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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Jan 15, 2021

Hezekiah Oyugi was an all-powerful permanent secretary in the office of the president in charge of internal security.

This post highlights a history of what I will refer to as "lakeside bravado" in the human side of public enterprise. Whatever position they occupy, Luo leaders do it with pomp and gusto portraying an image that is larger than life. You can hate them until kingdom come but they exude so much authority that every position they hold turns into a powerful position. Take for example the position of Minister for foreign affairs. At some point in time, during Njoroge Mungai’s tenure, this was the ministry for dressing well and touring the world. Argwings Kodhek had previously spiced it up a bit and conspirators believe his crusade against the evil government of South Africa is one assassination angle that has never been well examined (story for another day). When Dr Robert Ouko took over the ministry he turned it into the focal point of the Moi regime and Kenya was driving not only the foreign affairs of Africa but the developed world.

You could pick any post you want. Consider COTU of Tom Mboya and latter day COTU. In Tom Mboya days, COTU was driving trade union issues in Africa. National conscription into the National Youth Service; state welfare (NSSF) and health insurance (NHIF) were pushed by Tom Mboya under the COTU auspices. By comparison, the present COTU's best styling is 'putting it out there'. It sticks like a sore thumb.

The post of internal security had no clout until Hezekiah Oyugi took over. The bad faith in Kiambu Mafia had transferred all the powers to the office of president in order to fleece the back bacon government contracts. The post was associated with counting and issuing prison blankets until Oyugi took over. The blanket accountability took a new meaning when Oyugi arrived. You don't understand. But I will explain.

You've heard of the saying....'give a dog a bad name'........and in Dholuo, we say "goyo dhok"(tempting fate).

Oyugi's youthful praise name was "ng'at ma nindo I par ma ong'eyo kama yuech okanie". Literally it's the person who sleeps on the reeds mat that knows where the broom is kept. This is a reference to the olden days when people used to sleep on the reed-mats, it was necessary to sweep the floor first before laying your mat on the floor to sleep on. It helped even out the floor and made the reed mat more smooth and comfortable to sleep on.

Now, Kenyan prisons, had no beds or mattresses. The prisoners used one blanket to cover themselves and another one to lay on the the bare floor like a reed mat. So Hezekiah Oyugi practically ended up in the reed mat business that had given him a childhood nickname. These Luo’s will kill me one day! How amazing.

Definitely, Oyugi did not plan to meet the blanket/Reed mat in his career. In hind sight it does not matter because he made the reed mat businesses so powerful... Symbolically Oyugi was a reed mat in many ways. We will come back to that at the very end

In the beginning Oyugi's rise to the top was shrouded in tales of fate that could have gone another way and he would have risen to no more than a District Officer. There were so many hurdles. His contemporaries never went past the position of DC. Legend that may very well be true has it that up to mid-70s he was serving in some divisional administration capacity in Nyanza. In the same work station was another senior administrator and fellow tribesman. Rumor has it that there was so much bickering between the two, until a senior administrator overseeing them got fed up decided to separate them by posting Oyugi to the hostile Rift Valley.

Those who know the history of Kenya, would know that Rift Valley was the most powerful seat of power. Even the then vice-president had no say in his own home province until much later after the first president passed on and power seemed to move to Nairobi. But even after change of presidential guard, the Nakuru administrative Mafia patiently waited to reposition themselves in the new regime.

Let me illustrate how vindictive and domineering Rift Valley of power was. A friend used to be a DC and he said that Agenda and minutes at meeting used to be deliberated in Kikuyu dialect. Still as a Luo he was the minute taker but was not Agikuyu speaker. They would discuss at length then turn to him, "Jaluo Anika vizuri hapo. Usiandike samaki na ngima!"

In this province where the then vice president would be slapped like a common criminal for no reason except not stopping to greet the Provincial Commissioner. And just to be sure, it was not tribal. Other Kikuyus like Charles Njonjo the attorney general used to be threatened openly by this rogue clique. Once a Member of Parliament issued pangas openly in a newspaper covered publicly after the flare up following JM Kariuki's death to warn other Kikuyus to shut up. And shut up they did because it was not a warning as such. It was a promise that we are in charge and are ready for you by any means necessary whether you are a fellow kikuyu or otherwise.

As fate would have it, Kenyatta died and power passed to Moi but the Mafia never gave up.

Legend has it that still Oyugi was way down when Moi had power. And Legend may just be true that on this occasion the demagogue provincial administration was on annual leave forced on him from the top. But he had this unethical habit of going on leave with 6 government vehicles and drivers. Oyugi who was for some reasons his acting PC was assigned an old government issued car that was not road worthy. And you all know Moi motorcade used to speed to avoid being a sitting duck to these assassins.

The role of the PC in every province was to lead the motorcade and receive the president at every stop. In such speed Oyugi's government vehicle could not keep pace and the poor thing started smoking and when they stopped to check it burst into flames.

When the Moi motorcade arrived, Moi who himself still dreaded Nakuru found a shaken acting PC, Oyugi by the roadside his vehicle in flames.

When Nyayo inquired why he was using the old vehicle when Nakuru PC office had so many vehicles the explanation he was given just reminded Moi of the slaps the PC who was on leave used to give him.

Moi: You are the acting PC but have no road worthy vehicle. Where is Range River?

Oyugi Driver: It took the PC’s children on vacation

Moi: Where is the PC official car?

Oyugi Driver: The PC is using it while on leave.

Moi: Where is the Mercedes Benz?

Oyugi Driver: it was issued to Madam PC and she is using it on leave.

Moi : Where is the Landrover V8?

Oyugi Driver: Its allocated to the PC s security.

Moi: I know there are newer vehicles in the PCs office where are they?

Oyugi Driver: Your excellency they are packed in the PC house.

Moi : You mean 8 vehicles cannot be used even when the PC is on leave.

Then Moi turns to Oyugi, “Even you also can be a PC from right now."

In fury Moi ordered Oyugi to be allocated one of the security vehicles in his detail. And by the road side Oyugi became the de facto PC pending paperwork and gazetting.

I don't know how true the story is but if you go backwards in time and try to match the ranks and dates then you will find a huge black hole or black spot in his rise to PC.

How well did I know Oyugi? Not that well. Much much later after he had passed on I got close enough to his brother in law. A brother to one of his wives (4?). I was working for a Non-Governmental Organization that had projects all over the Republic. NGOs in Nyanza have one characteristic. They are rife with vendetta and lying community project heads who undermine field officers all the way up to Europe. And Wazungu love nothing more than a gossiping black man. They just love gossiping. I was unable to believe much of what I heard from Oyugi's brother in law because he was such lying culture; a guy who was capable of lying even in his sleep. Maybe he was just acting a Luo check and balance in projects. That was the closest I got to Oyugi. The rest that I heard are just legends. They may be true but are just legends. There were so many legends during Oyugi's time in reed mat/ blanket laying tenure at internal security.

The Greek myth of Sisyphus:

In one of the Greek mythology, there is this guy who was jailed and given a huge rock to roll up the mountain and then down. In time he got used to it so much that he loved it. The key word is that the guy was jailed therefore was sleeping on a par (reed mat) of some sort. Okay blanket if you insist. There was a time Luo’s lived the life of Sisyphus until Oyugi shocked us with a few legends of his own.

I think the first I heard is that one time there was mass arrest in Kisumu for Busaa local brew offences. Something to that effect. When word reached Nairobi, these guys were released en masse without a court hearing. That is a first outbreak for these Lakeside Sisyphus. Somebody must be laying par (reed mats) for Nyanza.

A similar release was when there was disturbance at April Safari motor vehicle Rally checkpoint in Kisumu. There was mass arrest and on Monday the large number of arrests were just released. Whoever it is was fed up of blankets for Nyanza or must have heard about the myth of Sisyphus.

This was unusual because we were used to being made an example of. After the coup attempt of 1982, all those Luo’s air force fugitives who were acquitted are the ones who were caught in the company of non-Luo. Reason is it became difficult to release the non-Luo and jail a Luo. And this was a pattern even before Oyugi. If you were caught in a fraud in a place of work you were safe if the conspiracy involved a non-Luo. (Luhya and Kisii counted as Luo’s. Don't stretch your luck). Only one tribe counted as non-Luo.

It no longer bothered my generation. We knew the game plan. We were used to it like in the Greek myth of Sisyphus. What we were not used to is this about turn of being rescued from the par (reed mat).

Another case was saga of the SM Otieno burial. Wambui had the right of burying her husband-the famous criminal lawyer SM Otieno in Upper Matasia, Nairobi. The judgement was issued very late on Friday by some muzungu judge, Frank Shields. Umira Kager clan had no time to file the appeal and gave up. This could have been a devastating defeat not only to Luos but to all who believed in negritude. To Luos it would have been the final nail on their coffin that they have truly been vanquished. But when widow Wambui Otieno went to collect the body on Saturday for burial she found heavily armed internal security (paramilitary GSU men) in military fatigues guarding the body at the city mortuary with no court order. It gave Umira Kager a window of opportunity to file the appeal. The rest is history. It has just dawned on me that Umira Kager Lawyer Richard Kwach was in high court and court of appeal for almost 6 months and Kwach did not go bust even though Umira Kager did not even have a bank account, No Harambee was held to defray legal fees. SM Otieno's only sibling was a mid level staff at Railways. So who paid Kwach's fee note (Ogango I can see you with your broom clearing Umira Kager mess).

All of a sudden we had a Luo who could fight in the trenches. If you pull a knife, he pulls an AK47. When Gichuru filled Kenya Airforce with cadets to train as pilots who became Kenya Airways pilots, someone returned fire and filled many administrative DO posts with Luo men.

When cabinet minister Mudavadi Senior turned Kenya Law School to Luhya law school, this someone turned Air India into Air Luo India with government scholarships. It was what you can do, I can do better. And the Oyugi dark alley swashbuckling did not spare even fellow Luos.

There was this  succession of muscle flexing at the supreme office of medical services. When HIV/AIDS first arrived it was quickly apportioned to lack of circumcision in Nyanza and then to wife inheritance. Infact the reason they did not arrogate lake side fish as the cause of AIDS must have been because of fish and chips shops in Nairobi. They would have lost a lot in business. The narrative was that this time we have found something that sticks on Luo. Let's twist the knife into that shitty bravado.

Legend has it the reed mat -maker had other ideas. Two top Luo health experts were appointed and the two were dismissed when they recited half-baked empirical evidence that Nyanza was leading in HIV/AIDS prevalence. The routine was simple. The Director is appointed; The Director talks the talk. The Director  is made to walk the walk.

Next. The Director is appointed, The new Director talks the AIDS talk; The Director walks the walk. Maybe I was reading too much between the lines.

I didn't know where this good tidings was coming from but I am a football fan who is very superstitious of things I cannot explain. So something was going on during Oyugi tenure in Luo land. Whatever it is I did not mind. It was about time and I will tell you why.

In economics they say a government can employ people to dig holes and fill them just to reactivate the economy in depression.

Whoever was doing these things could be seen in that light but again it could be seen in the light of regeneration projects applied in urban development programs all over the world . How else was Nyanza supposed to catch up. It could also be seen in terms of damage limitation and PR manoeuvres for the people of Nyanza.

Of course inside there were bad apples. Legend has it that A former class mate who worked in his office as a receptionist used to demand Kshs 20,000 by then just to pencil you in Oyugi's diary. That is not Oyugi fault and is not my fault either just because we did homework together. And there is also the ling brother in-law who I think did some horrible things through lies. I have forgiven him for the heartache he caused me in the administration of those projects. I have forgiven my school mate for fleecing helpless people who just went for an Oyugi assisted hands up (NOT hand out). Sometimes in life we all get a break in hands-up.

I am surprised that these non-graduates like Oyugi knew about public investment than college boys. I am not talking of graduate governors in Luo Nyanza but now that you mention how are they performing?

In Luo land, in public administration and development matters it appears polygamists Luos were scoring higher than monogamists Luos. Relax! I mean multifaceted public administrators are performing better than specialist intellectuals. Don't be oversensitive.

Still I love the hard grafting Luo public administrators ready to roll their sleeves and crawl the trenches of power politics.

Management paradigms dictate that until the task relationship turns into a “feud”, there is room to coexist with the public administrators.


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