HORACE ONGILI OWITI: WHAT MANNER OF A MAN!
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
LARGER THAN LIFE
He was more famous dead than when alive. The phrases ‘life after death’ and larger than life’ have not figuratively described a person more aptly than Horace Ongili Owiti, the Ex MP for Gem. In 24 parliamentary months he had done what takes others 20 parliamentary years to 'fail' to achieve.
The nation was still in shock! I remember a former Nairobi chief who I visited at his dry cleaners/launderette commenting that he never knew he would live to see a Luo mutilate another human being let alone a Luo. The murder of Horace Ongili Owiti had shocked Nyanza. What was more remarkable was that in this one there was no ifs or buts. It was a deliberate slaying and the sly government hand could not be seen like in many political slayings.
A former best friend that he had helped campaign for in 1979 to ouster the incumbent Omolo Okero; then in turn defeated in 1983 snap elections had been arrested and was helping police with investigation. Otieno Ambala, was that immediate former MP for Gem. Hon Otieno Ambala himself had served barely 3 years of the 5-year parliamentary term when the 1982 coup struck and President Moi despite all you may think of him sent the whole parliament home to go and seek fresh mandate to justify the legitimacy of the government.
In some lecture halls President Moi move was interpreted as an admission that he Moi had counter overthrown President Hezekiah Ochuka and therefore went to the mass to legitimise his position. In other words, Ochuka Presidency even if only hours in duration legally constituted a term. President Moi action if indeed true sounds logical and democratic. However, that is lecture hall stuff. The reality is that Otieno Ambala served less years and Horace Ongili Owiti succeeded him to serve even less years as he had hardly been the MP for half the term.
On the Saturday when Ongili was being buried in Siaya, I decided to go hang in Nairobi’s Ziwani shopping centre. There was usually a Saturday dholuo Nyatiti gig later in the evening patronised by the likes of Dr Barrack Obama Senior, Tony Onyango, Dr Rowland Okach, Dr Osia, Onyango Half-mast, Dr Nyawanda, Professor Odera Oruka, etc. Since it was just about 3 pm I sat at the High-life bar where football fans like hanging out. I liked it because this is where I met football greats like Arudhi and Chege. Sometimes I went there on the off chance that I will meet another famous face. Or maybe just hang around to lament at how poorly my club was performing.
Then a guy I knew as Odhiambo Ombedho, the assistant treasury at my football team comes to me and says he was shocked to see me because from a distance I have an unmistakable resemblance to the late Horace Ongili who was being buried at that very moment. I knew who Ombedho was but being much younger Ombedho did not know me. I was acquainted to his younger brother Solomon Ombedho who was the director of Dajo Luo Musical and Dancing troupe. At this time Sol as he was called had teamed up with a European lady for a mammoth Luo Continental musical and Dance tour called “Mama Muramba Musical Company and was touring Africa in preparation to go on 36-month global tour. It would employ about a hundred mostly authentic Kenyan Dholuo dancers. I knew all this because I assisted in putting up the book-keeping system and finance manual for the staff.
Then there was news flash on the radio in the pub that Ambala who was in police custody to help with investigations with Horace Ongili died at the same time when the MP was being lowered into the ground. The immediate reaction was what a swift numba? Everybody was convinced it was karma! Then days later in cold of common sense people murmured that Luo karma does not go like that. It usually torments your family and then erases them from the face of the earth. This one is not a Luo karma they opined. Somebody was pulling the community’s legs or was trying to pull wool over their eyes.
HORACE ONGILI of 1983-1985
Little was known about 2 year one-term Gem MP Horace Ongili Owiti. As a matter of fact, his biography is about life after death than life before death. People reconnected with him after death. He has no Wikipedia and not many people can tell you about his education and child hood. I got fed up and will try again in 6 months’ time and update the blog.
Ongili had been elected the MP for Gem in 1983 and barely two years later, he was dead. He came from a corporate background and had not been in politics long enough on his own to pick enemies and adversaries. And surely if he had no political enemies then how did he make friends. Ongili was immensely popular in death. Everybody was just not saddened by his death but there was a sense of loss of a good man. Musicians who had not even met him eulogised him after a 2-year public service to the people of Gem.
He must have done something very remarkable in those two years. Conversely because of his shallow past he did something that was so despicable to someone or some people that he had to die.
Earlier his wife Pamela Anyango had died mysteriously during the campaign and electioneering before the 1983 elections.
Even after his death nothing stands out as an annoying project in his life that could be picked up as a reason for his death
MOI IN NYANZA
The height of his achievements seems to be an activity that is financial and and yet not financial at the same time. It was more of a presidential meet the people tour as Moi reconnected with his people after the elections. I could be wrong but I think en route to this function, President Moi was in jovial mood. When he met Ugenya people at Ambira just near Ugunja on the way to/from Ukwala, he caused quite an excitement.
While inviting the president to address the public 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. So when a beaming President Moi got to talk, there already was love and laughter in the air so the entry point was there waiting to be picked up.
“Archbishop hii mambo ya kuonja-onja stima wacha kabisa. Sitaki hiyo mambo. Ukionja hii stima,.. he hehe hehe, tuta rudi hapa kwa mazishi yako”. (Basically it is alright for electrification but don’t use the wrong words)
THE CORRUPTION WORD
Archbishop never recovered from the butt of oswahili jokes in Ugenya. The win-win situation is that President Moi was in a wonderful mood. At the next stop in Gem there was nothing of significance really at the meeting.
When the new face MP Horace Ongili Owiti rose to speak before the president. He did the usual political diatribe but meandered into a line that is not really the type of thing meant for harambee. It is the sort of pronouncements meant for parliamentary floor and on specific subjects not that random.
What was lost on the general public is that Ongili was in the first term in parliament. He was a virgin MP treading on to the type of politics usually left for veteran’s false oppositions in one party state.
Besides he just came from the corporate world and was an Ambala campaigner and associate. Ambala was a business man and business do not confront the government. So how did Ongili learn about the “C” word so fast.
When the new MP Horace Ongili Owiti spoke of an incoming colossal filthy money to corrupt Luo land it seemed odd. Money as a factor in election had not come in yet. In fact, the two elections after Kenyatta years did not really have major corrupt practices, apart from operational and administrative errors.
So the cash plus influence in the balloting process was not even ringing a bell. What was the looming corrupt election that this novice MP was talking about? What is this doomsday he was forecasting?
The content of his speech had not mattered until after his death that people revisited the corruption warning he announced for the Luo people.
To date nobody has followed up on this speech. It was mentioned then lost because the answer was not coming through as reason for one to be killed. I only take an interest because in the next elections corruption utterances had taken place.
SINOHONOHO MYTH (Epigenetic trauma)
As much as it was obvious that Ambala had been jailed for killing Ongili, this was not the fact as Ambala was simply held in Kodiaga to help with investigations, then denied his necessary medication to die. This was not the truth that Luos buy easily. At first it was the obvious thing but Luos are very intense in reasoning. Hundreds of years in mythology has taught them to always factor in divergent opinion.
Ambala had died in the police cell without a shred of evidence linking him to the death. Something else was wrong. The photographs appearing of the accused youth who carried it out did not match. They looked like chicken thieves or the type of boys who break into rural kitchen to steal cooked food and break into pots of illicit chang’aa breweries. Nobody believed it.
Meanwhile Luos in their spiritual belief picked from what they know best. Tongues were wagging from young to elderly. One of these waging was to do with sinohonoho. Sinohonoho is a recent discovery in western medicine (30 years?) but for over 600 hundred years Luos had known its existence. Like the death of young women at the hands of the JF Kennedy family can be termed so in dholuo. The apportionment of sinohonoho as an explanation but not the cause of the late MPs death was traced on a Luo sub clan in Siaya where the late Mrs Ongili who had just died during electioneering comes from. That these clan is haunted with violent bloody deaths. And people usually die at the prime of their lives. That even a woman from that clan would give birth to children who will die violently the way Ongili met his death.
I even went and asked my mother, whose grandmother came from that clan. My mother confirmed to me the existence of that sinohonoho but she said, “It cannot touch that Gem man because he is not a blood descendant of the clan and was never housed or in the shadow of the clan”. So my mother threw the case out.
If my mother would have confirmed that the meaning is that such people die of even freak violent deaths where ordinary would not die. Or in an accident they are the odd ones likely to be caught in the cross fire. In my own my I would have said this was a robbery that went awry because there had been several robberies in the bakery and the woman Ongili was found with was left to go harmless. She was not even called to testify. Even the press doesn’t know her. Nobody knows her yet she was a key witness who even saw the killers over an hour’s ordeal, then left unscathed
Still Ongili was a really loved man. Everybody was touched.
10 YEARS AFTER…..
Days turned to months and months turned to years and though painful people continued with the routine of living. As time went on a young man who we will call JJ showed up in Nairobi with so much floating money. He would approach any Harambee and contribute the money much more than the guest of honour. People remember his earlier life like a briefcase supplier of small stationery but not anything special. To say that he was nothing special is a gross overstatement. He was living below poverty line. Just hustling like any young man who lands in Nairobi. The most remarkable story he is remembered for is that one time a young man rushing for an interview had his coat hooked on the maize roasting carriage on the streets of Tom Mboya, Nairobi. The roast maize vender insisted that this interviewee pay for all the maize scattered on the street. To which a passing JJ retorted over my dead body and instructed the young interviewee to rush as he was getting late. That was a noble act to be remembered with.
When JJ started painting Nairobi and Nyanza red people asked where he got his money. Some said he was in clearing and forwarding and had cleared the machete that caused the Rwanda massacre but nobody was sure. He did not appear like a drug person because whatever he did appeared to be not a regular business. And it was not YK 92 money. JJ was a sucker. He had no brains and could not talk anything with a concentration of 5 minutes let alone politics.
Anyway JJ now had some business front as legitimate in pharmaceuticals. The reason why I am telling you this story is that some words that came out of his mouth disturbed me. He did not know me much but was showing off with a mobile phone in front of café next to the former Victoria Gardens where football fans liked hanging out. His exact words were “Ja Ugenya mani eri go ka ok iriek, to ok dibed go!”. Then standing next to the entrance of the café when we were about to leave he pointed to his car parked in front of Victoria Gardens, in fact directly opposite statue of Victoria, right inside Victoria Gardens Nairobi and said, “mtoka no lich ma ka ok I riek to ok dibed go”.
I was in the company of a police reservist who that later died in an operation in Land Clashes at Chepsioni, who was laughing slyly, sarcastically and repeating, “ka ok iriek to dibed go” as if mocking him and I think he sensed it. He then told us a story that was very significant. All along the way the two were using riek to mean clever was saying something else as if it was some evil dark deeds.
JJ told us that his brother had tried to be “clever” in the same business, failed, and was arrested. So he went and paid bond for him and told him to disappear up country while he kills the case. And meanwhile he is supporting the wife because “ka iriek to ok iwe yuori thagre!”.
It’s the laugh of this undercover man that was convincing me that he knew what this guy was doing to get this bloated opulence that he was gloating with. At such points I don’t ask questions. My mother always told me, that there are things in this world you don’t need to know. “So always walk with a heavy footfall so as to afford people time to go silent.”
AND ANOTHER 10 YEARS AFTER…….. .
Another 10 years or so passed. The suspect murderers were found guilty and jailed to long sentences even though everything else said it was nothing to do with them. And here comes the miscarriage of Justice. The family of Ongili refused to accept the guilt of the men jailed. They thought that was a cover up. The family of former MP also refused to accept that the guilty men were linked to Ambala if they were the killers at all. And finally the court of Appeal was also not convinced and had a lot to complain about but still confirmed the sentence. It appears even the state was also convinced that something had happened here but they were still made to suffer for the murder.
Then away from the scene of the crime, JJ himself had come to Europe for treatment for very debilitating terminal illness that was literally disabling him function by function. He had travelled abroad to hopelessly seek treatment for an eventuality when he had even lost his speech.
And whoever was breaking the news to me told me a strange story. That she used to work with the cousin JJ who was also among the arrested for MP Ongili murder but released. And she said JJ was possibly the one who organised the murder because of his acquaintance with the murderers of the MP Ongili. Why?
That JJ once sent this cousin to lure somebody and killed. At around Kasarani stadium they hacked this person and left him for dead but somehow was rescued by University students who were coming back after a night out. The victim fingered this cousin who was put in a cell. JJ then paid for bond and legal fees for the cousin to be released. He was then given money to flee home and stay out of Nairobi for some time. The wife of the cousin was maintained by JJ for about a year in Nairobi lest the police track her to find the culprit. Anyway the cousin died of HIV and the wife either relocated or married elsewhere.
This story of 2005 just nestled to that story by JJ himself where JJ was gloating with the mobile and big shot car opposite the statue of Victoria outside the perimeter of former Victoria Gardens, Nairobi in 1995!
Rest in peace Horace Ongili Owiti for the gloater, his cousin if they were involved lived a miserable life and you all must have sorted the case by now.
But why should this this likeable Horace Ongili Owiti? This is my theory based on a 1986 lesson by my cousin by then Ministry of Labour director Odera-Oteng’ ma ja kaGer. Odera-Oteng’ once told me an anecdote that they were given in a senior public service training. Odera- Oteng’ became a director at 28 years of age, probably one of the youngest directors. I have mentioned this story before elsewhere.
I had in error left our drinks un attended on the counter. He gave me a very useful lesson. A parking boy will break your windscreen to pinch Shs 10 visible on the dashboard even if the windscreen costs Shs 30,000. To the parking boy or street urchin, the windscreen is irrelevant. It’s the Shs 10 that has a value. Odera-Oteng told me that is the same with these public offices. Someone in need of that position just for 5 seconds to sign a purchase order worth a billion can easily poison you to extinguish your 20 years working life for that 5 seconds.
In my conclusion Horace Ongili Owiti had no enemies. He innocently stood in the way of somebody in need of the a few seconds. It is just a shame that he got more famous in death than when alive.
Needless to say, that when a senior politician who was adversely mentioned in the murder got into a powerful position, he is the one who released the falsely accused young boys. President Moi who was at that Harambee did not released the accused even though the Ongili family naively believe Moi had seen something special about this upstart to promise to make him a vice president after on 20 months in popular politics. And the lady who was with Ongili and watched him being dragged to death in the maize plantation to be hacked to death disappeared and nobody not even the Ongili and Ambala family has questioned her whereabouts. She is just a cellophane. This lady is a cellophane in this Ongili-Ambala death mystery.