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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Aug 15, 2021

The Luo Nation all over Eastern Africa had the easiest tribal marks to identify them with. In a recent debate generated by one of my posts as to whether the so called bantus in Uganda and Rwanda were Luo descendants was resolved easily by a simple question. “If they are truly a non-Luo group, why then don’t they circumcise like all non-Luo people in East Africa?”

The other identity primarily used in Kenya was the ritual removal of six lower front teeth. It was only members of the earlier Luo men who removed their six lower teeth including Martin Shikuku generation. There was no other explanation for the absence of these lower teeth like say you looked pretty or you had been involved in a fight. It was not like in circumcision that you could somehow evade the ritual. This was a deliberate covert action. So if Shikuku was not circumcised then it would be accounted for as an omission which can be easily corrected in private clinic . However, re installing the six lower teeth can only be masked by the use of dentures which made it cumbersome in speech and Shikuku was a talker. So what was his initiation years like?

Love hate relationship with Luos

First before we get to earlier years, Shikuku had a love hate relationship with Luos in the earlier years. Like a parent who wants to punish an errant child himself, Shikuku would never join persecutors of the Luo people. He would even run to protect Luos while being persecuted but at the same time he did not particularly love them.

For example, as a chairman of the national football federation by then, Football Association of Kenya (FAK), he once selected a national team without a single Luo in the team except James Siang’a. Naturally the Luhya dominated football squad was overrun on an international duty. Why was he trying so much to distance himself from any sentiments towards the Lakeside people?

After the above football action, a year later at the height of dark evil years of the reign of Kiambu Mafia, now it was Shikuku who went whistle blowing that oaths were being administered against Luos in Gatundu in cars marked “Kanu private”. So evidently, he did not like harm coming in the way of Luo people.

And when public investments were being shooed away from Nyanza province to Central province, its Shikuku who cried foul. When housing investments were being mis-allocated from anybody with the name with initials “O” it was Shikuku who cried foul. So why did he dislike Luos at the same time?

In the fight for multi-party democracy, he was there with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. And they faced some very harsh treatments President Moi regime dished out to him. It is in these days that I met him near Simer-ro, Ugenya and I wrongly assumed he had gone to meet another firebrand James Aggrey Orengo. But when Kenneth Matiba came from London treatment then like butter being cut through by a hot knife he led the break-up away from the giant FORD national Opposition party of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga group. What is it that he did not like about Luo people?

Early Years

"Officially" Joseph Martin Shikuku Oyondi, was born on Christmas day 1932 in Magadi town, Kenya. His father John Osule Oyondi and mother Aor (Ugenyan dialect of dholuo for Awuor).

Shikuku attended St peters Mumias boys primary school, a catholic school in western Kenya. After completing his primary education, he joined St. Peters Seminary for secondary education with the intention of becoming a catholic priest.

Shikuku had several children; Sylvano Madanji Shikuku, Emmanuel Noel Osyle Shikuku, Lucia Aor Shikuku, Martina Maende Shikuku. Martha Shikuku, Timothy Oyondi Shikuku, Abraham Andayi Shikuku, Julia Katibi Shikuku, Joan Ayuka Shikuku, Jacob Andeche Shikuku, Joseph Martin Shikuku Jr, Jacinta Amunga Shikuku and Steven Ashiembi Shikuku.

He briefly worked with the Caltex oil company in Kenya then Kenya attending management and Trade Union studies with the likes of Phillip Ocholla Makanyengo, Tom Mboya and the rest. Then he worked with East African Railways and Harbours before joining politics at a young age of 19 on 18 October 1952.

At the age of 28, he was the youngest member of the Kenyan delegation to Lancaster House Conferences (England), as the youth representative for KADU, a political party which together with KANU went for the talks at Lancaster House which paved way to the Independence of Kenya.

He joined Nairobi peoples Convention Party (NPCP), becoming its Secretary-General soon afterwards. He later resigned to join the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) as a youth leader along with future. Shikuku was elected the MP for Utere (Butere) in 1963. His party later merged soon later with the ruling party KANU, the only legal party during the subsequent Kenyan single-party era.

He retained the Butere seat in 1969 was appointed Assistant Minister in the Office of the Vice-President and Home Affairs. Later Shikuku was detained by Kenyatta after the minister sarcastically referred the KANU government as "dead". Shikuku was released in 1978 when Daniel arap Moi took over as the President upon Kenyatta's death. Shikuku recaptured the Butere parliamentary seat the next year and was appointed Assistant Minister for Livestock Development. He retained his seat at the 1983 elections but lost in 1988 rigged elections.

Kenyan single-party system started to crack in the early 1990s. He was a founding member FORD. The party split, and Shikuku and Matiba formed FORD Asili.

Matiba later left Ford Asili and at the 1997 elections Shikuku was the party's presidential candidate. He lost all including his parliamentary seat.

Shikuku died on August 22, 2012 at the Texas Cancer Centre aged 79.

Firebrand politics

In his political career Martin Shukuku when not in detention continued to follow a path that was even dreaded by Luo legislators of the moment like William Odongo Omamo, Mathews Ogutu etc. lest they come face to face with the dreaded Kiambu deep state led by hawks such as Kihika Kimani, Nakuru PC, Attorney General. Shikuku had no such fears when defending ills against the lake region or whistleblowing intrigues. He literally walked into the eye of the storm.

At one time he called on Coast Province provincial commissioner to stop acting as if he was running a federal republic in Kenya. To which the then then Coast Provincial Commissioner, Eliud Mahihu haplessly tried to explain away the motorcade of motor bikes, and even choppers as security measure. Eventually the Coast Provincial Commissioner took a plane to Nairobi to go and confront Martin Shikuku in parliament clutching a briefcase with dreaded content. Word reached Shikuku not to step out of Parliament because PC Eliud Mahihu was waiting for him with a briefcase similar to the one Tom Mboya assassin was seen holding near the chemist before shooting Tom Mboya dead.

Another comical case was when he enquired if the marginalisation of Kisumu town was statesmanship. Shikuku had issue with an investment of a vehicle assembly plant and a tyre manufacturing company being waylayed away from Kisumu to Nakuru and the outskirts of Nairobi.

Mungai, the fearful Nakuru strongman dared Shikuku never to step in Nakuru on his way to and from Butere. And Shikuku responded by fashioning from Butere a big rungu known in dholuo as sedhegeng’, went to a popular civil servants’ VIP pub in Nakuru mostly associated with top civil servants and had lunch and a siesta for 3 hours on that Sunday afternoon. Then clad in short trousers, a vest and akala sandals as he had come ready for battle he picked his menacing rungu got in his car and drove to Nairobi. Everybody including the watchmen who had followed the story were left in stiches. Mungai and Kihika Kimani never dared Shikuku again.


What then was the impetus for this love hate relationships? Legend has it and that legend may be true because I personally met Shikuku straying at Ugunja then taking the marram road from Ugunja towards Mumias on several occasions. Legend has it that Shikuku had a past with Ugenya Kager people.

The most interesting legend is that a few kilometres from Ugunja towards Kisumu is a centre called Sumer-ro. Sumer-ro arose from the ruins of Ugenya Kager of Kagola sub clan at the two ruins around there with very vulgar female anatomy namely, gunda-omb**o and gunda-maf***e . Members of that clan were still there up to 1980s. Shikuku sister, an immediate follower regularly visited the Kagola sub clan whenever they had those elaborate unending traditional rituals where an auntie presence was very key. While Achieng’ was a regular visitor, Shikuku mother Aor (Ugenya river ndhoya dialect) never visited. Ms Achieng’ maintained these ties but Shikuku and the mother Mrs Aor Oyondi was not known to visit conspicuosly. In any case Ms Aor Oyondi was not of Ugenya Kager maka Agola sub clan. So evidently she had no locus standi here.

Martyrdom calls

So if Shikuku had some biological connection with members of Ugenya Kager from Sumer-ro we can only tell from other signs like Achieng’s presence in Sumer-ro or Shikuku conspicuous six teeth dental works. Any other attachment that he may have, he carefully and deliberately stifled.

One thing is clear. Even if we explain away his lower dental structure, his perceived loathing of Luos was a poorly masked love that he gave away several times including in naming Aor and Achieng’ within his children.

How do people remember Shikuku? Shikuku is remembered not only as another opposition leader but as a firebrand opposition leader. He was brave and he said things that others did not want to say regardless of the political environment. When the Luo community was under the thumbs of ruler ship, Shikuku never hid from calling the injustice. Where did that bravery come from?

For this we have to go to Butere (original dholuo word utere). That catchment area was an area of martyrdom. This was the killing field of members of Ugenya in their battles with neighbouring chief and notorious slave trader. Even today in whispers bloody battles are told where members of Ugenya faced the European submachine gun in suicidal raids. Many men were either killed in battle or refused to come out and were burnt in their houses. About six years before the martyrdom of Aphayo Odongo Mango in 1938 Shikuku was born. And surely he must have grown up with heroics stories how Alphayo Odongo Mango refused to come out to be slaughtered like chicken and was then burnt to ashes in his house.

Childhood rhymes of heroism of Musanda Wang’ (Musanda is burning) were childhood heroism songs up to 1960s to "man-up boys". And Shikuku must have been "manned". In fact, up to 1968 I can recall my auntie urging us to eat quickly with threats of omia biro (the slave traders of kaWango are coming). If you wanted to put a child to sleep, the dread of slave traders of Kawango was the monster you used.

In my opinion, Shikuku bravery to face the Kihika Kimani who issued Pangas in public to massacre fellow Kikuyus in the aftermath of JM Kariuki’s death or face Mungai who used to slap Vice president Moi must have been deeply rooted to the martyrdom air of the catchment of Sumer-ro regardless of his blood lineage.

Defection from Jaramogi

The above leaves only one little matter. Why did Shikuku run from Jaramogi Ford Kenya into the arms of his persecutors in Ford Asili? Do not forget that in Kenyatta years, these were the people he used to fight on issues like one-man-one job; absent civil servants leaving jackets on chairs; irregular loans without collateral to Mt Kenya only; civil servants in business have double loyalty; marginalisation of Luos. And yet he crossed to embrace them instead of Jaramogi!

Was this another manifestation of the love-hate relationship with Luos? Was it the martyrdom? If it was so would it not be more sensible to face it with Jaramogi? There was one other possibility. If Shikuku is from Sumer-ro then Ford Kenya put him in the same dining table with the closest relatives to the direct descendants of Wanga (not directly though). Wanga of Mumia and Sakwa Dibo father of Matar who are Jaramogi’s ancestors are descendants of the Kabaka III Luo dynasty. Could this have been a consideration for Shikuku to turn away from Jaramogi brand of politics that suited his own opposition politics. Or it is the love-hate relationship?

Whatever it is, the truth lies in gunda sumer-ro. The same will be said of his firebrand opposition which is very typical of Ugenya Kager people and unlike many bantu peoples of western Kenya.


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