OKWANYO: WHAT MANNER OF A MAN!
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
Date: 1975 Venue: Homa Bay School
Play: Musee ger (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta is harsh)
Girango Lodge Manager: Jaduong’ nyiew nwa generator wayua go pi (buy the hotel a generator powered water pump)
Hon Okwanyo: We wach, Musee geeer! (don’t mention Jomo Kenyatta is harsh)
Migori Teachers College Principal: Ja telo med wa jopuonj moko I college (the college needs additional lecturers)
Hon Okwanyo: Sani pod musee geer
ACT 2 Scene 1 –Parliament Buildings Nairobi
Migori Job seeker: Jatelo miya oboke moro adhi adwar go kibarua ka waInde (furnish me with an introduction letter to secure a job)
Hon Okwanyo: Wach mos, muse geeeeeer (in whisper)
Another Migori Job seeker: Meda fees orem matin aduok go nyathi e skul. (support me with school fees)
Hon Okwanyo: muse geeer. Pod rit mondi
Another despairing Migori voter: Kara jaduong’ konya gi omenda akaw go Kenya Bus adog go I ot.
Hon Okwanyo: muse geeeeer gerr ger
Bystander Migori voters answer back: Iiiiiiii to Museee ger kata I pesa ma wuok ofuki? Kara wariti 1979. Ibi gi Musee ni no!
The above comic relief was by my school mates Okeyo Ndiege, Phares Otieno and George Joash.
The affable Okwanyo because of his girth was an easy target for such banter. I think in the run up to the 1974 elections there was another joke on him that in the parliament ending 1969 he used to sleep in parliament. Legend has it that one time he slept on during a budget session and only when he woke up when the minister was walking out, startled he asked, “What about Migori?”
To which the back-benchers disgusted at his snoring rudely heckled back, “What about it?”
All this could have just been the spicing of my South of the lake brethren. I should know. I even supported a football club that they used to beat and make fun off. Woe unto you when they, especially Karachuonyo people have you in their radar.
The above two could even just be banter. They are good at it. You have to give it to jo Milambo when it comes to lungo ji.
WHO IS JOHN HENRY OKWANYO.
John Henry Okwanyo is a former three-time MP for Migori Constituency of former Nyanza province of Kenya. He served both the government of Kenyatta from 1963-1969 and 1974-1979. He then served in the government of President Moi from 1988-1992. Okwanyo Johnny then became the rare Members of Parliament for Luo Nyanza who have three times won back their seat. Nationally very few MPs have achieved that.
Okwanyo was born in 1928 in Migori. He is a local boy. One of their very own which in many spheres of life is an added advantage but not in Lakeside politics. Being a local boy can be the millstone sinker tied to your neck to sink you with.
Okwanyo received his early education in Nyamome Primary School before proceeding to Kisii High School before joining the Medical training Centre, Nairobi where he qualified as a radiographer in 1953. After College Okwanyo started off as a Laboratory Assistant certificate holder in the colonial government before embarking in a career very similar to that of a fellow district mate, the late all powerful minister Tom Mboya.
He served as Assistant Minister and full cabinet ministers in the 15 years he was in parliament.
OKWANYO AND T J MBOYA.
The Luo nation because it is an old group of over 1000 years has some of the very rare structures and communal orders not found in younger groups. One of the very strong attributes of any Luo group is the belief in the strength of opposition. That no matter how perfect one is you must listen to divergent opinion. In in the smallest family unit the Luo wisdom promotes a divergent voice. This is propounded in various sayings such as “winjo ga wach, ni wuoth gi chieth I piere”, “Okoko nene okayo pier Owiny Sigoma”.
It is in the same breadth that even though Mboya was from South Nyanza, he did not enjoy a universal support in the old South Nyanza District. In fact, Jaramogi had a very strong hold in South Nyanza. The converse is the same in Siaya where Tom Mboya had the urbanites of former Central Nyanza locked in his back pocket.
In South Nyanza therefore Tom Mboya’s cogs in the wheel were politicians like Onyango Mbeo, Onyango Ayodo and Okwanyo among others. But the three were the leaders very close to Tom Mboya. Tom Mboya assassination had a very devastating effect on Okwanyo as following this he also lost his seat in the 1969. Which as much as it is a tragedy it gave Okwanyo time to grieve and come to terms with the loss of Mboya. In any case going back to parliament on the back drop of the tragedy must have been very daunting as it would for anybody.
There were so many projects they had embarked on together like Migori Teachers Training College, Nyandago Secondary, the regeneration of Macalder Nyanza mines area, the rehabilitation of Nyanza Mines, the establishment of large scale ranch from Abuto to Oyani, the establishment of East African Flying school at Nyatike among many others.
Interestingly there was a clearance of large land in Rusinga islands and the mainland and in the pipeline the development of fast waterways to connect South Nyanza and Uganda. Why would an alleged descendant of Buganda Kingdom seek to have access to Buganda Kingdom? And where incidentally his wife Pamela Odede Mboya was a University student. Another story for another day.
OKWANYO AFTER MBOYA.
John Henry Okwanyo suffered the biggest loss with the departure of Tom Mboya. He was not only marginalised like all Luos but he personally felt like a pariah. Like all Luo MPs especially from Siaya who turned to bickering among themselves or excessive drinking and skirt chasing to escape the gaze of the intelligence, South Nyanza politicians took a low profile. This is because South Nyanza are more pious with less permissive SDA and protestants holding the sway. So naturally they could not overindulge like the Ogutus of Ugenya. Ironically this was even worse and intensified the gaze of the intelligence as if they were planning a counter insurgency to avenge Tom Mboya slaying.
Okwanyo was so marooned that he could not even manage to organise to pump water from 50 metres stream to Girango Lodge. In fact, the last time I stayed they it appeared like a condemned place because it not only lacked water but the watchman snored so loudly that even drunkards could not sleep.
The Kenyatta years when he was re-elected in 1974 were very trying. And they were difficult times to be a Luo even if you kept shtum because you were considered opposition (KPU) at heart. And yet there was no Luo-meter to empirically discriminate the stigma or gauge whether one is apolitical enough.
OKWANYO AND MOI.
The first Moi elections that ensued, naturally Nyanza thought that Moi would give a fresh start so they cleaned the house and Okwanyo was out for the term beginning 1979.
He made a return in 1988 and served up to 1992 as the Minister for Water Development. Still Girango Lodge had no water. However, it is not only Girango Lodge that was left behind.
One of the missions of Ministry was Water for all by the year 2000! Well it is 2020 and we not only don’t have Water for all but the ministry itself died long before Moi started his final term. At Least Girango Lodge is still standing. Some of these stalled projects attracted obstacles from elsewhere.
OKWANYO’S AND MBOYA SILHOUETTE
Okwanyo was an affable character and I think in school he is the guy easiest to bully which puts me on his side. With his front teeth you wondered if he was eloquent. But whenever Okwanyo started speaking not even Attorney General Charles Njonjo had a more Anglicised accent. I loved his accent.
In politics, this generation of Luos MPs were thrown into the Lion’s den of a raging fire of Kiambu Mafia. Don’t look at their project track record. You would not like to be in their shoes. For example, when a Kikuyu JM Kariuki was slain just for looking at them struggling. And Jomo Kenyatta’s nephew Ngengi Muigai was in bad books with Kiambu mafia just for making overtures to be inclusive members of the Luo community when he went to great lengths as to invite Ker Paul Mboya and non-political Luo leaders to meet Mzee Jomo Kenyatta to build bridges. It was such a high profile operation that TV programmes were re sequenced so as to create space to televise that historical “handshake”. Jomo Kenyatta’s favourite programme Football Made in Germany and comedy show Vioja Mahakamani were all cancelled to make way for the return of the “sons of the soil”. The tremors that the Ngengi project caused and the threat to other power seekers were heavily felt. Ngengi Muigai never recovered from the ostracising.
It is not easy to understand the hostile political environment you had to live it to feel it. One more time let me try to recreate the hostile development environment that the likes Okwanyo’s were operating in and it does not matter whether you were pro-Mboya or anti-Mboya, Pro-Odinga or anti-Odinga. You were all shit canned together as Luos. You were on your own. All Harambees were banned because Nyanza province was dirty and had a permanent cholera outbreak. Factory investors like Firestone that were planned for Kisumu found them selves in Thika or Nakuru. Teachers in secondary schools posted directly from overseas were systematically being transferred to schools around Nairobi at short notice without replacement. Future teachers from Tom Mboya programs with Irish NGO and North American assistance like Peace Corps were relocated elsewhere on arrival.
And it was not only Luos who felt the heat of pre-Moi days. This is the period when the Vice President of the republic could be slapped around by a civil servant unprovoked and not once not twice but on several occasions. Nothing really mattered to the ruling clique. And it was not just one rogue administrator in Nakuru.
From Vice Presidents office, to get to the parking lot or go to the Law courts, there was a path that everybody used. Even members of the public used this footpath. Somehow some assistant ministers thought it would be only proper for the Vice president to walk to the main Harambee Avenue then circumnavigate the perimeter on the main streets until he gets to his destination. Not only did they have the arrogance to instruct clans men members of the civil servants to watch 'errant' vice president Moi and report, but their brethren civil servants in Jogoo House also thought it was okay to bully and harass the vice president.
And if you thought it was only non-Kikuyus then think again. One part of the Kikuyu nation was openly told, that the presidency will never pass River Chania of the Kikuyu land. To these ruling class they could as well be Luos.
And it was not only words now. It appears in the absence of Luos the Gatundu oath was eating them. An MP in Nakuru, Kihika Kimani openly distributed Pangas (machetes) to members of Nakuru Kikuyus to ready themselves to safeguard the presidency against other Kikuyu clans. The bile of hatred was now consuming them.
All these were happening on the back of strong support by the influential newspaper, whose chief Editor Joe Kadhi pencilled a terse editorial supporting the demonstration and promotion of violence by Kihika Kimani in Rift Valley.
In the light `of that environment it is understandable that musee ger is the only defence that Tom Mboya confidant Okwanyo could afford because he constantly walked with the silhouette of Tom Mboya over him like a halo.
John Henry Okwanyo and company were like poorly armed soldiers sent to the front line of a raging battle field where the enemies were strongest and most vicious.