OCHOLA MAKANYENGO: WHAT MANNER OF A MAN!
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
At Homa Bay High school there was a particular pupil who looked my age mate but was two classes ahead of me. We were both of similar height. There was this peer pressure rubbish that people from Kisumu districts and Siaya were of a higher status than South Nyanza district students. Unfortunately for me, I was from Siaya but had my formative years living in the southernmost part of South Nyanza. In effect I was of two worlds. Actually I was multifaceted because part of my growing up up to age 7 was among the Kalenjins and Bantus of Rift Valley. It was difficult to put me in tin and label me as I related to everybody except one Kepher Odhiambo Makanyengo and it was a very simple case of mistaken identity.
A short time after reporting in form one in March 1974, during lunch time a public bulletin announcement came from an excited announcer in heavy Central Kendu accent:
KEPHER ODHIAMBO MAKANYENGO, PLEASE REPORT TO THE STAFF OFFICE TO GO MEET YOUR FATHER.
Everything came to a standstill. It was dead silence, even the forks and spoons clattering the glass plates stopped. Nobody moved. Not even Kepher moved in the that dining hall at that very moment because he was not in the hall. The Kitchen noise makers like Japolo, Suasana, Nyarthi-weya-ayue stopped still in time. It was momentarily but it lasted like a life time.
Then a repeat:
KEPHER ODHIAMBO MAKANYENGO, PLEASE REPORT TO THE STAFF OFFICE TO GO MEET YOUR FATHER
Such words like, dad, Hi, pops, boss, had not arrived and were considered a slang from corrupt James Hadley chase cheap novels. Guys started whispering, Is Makanyengo really out? Then God delivered us from our own detention in the spell so that we can have lunch. The Central Kendu PA announcer did it a third time.
WILL KEPHER ODHIAMBO MAKANYENGO, PLEASE REPORT TO THE STAFF OFFICE TO MEET YOUR FATHER. I WILL REPEAT AGAIN ONCE MORE FOR THE SECOND TIME.
The hall went it a delirium. “Again, Once more for the second time” was the source of excitement as lost track that Kepher was really the subject here. Apparently Kepher got the information and did not come to the dining hall for lunch. So later on I was told that it is the form 4 student who always plays the guitar in Neptune dormitory of Europa House. Later on the face was matched to the name. But I had other issues.
The lunch was not the same for me because I transferred the whole situation to myself. My father passed on in 1965 and I was wondering if I could just hear a similar announcement probably my world would change forever. I would have so much to tell him how things were never the same since he left. I was wondering what is Kepher telling his Dad. Does he have stories to tell like me. People to report on. The turbulence of an absent father is devastating on the life of a child. And more so if it is a male child. They usually come out the worst
From then on whenever I saw Kepher from my Jupiter dorm door steps or behind where he used to play the guitar, I fixed my stare at him. At lunch time. In the debating club. It was Kepher that I looked at. But inside me I was foolishly scheming how I would tell my father how the Shamba ma Songor/ Muhoroni was carelessly lost, how all the funds in First Permanent building society (E A B Society) for the 6 boys was never claimed. How the savings in the properties was fizzled out? Not that I knew how these things affected me but because I could hear my mother lament about the losses in her solitude
Why am I telling you these personal stuff? It’s because I was happy for Kepher and never assumed that a detainee’s child goes through hell because the father will be back. And if he has the misfortune of being detained twice then he must have just gone away twice as much. Whats the fuss?
I could tell that my school mate Kepher was not comfortable with my stern gaze. It was at the moment a Central Nyanza/ South Nyanza district bigotry. And honestly pupils from Central Nyanza and Kisumu displayed more than their share of that ignorance at every opportunity. If only Kepher would come to bully me that you filthy arrogant Siaya people why are you always eyeballing me? Only to learn that I was envious of him for the good times being a son of a famous person who is still alive. Maybe he would tell me that “No, ja Siaya, when he is dead, you get used to it but when he is in detention “to ikwane gi jok ma otho to pod ongima”.
The life of a opposition politician in an oppressive system is so devastating as the system targets the weakest points. The family, The family the family the family. No family is left the same. None. But I had no way of knowing that Kepher family did not enjoy the peace in absence that I had.
Kepher’s father, then George Phillip Ocholla (later to be known as Ochola Ogaye Makanyengo) went to various primary schools, tagging along with his father, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor. He then joined Kamagambo Mission School where he sat the Kenya African Primary Examination (KAPE). He garnered the qualification marks to advance to Kisii secondary school. After his secondary school he taught in various schools as an untrained teacher (UT).
He then later on joined Shell Oil company as a Management Trainee around 1954. Makanyengo was now a family man starting on the path of a young person waiting for impending independence. However, with his education he was no ordinary person. At Shell they were selected together with Martin Shikuku, Zack Mbori, Jolly Mung'ala and Julias Kyambi to undergo intense Management Trainee course in 1954. At this time the Europeans were doing to Kenya what they denied many colonies. They were busy preparing Kenyans for Self-rule. Compare this to Congo DRC that did not have a single graduate. It is clear what Europe had for the rest of Africa. Kenya was truly privileged. In hind sight Kenya was deliberately and strategically being nest feathered because they will never leave Africa and needed to hold on to a working Kenya for many years to come as foothold to rule the world.
However, fate had decided to take charge of the life of Ocholla Makanyengo. The Sicilians have a saying that every man has one destiny. You can meander around but your destiny awaits you. Makanyengo was elected to head the Petroleum and Oil workers Union soon after completion of the Management Trainee course. And that automatically disqualified him from being in management. From the Petroleum Workers Union, he moved to lead Railways and Harbours Union. By now he was so entrenched in Trade Unionism that there was no going back to full management.
A fresh and sharp twist of fate saw Makanyengo in the Tom Mboya Airlift of 1959 as George Phillip Ocholla. However, before we board the plane for the trip we need to understand Tom Mboya and George Phillip Ocholla popularly known as Ocholla Makanyengo or Double O M.
Makanyengo catchphrase press name in early Trade Union career was Double O M. I have to warn you that that the word ‘double’ will continue to tragically pop up to the very tragic end.
MAKANYENGO AND TOM MBOYA
The later day nationalist Tom Mboya and Makanyengo enjoyed each other’s mutual respect. Being the son of an SDA pastor Makanyengo had the humility that resonates with Tom Mboya. The ability to lay your life down for others to walk over you. This level of humility present in both of them helped solidify their closeness as jo milambo (Luos of the South of the Lake)
Many people have never understood why Tom Mboya who had no University degree never took the flight himself. It should have been the logical thing to do. In any case guys like Makanyengo could hold the forte in the unions while he went on study leave. It did not make sense to train guys to come back with degrees which will make them better than him.
Tom Mboya attended to St Mary’s Yala Primary School and passed with distinction. For some reasons he had chosen Mangu High School instead of proceeding to Yala secondary or maybe circumstances made him choose Mangu High School which was near his father’s working place. In those days after 2 years in secondary education there was another exam (later known as Kenya Junior Secondary School Examination) at glas apar (form 2). Its only after passing this that you can continue to glas apar gi achiel (form 3) and then glas apar gi ariyo (form 4) for Cambridge later known as East African Certificate of Education (EACE) examinations. However, Tom Mboya had a challenge that faced many young Kenyans at that time and even many cases later around my time.
At a time of competing resources, some children were made to drop out of school to make way for the other well placed in time of endurance or sometimes pure bias. Many girl Childs gave up chances for the male child to pursue further education. In some cases, like the case of late MP for Kisumu town a commoner’s son stepped aside for the son of a who-is-who to go proceed even if the lazy privileged slob has never passed an examination in his life. In this case Tom Mboya’s father, Mzee Ndiege was resigning to retire and go back home in Rusinga. Nyanza was still more prosperous than any region in East Africa and people worked only to build seed capital to leverage themselves. Something had to give because all Mzee Ndiege brothers could not continue with schooling. Tom Mboya did what is to become what he is most known for. He laid down his life for his family and cut short his education at form 2. And this is the Makanyengo humility self-sacrifice that both of them saw in each other. Is it any wonder that both of them ended in Trade Unionism- service to your fellows, advocacy, campaigning, lobbying etc.? It is what they did best?
MAKANYENGO IN MALCOLM X Chicago.
The airlift fate took Makanyengo to Chicago of Illinois the heart of republicans by then. The democrats were still a racist party. The rise of Malcolm X had re awoken the African American community. Malcolm X was rising faster than Elijah Mohammed the head of the black Nation of Islam movement. Something that would lead to tragic consequences.
Leopards don’t change their spots and Makanyengo could not fathom the level of deprivation, poverty and impoverished condition of the African American workers. He was enticed and flirted with civil rights movements which is natural because workers’ rights really is the impetus to human rights movement. Accidentally Makanyengo twinned African American and African issues. Does this not sound familiar/ Malcolm X’s last visit to Africa was to promote a global African agenda? It is not clear whether there was contact in Nairobi or in Chicago but some other feathers got ruffled in the two years that Makanyengo was in Chicago.
If there was anything that USA intelligence did not like it is the high profiling the African American condition. And right here in Chicago the heart of the suffering was a conduit to feed this black issues to the world. The Martin Luther King Jr Nobel peace prize had greatly given the civil rights movement a high profile. Malcolm X visit to Africa and Asia profiled these causes and X and Pinto both of them faced the wrath of the US government.
Quietly in Chicago Elijah Mohammed was having a battle of his own with Malcolm X. Elijah was being secretly funded to seek a separate state for African American people. Any high profiling of their case would torpedo this ambitions of a separate Islamic state to oversee. And he had embarked on fertilising his descendants to rule that state to Malcolm X’s discomfort.
There is another very salient issue. In one of Tom Mboya’s speeches covered in his book there is the issue of Back to Africa movement which Tom Mboya was opposing on the back of lack of documentation at the time of movement to the US in the first place. The speech was too weak to have been written by any of the Tom Mboya staffers. Indeed, it was not well received by the African American community and the Pan Africanists. Whoever wrote that speech is not the type to welcome Makanyengo stirring things in Chicago. If indeed it was Tom Mboya then there was major point of departure in relating to the African American issue
It was therefore not surprising that Makanyengo’s studies in the United States was silently cut short. He had touched on a raw nerve while in the US.
SCRAMBLE FOR RIFT VALLEY
The sense of disappointment of Makanyengo is that he never discussed this issue with anybody and very few people got to know the goings on. Back in Kenya he immersed himself in popular politics.
Tom Mboya was scrambling to get a foothold in Rift Valley to roll back Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) frontiers and install Kenya African National Union (KANU). Or maybe he was feathering his future nest. In US electoral lingo, Rift Valley Province was a playground. Coast Province and Western Province were KADU locked. Populous Nyanza, Nairobi and Central Province were locked for KANU.
Already in Nakuru, Wasonga Sijeyo and Richard Achieng Oneko had been installed. The next major town in Rift Valley was Kericho. Mboya prepped the ground in Kericho then on the eve of the 1961 elections dispatched Makanyengo just to show his face during the voting process for a shoe in.
When Makanyengo arrived in Kericho evening in readiness for the next day, he found that the elections had been held. Apparently Tom Mboya had sent fresh instructions changing the KANU election dates and re assigning Makanyengo no seat. At such times one needs a calm head and Makanyengo had such a calmness until the day he died.
Tom Mboya was very powerful in Kenya. This is a guy whose signature on a dog eared piece of newspaper was being honoured as a legal tender in banks. A guy who never wasted time packing his car. He would leave it running in the middle of any street in Kenya while he attended his business. Other motorists were guided by council askari to wait or reverse for an alternative route. However, to elbow out Makanyengo in a 24 hour turn around means a much more formidable force had leaned on TJ Mboya. And that force was emanating from over the hills and oceans. Nothing local could make him do that to his protégé.
Makanyengo did not complain. He did not ask Tom Mboya why the double message was sent. He just knuckled with the full knowledge that there was a formidable force that had leant on Tom Mboya to replace him. Whatever force it was to bend Tom Mboya’s wishes must have been raging and was not local force. In Kenya as everybody knew Tom Mboya was indomitable at this point.
He must have come to one conclusion, if at all Mboya did not whisper in South Nyanza dialect, that any future help from him would be vetoed.
MAKANYENGO AND JARAMOGI OGINGA ODINGA
After that debacle Makanyengo without closing the door on Tom Mboya sought a chance to complete his studies in Russia through the help of Jaramogi. Jaramogi like Tom Mboya was not afraid of learned people. In any case he himself had nothing to prove and his former pupils were sprouting everywhere. The only difference is Jaramogi thrived in diversity of opinion within his own camp. Take for example when his own party members defrocked him of the semi spiritual Ker of Luo. He held no grudge. Even when Tom Mboya used to challenge him to public contests he never let his temper loose. Tom Mboya would even denigrate him as uncircumcised in public and he never took grudge. Not least because he also could castigate non- Luos as rayuom a slur that persisted among the Luos until the great mass circumcision of the millennium. Or when Tom Mboya sent J M Kariuki with a message to Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah to malign Jaramogi. Jaramogi never took a grudge but only sent his own olive branch requesting for a meeting to explain matters face to face. Tom Mboya on the other hand was a different ball game if you held a different opinion.
On successful completion of his International Labour Laws studies in Russia Makanyengo came back and found his destiny waiting for him. He continued from where he had left the trade union movement. First he tried to secure employment everywhere. In some cases, he got to the point of actually being employed by a multinational. After a few months the European called him and confided in him off-the-record that his continued employment was risking everybody’s livelihood. The writing was on the wall for Makanyengo that he would never be employed in Kenya. The system was putting the boot on Makanyengo where he is most vulnerable. It’s the tried and tested technic of breaking up opposition and like Jomo Kenyatta used to brag, “we will grind you into powder!”
MAKANYENGO AND PIO GAMA PINTO
Throughout this period Makanyengo set himself as one of the cogs in Jaramogi wheels together with Pio Gama Pinto. One was an idealist and the other one was a pragmatic mover and campaigner. In Malcom X’ s visits to Nairobi in 1959 he had met and conferred with firebrand Pio Gama Pinto. Incidentally it was about the same time Makanyengo also travelled in the opposite direction to Chicago on that fateful airlift. Then by mere chance Makanyengo now joins Pio Gama Pinto side in Jaramogi wing. Someone read the script very well.
A few days before Malcolm X was killed on 21st Jan 1965, at dingy poorly lit Hole-In-The-Wall pub on River Road, Nairobi a Makanyengo body-double had secured the services of state underworld fixer to go and recruit a colleague dirty fixer and informer to go and scare a Trade Unionist and rival of Makanyengo. Then days later the body-double claiming to be Makanyengo again met with the two and sent them on an errand to scare another ‘rival’ in now a narrative of an underworld Makanyengo. The only difference the main fixer shot and killed Pio Gama Pinto on 24th January 1965 which was not the 'initial errand'. The main fixer disappeared in thin air and the minor fixer and colleague of the assassin who was at the scene of crime fingered a ‘Makanyengo’ body-double believing to be the real Makanyengo. Luckily at the identification parade the assassin’s accomplice on seeing the real Makanyengo was surprised at the remarkable difference refused to admit even with coercion and harassment that this is the Makanyengo who assigned the two errands to them.
Those days the profile of a Luo was a tall black man, probably a train driver or police or very learned and speaks vowelled Kiswahili. So present that to any Bantu and the man is a Luo. But this was an urban Kamba man and game plan was scrambled. However, God was also on Makanyengo’s side. Why? The Makanyengo body-double picked to impose to the assassins/ informers was not only a Luo who looked like Makanyengo. He was clans man of Makanyengo who was training in neighbouring country as in Industrial labour but was in Kenya as a shop steward and also moonlighting as a KANU arm-twister for KANU bigwigs. He was later rewarded in key KANU local positions without furthering his career in Trade Unions. Why bother train if you can pick easy money, farms, properties and party positions by double crossing any of the many Luos out there. Anyway Makanyengo was let go after 24 hours in the police cell because the assassins partner in crime refused to go down with him. In summary Malcolm X was down. Pio Gama Pinto was down. But Makanyengo was still standing. But just. And not for long.
MAKANYENGO AND JOMO KENYATTA
It was not long before he locked horns with the now domineering replacement of the colonial employers. This time he was wrestling none other than the Republic of Kenya government. In Makanyengo’s mind he had no illusion that he was fighting a bigger demon. He completely refused to see Jomo Kenyatta at the other side of the ring. He knew Kenyatta was having sporadic heart scares to be fussed about the next president of Kenya.
After the KANU 1966 Limuru Conference Centre that ejected Jaramogi out of the government there was bubbling not far from the surface. KANU felt Kenya People Union (KPU) was planning mass disobedience by a series of strikes. In a master stroke by the government there was a mass detention of Trade Union officials. Dennis Akumu, Ocholla Makanyengo, JD Kali were detained among others. There was also a very peculiar systematic silencing in South Nyanza. The hand of silencing somehow reached Gogo Ochok, Owuor Gari and any other perceived government dissidents. As for them a new silencing from the office of the Attorney General was used, the trumped up charges. This is an imported style used predominantly in the deep south of the United States of America. It was as if Jaramogi disciples in South Nyanza were being wiped out. Jaramogi influence in old Nyanza was widespread in North, Central and South. Somebody had carefully noted this. And planned dots on key subjects to be overcome. South Nyanza Luos are very martial but very quiet. Can you imagine that happening to say James Aggrey Orengo for example? He would make so much noise nobody will sleep. In short South Nyanza Luos faced the Kenyatta Gulag just as much but they are very quiet.
Makanyengo was to stay the longest in detention even when Denis Akumu and his colleagues were being released. On being released he did not stay free for more than a year. This time the Kisumu massacre ensured that he was detained on the 30th November 1970 until 1974. He left only Internationalist Wasonga Sijeyo of Gem in detention.
After being released he spent time recuperating and picking up the pieces of every bit of life that he could still find. He spent a few attempts meeting KANU roadblocks at every point. He eventually gave up and just went to rural life. Iki shaa kata isha kata!
MAKANYENGO AND MOI
Even after Mzee Kenyatta had passed on in 1978 still the political environment was too hostile for Makanyengo. His way back on the to the top was when armed with nothing except his name he clawed back Railways and Harbours Union votes completely annihilating the then incumbent.
His reprieve only came when Moi sensing that he was getting closer to heading COTU after the passing on of the all-powerful JUMA BOI deflected him by encouraging him to go and contest the Ndhiwa seat with a promise of his preferred position of expertise as Minster for Labour. After the 1983 elections Nyayo quietly sidestepped that promise and appointed him nothing of the sort.
Come the 1988 elections and he was now in another maze of a contest. He had performed extremely well as a member of parliament and was very popular but a certain gentleman just decided to contest the KANU party Mlolongo-caucus just because he could. Behind Moi’s back someone was pulling the strings to have him defeated so that Otieno Ogingo could win. It is only late in the main general electioneering when Moi intelligence passed on the intel of what is happening in Ndhiwa that the mischiefs stopped.
He eventually managed his way in but silently swore never to run again. He was done and it was now quits with his fate. He passed on while serving his Ndhiwa people. Rest in peace you peace-loving jakabuoch.
He is remembered for a sterling performance in real public investments like NDHIWA hospital and various school harambees in his constituency. Being a Trade Union guy he knew the needs of popular voters. This is a affirmed by his wins in Trade Union contests and how popular and relevant he was among the workers even after years of absence, in studies and detention.
In relations ships he understood human nature that we all need each other. That he managed Jaramogi and Tom Mboya equally says something about his prowess and acumen and the wisdom that both Jaramogi and Tom Mboya needed each other even if at opposite sides.
I am sure if you asked Makanyengo, who killed Tom Mboya he would say Jaramogi. Yes, he would say Jaramogi Oginga Odinga killed Tom Mboya! ? Because if Jaramogi had persevered the humiliation of LCC in 1966 by Tom Mboya led KANU, his opponents would not have moved for Tom Mboya. As much as they had very bad public spats, Mboya's other adversaries new that Jaramogi camp had fighters who could fight back even with their backs to the wall. After 1966 win they went about scattering Mboya international influence. Then 3 years later on January 1969 they took down a Argwings Kodhek and Mboya was cut adrift waiting his daring public execution in a Nairobi street. He had been reduced to a status of a rabid dog or common criminal to be shot on sight. Only Makanyengo knew Jaramogi quitting the government was a fatal mistake because in Trade Unionism you must believe in safety in numbers. That is why all his life he remained an addition in Tom Mboya side and an addition in Jaramogi side. Almost a case of 2+2=5.
I used to wonder why could Mboya assassin not even poison him or silently get rid of him. What many people do not know and only the few Makanyengo confided in will tell you is that in the last days Mboya was made a pariah, had been cut adrift and could not even telephone his international friends. Even his reputation that always preceded him was fast ebbing out.
Tom Mboya like Makanyengo was now a man in constant inequity. In one such occasion in Easter weekend of 1969 he visited Makanyengo in his humble domain in a humble Eastleigh that he had retreated to while consolidating his family against constant and persistent oppressive deluge. Tom Mboya poured out his soul while sitting in his white Citroen car until the morning light to avoid any wiretapping. The oppressive boot was still firmly on Makanyengo and his family yet he is the one Tom Mboya turned to when his world was disappearing over him, around him and under him. Mboya could not even reach the American embassy or call Jaramogi. His enemies had him numbered and were just reading the assassination playbook page by page and line by line. That he reached out to the same very Makanyengo still being persecuted says all you wanted to know about George Phillip Ocholla Makanyengo. What manner of a man!
As Tom Mboya walked towards the door to face his assassin, with Nahashon Njenga Njoroge, the assassins body-double watching through the glass with his face fully exposed the way Makanyengos body-double face was exposed at Hole-In-The-Wall river road, he must have come to the realisation that it is Makanyango that he had let down so many times that was truly his friend. No wonder he cried to his assassin, “You can’t do this to me. Not after all I have done!” Thank God it was not ‘all we have done’.