matter of fact his hesitant public speaking did not endear me. He was much fun when closing a speech than at the beginning. I think what he lacked in public speaking is also what lacked. You know lovers always want to be loved but this is not evident at the beginning of a speech.
How did I discover Dr Ouko in my life? There were 3 oukos in my life. This one was the last. First there was the athlete who starred in Munich Olympics when I was in standard 7. I thought he was a Luo and was really happy just the way we were happy to see Pele of Brazil at the world cup, one of us in the world cup. Then at about that time there was a medical doctor who was praised in a hit song by Benga artist, George Ramogi. This was a member of my clan who I eventually met in those Umira Kager meetings. This last Ouko I got to know while in college studying and mourning the fall of East African Community. Then in 1979 I saw him at a distance during the East African football game between Kenya and Malawi that Kenya lost and I was very upset. I don’t always support Harambee stars but going to this tournament we had a cabinet to be proud off and a national team selected without corrupt practices. I was struck by his small frame and the stories I used to hear that he was a goalkeeper in college or school. I wondered how such a small person could be a goal keeper. How did he end up being a goal keeper? That was a gross mistake unless fate pushed him into goal keeping. Much later I was to learn that in many ways he had the mind and the approach of a goal keeper and that all was going for him as a goal keeper. Accepting everybody’s mess as his and taking the blame for things that don’t concern him. His whole life was about being burdened with deeds of others but he never minded.
My personal interest was in how well educated Dr Ouko was. I used to admire his degrees, fellowships, and memberships of institutions of experts. When Moi took over and he was allocated the Ministry in charge of community affairs to help tidy up the break up with the Swiss Umbritch in the division of East African Assets, I was happy because that was the last vestiges of the community being cleared by an expert. I looked up to him with nostalgia as he represented something that was being killed by greed and he was there at the alter serving the flesh and blood. It was a heavy heart because I loved EAC. Still Dr Ouko put me in a dilemma of celebrating his appointment and mourning the E A Community.
Then after the first Nyayo elections in 1979, when he won and I believed he was very popular, he was reappointed cabinet minister to replace Dr Munyua Waiyaki as the Minister in charge of Foreign affairs. There was a pattern here in my life. Dr Ouko was always catching me in two worlds. Two choices that I really liked and I must have both without letting one go. What is this man doing to me? I have to explain
In my generation Dr Munyua Waiyaki was the closest we got top guys like Muhammad Ali, Nyerere, Andrew Young. I mean non-violent real revolutionaries. Dr Waiyaki is the one who shaped Kenya's Foreign policy. Dr Waiyaki battled Somalia during the Ogaden war flare up with nothing but hard diplomacy. I remember his warning to the US when an American plane was caught transporting arms to belligerent Siad Barre of Somalia (We are being forced to seek arms to defend ourselves against Somalia and we don’t care whether they will be blue or red bombs). The US got the message loud and clear and stopped the arming of Somalia. Kenyatta cabinet could not even organize a piss brew in a toilet when it came to foreign affairs. Single handedly Dr Waiyaki is also the one who told off South African who were deeply entrenched in Kenya raiding ANC camp in TZ to capture leading soldiers and send them back to South Africa through secret airports in Kenya. So to young opinionated wide eyed Kenyans like me Dr Waiyaki was everything we were looking for in a hero. Now when Moi appointed Dr Ouko, I had to choose in my head and heart who do I love. I loved Dr Waiyaki with my head and I loved Ouko with my heart. That is how I can describe it. However I could not have both as foreign affairs minister. The other berth was Economic Planning which was held by Mwai Kibaki. No way would I touch another diamond in the cabinet. I accepted fate of losing Dr Waiyaki to some ministry.
The other challenge Dr Ouko gave me was in 1988 elections. Job Omino was fine and a relative that I cannot speak ill off. You don’t speak ill of your sister’s child because you are the protector. But here is Dr Ouko. Sentimentally I wanted both to succeed in the same constituency. Call me what you want. A prostitute, airhead, confused guy but I wanted both. Fate delivered both peacefully and we will come back to that.
Finally in his death Dr Ouko left me in pieces so I hope he is in peace. I will touch that right at the beginning. I was very close to matters that took place the first time Moi went to condole the family. The eye witness who was no more than 2 meters away told me that when Dr Ouko’s wife Christabel’s face fell on Moi she wept and sobbed with all her body and fell in Moi grasp otherwise she was going to collapse. I never want to visit this story because I always relate to desperation in the bible “My Lord why have you forsaken me?” Again Dr Ouko leaves me with decision to make when there is really no choice. What is there to choose? So for me Dr Ouko has always been “you cannot choose; life will make choices for you” I will come back to “why have you forsaken me?”
CAREER IN DIPLOMACY
Dr Ouko was a trained diplomat. I was once told that diplomacy is the art of telling someone to go to hell in a way that that they are really happy going to hell. And even if they don’t tell you go to hell everything they do is to tell you to go to hell.
What people don’t realize is that diplomats all over the world are somehow trained to be cold. And treat people at arm’s length which Dr Ouko was not. Most retired diplomats lead a very lonely life and after retirement their wives usually escape to go and live in the west because they cannot survive with that solitude in Kenya. Any national complains about their own embassy or consulate as being detached from reality. No matter how they smile at you diplomatic people are cold because they are always watched and can be recalled just for watching TV or going to church. During Dr Oukos time in Arusha people got the wrong side of him. That he was cold and Kenyans would rather go to the EAC ministers of TZ and UG for welfare matters instead of Dr Ouko who was supposed to attend to. There was even a cheap slur that he once turned his mom back when she went visiting in Arusha because she did not write a letter asking to visit. I was told that that was far from the truth of what really happened by a community staff. In any case I loved Dr Ouko so much I would not mention it if it really happened.
But something was bothering me. Dr Ouko like Waiyaki were in a docket that the common mwananchi could not really identify with. In fact Dr Waiyaki relied on the University of Nairobi student votes to beat Andrew Ngumba in 1979. After being tactfully moved from Foreign Affairs he was shorn of student votes. My elder brother who worked with the Dr Ouko in the prime minister’s office in 1963 was very afraid for Dr Ouko in popular politics. He told me that this ministry keeps you away from votes and your work does not translate to real votes. In fact he said Argwings Kodhek was only saved by a mysterious death later to be revealed as a rifle shot to his rib cage. We all know how Njoroge Mungai ended.
And both Dr Njoroge Mungai Na Munyua Waiyaki did not have it easy in the electioneering. Dr Njoroge Mungai, Jomo Kenyatta’s nephew’s loss was compounded by the additional insult to injury that when he went to mourn to Jomo Kenyatta, the muratina swirling Mzee scoffed, “You want to succeed me as president and you can’t win a constituency!” And that was the end of his political career.
Dr Munyua Waiyaki escaped with the help of University students in 1979 the ignominy of a losing foreign affairs minister but did not escape the persistent chieth thrower. In every political rally, this guy visited the public toilets on the way to Waiyaki rally. God knows how he sorted himself when there was no public toilet around. That means you attended a Waiyaki rally with the risk of ducking scattering chieth missiles. Did I mention it was the year scud (scattering) bombs were being used in the Middle East? These Okuyu yawa!
And it before long the slurs arrived. At Kosewe eatery in Kaloleni I heard one slur that he was nothing but a Primary 3 teacher. His CV was rich but here a Luo who did not go past O level was tethering him to where he started. At this time Dr Ouko was moving through the gears crisscrossing the world so naturally I was hurting at such comments. Some of these Luo hang outs can be toxic.
Then 1988 elections came when he was facing Job Omino and my brother told me the Nyanza popular politics is unforgiving. Dr Ouko will not survive. His concern was, ‘has Dr Ouko lined an international job even to lecture at a University abroad after the elections?' I think my brother even called Dr Ouko after Job Omino rejected the Commissioner of Football side post thrown at him by President Moi as a mere bone with no meat. Job Omino my beloved clan nephew decided to go for Dr Ouko’s jugular.
And Nyayo gleefully eventually released them with a photo op at state house stairs with “May the best man win”. Dr Ouko was cooked after all that he had done for Kenya. Nyayo could still have talked Job Omino out of it or even rigged him out.
Legend has it that Dr Ouko made a trip to see British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to talk Moi into helping him
To all Kenyans except the people of his Constituency Dr Ouko was nothing but a star. Nobody disliked Dr Ouko. He had no bone of malice in him. As far as his work was concerned Kenya was a de facto capital city of Africa. Conference after conference. Every global organization was relocating to Nairobi. UNEP developed a city within a city during Dr Ouko time. We hosted an excellent OAU, UNCTAD, WOMEN Decade Conference, 4th All Africa Games you name it. Kenya almost stole FESTAC from the next hosts. Even smaller organizations were hosting some sort of global summit. I remember my employers organized one called EURONAID in Mombasa and after a scandal my cousin renamed it URINEaid. In short everybody was an ambassador of some kind during Dr Ouko time. From the global army to street hawking civilians; From the church synods to the prostitutes of Mombasa. I was in Malindi the day US war ship USS Kitty Hawk docked and that attracted sex workers globally to Kenya. Everybody loved Kenya. Everybody loved Dr Ouko except his Kisumu constituency who could not wait for elections to come.
Personally Dr Ouko never cared for harambee and the big brown envelopes that came from Asians and business men. He was satisfied with his salary. His harambee contributions were very small. He was not ashamed to be associated with this small money. Everybody knew Dr Ouko loathed dirty money. Still this was not enough for his constituents.
Dr Ouko was never seen near school girls or college girls like a normal politician skirt chaser. Sometimes I thought he led a monk’s life but he was always available for Gor Mahia FC games. When Clubs were being forced to change their names from tribal names, Gor Mahia was cornered. They tried some mouthful Gulf Olympic Rangers in the mold of AFC Leopards. Gor fans declared, they would rather have no club than do that shitty mouthful rubbish name. The chairman of Gor Mahia fainted at a meeting to declare a new name. The deadline to change name had passed and Gor was in danger of being de-registered like LUO Union FC another lakeside great. Dr Ouko worked his miracles and convinced President Moi. While waving to Kenya Airways staff before the doors to the plane was closed for foreign mission trip with Dr Ouko President Moi gave Gor Mahia a reprieve that Gor Mahia was a name of a person like Alexander the Great. The chief passer told me that Dr Ouko prompted the president “Even Gor Mahia can keep their name” Of course Ramogi FC another name of a person had changed their name to Lake Warriors FC. So it was not a rule as such. Dr Ouko was just being the goalkeeper he is, clearing peoples mess or get blamed. Still his Kisumu constituents were not satisfied and were waiting to use the very football players of against him in the next elections
ONE SIDED CONTEST
Dr Ouko who never siphoned kickbacks was ill prepared for this battle. A person whose Harambee contributions was less than 1000/- could not compete in this elections in Nyanza. Not against Job Omino who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Dr Ouko a mere protestant had no chance against the intrigues a member of Freemasons secret society like Job Omino my nephew. Dr Ouko, a former goal keeper had no chance against a former striker of Uganda Cranes and Harambee stars and the Indomitable Luo Union FC, Job Omino even from the penalty spot. My nephew Job Omino employed the services of a prolific football player who had done so well in African football to be at the dais to act as a lightning rod for football fans. All the continental hero, Peter Dawo had to do was accompany Job Omino campaign troupe and Dr Ouko’s youthful votes were toasted.
It was bruising battle for Dr Ouko. From pencil pushing diplomat to microphone hugging campaigner. From suitcase globetrotting envoy to a street dwelling tonoi shouter. From a salaried straitlaced diplomat to cash driven campaigner. Dr Ouko did not have a prayer. He was like a snow in hell in that 1988 electioneering. In my opinion he was in his wife’s “why have you forsaken me weep’' cry would not have been more apt. My conjecture is that at one point Dr Ouko must have gone to Nyayo with “why have you forsaken me?” It’s more than a conjecture but I cannot say anymore and let us leave it like a conjecture.
If I had voted in this Kisumu constituency in 1988 I would be taking a hard look at myself every time Dr Ouko name is mentioned. I know his detractors in 1988 elections usually go through a “squeaky-bum-time” whenever his name is mentioned. I would if I voted against him or slurred him at any time in 1988 because I know and everybody else knows and the whole world knows that we were the first to strike the first blow at a good man. Dr Ouko did everything a foreign affairs minister is supposed to do. He did not deserve those 1988 electioneering slurs. And it did not matter whether your blow was the first or the last as long as it was to bring him down. And down we did bring him right from a helicopter.
I cannot pontificate of how sad it was if I lit the fuse that drove him into the arms of his persecutors because I know he tried to lead a clean life and did everything a Cabinet Minister is supposed to do. He gave it all and I mean all.
By then my employers had a project around Kisumu and I used to weekend around Kisumu. The driver would be updating me how Dr Ouko is being pulverized by football fans, and women Mutumba market traders. To my driver it was like somebody spicing a boxing match. At least that is how I felt. He would narrate how Dr Ouko was poor at campaigning he even wondered what nonsense he does at those international meeting. I could not protest because I was afraid of being identified with a losing Dr Ouko the way Peter never wanted to be associated with Jesus while the cockerel was busy crowing in succession.
However for every right hook, upper cut, head-butt punch to his groin that Dr Ouko was receiving according to my driver, I was wincing inside me. Every thud of political blow he narrated I felt and took it in. Every body blow the driver narrated took the breath away. All those below the waist and illegal punches Dr Ouko took as he headed to his corner that made him stumble also made me stumble. When he narrated how Dr Ouko’s mouth went dry, his voice got hoarser and no words could come out of his mouth and he had to ask for water, My mouth also got dry and my voice became hoarse and I asked to stop at the next station to buy a soda.
When the elections were over and Nyayo Cockerel crowed for the final time I sighed with relief and did not weep like Peter because Nyayo cockerel saved me. In brief Legend has it that Job Omino had the youth and women votes locked, there was no way Dr Ouko won fairly. But it left me in a worse state than Dr Ouko or it left both of us in a worse state because Nyayo rigged the elections for clean Dr Ouko and we did not protest for Job Omino.
SET A THIEF TO CATCH A THIEF,
Moi had stolen from my nephew to help Dr Ouko and even Nyayo himself said it. Sorry it is not a legend. Job Omino my nephew owed me allegiance the way I owed him. When my football club was relegated fairly in 1993 Job Omino as the KFF supreme brought an Agenda that in FIFA rankings REUNION FC is no 104 in Africa which makes it the 3rd highest ranked team in Kenya and therefore cannot play in lower divisions. Just like that nyakewa reinstated my team. So Dr Ouko win and Job Omino loss was not exactly a win for me
Now I am not the person to play games even if you cannot prove it. For example in a debate about abortion, I am very religious but I cannot take some stand. I cannot say things even if you cannot prove me wrong. Let us stick to politics.
I cannot condemn President Moi rigging when I was a beneficiary and I have been a beneficiary of President Moi rigging more than once. In Namibia first elections, the UN caught wind that South Africa assisted with the US was trying to rig Namibia elections in something similar to Congo against Patrice Lumumba elections. So the UN asked Kenya to provide election supervisors (Send Kenyan thieves to catch South African thieves) When South Africa saw the record of 20 star studded election rigging District Commissioners from Kenya, they retreated. So like the rest of the world we were beneficiaries of President Moi’s rigging of elections.
I am sure Dr Ouko was caught in the same position after Moi bailed him from his constituents. He knew he had sold his soul to the devil and he had mortgaged his anti-corruption stance. All that he had stood for was finished by his constituents. He was now a corrupt recipient of votes. Maybe it would have been better if he lost because the righteousness he had lived all his life was washed away in that election of 1988. Anything that happened after the 1988 elections was just an eventuality to nail in his political coffin.
Like my brother had foreseen, the Ministry of Foreign affairs had finished Dr Njoroge Mungai, Dr Munyua Waiyaki and now Dr Ouko. Only death saved Argwings Kodhek. Or maybe just like choosing to be a goal keeper of a popular public office was the wrong thing. Dr Ouko should not have joined popular politics after Arusha. That is if at all we decide our destiny.
No matter how well you perform in life it appears fate has a different script. The script his Kisumu constituents had, did not have incorruptible or supreme performer. The script his killers had did not have a thank you, or reprieve.