top of page
  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: May 15, 2021

I only saw him once in flesh along Uhuru Highway as I was going to a football match and he cast eyes on us. I was with a European coach with limited education and the way some of the these Europeans ignore local things, I am sure he did not notice how I held the guy in the other vehicle in awe.

In my car were two guys who knew about him but were never moved by that part of the world. So they did not notice that I was really impressed by the people in the other vehicle.

When I made eye contact with Phillip, he looked away without acknowledging my awe that I had made eye contact with his greatness Phillip Ochieng’. As he turned his gaze to look ahead I could read from his lips that he continued on an easy conversation as if nothing was there to be be talked about.

To this date I wonder if the great man noticed me. Did I even fill his sphere of life? How about Europeans marauding this part of the world. Did the Gor Mahia FC vs Luo Union FC rivalry and its manifestations into Mboya/ Odinga; Upper Luos/ Lower Luos; Central Nyanza versus Nyanza Milambo; Cosmopolitan Luos versus urban migrants’ workers mean anything to him. I wonder. I still do because I would have loved to be in his world. I don’t mind even if he despised me. At least I would have been somebody despised in his world.

I never knew about Phillip Ochieng’ personally. The things I write about I just heard. So I want to write about hearsay. And you know the thing about a rumour or hearsay is that until its confirmed it remains a rumour. If you say someone stubbed a cigarette on a colleagues face, then it can only cease to be a rumour when it is confirmed that it is a fact. I have heard of worse things at work than one incident as a contributory stubbing a cigarette on the face of an employee. As I write now there are many junior employees in Kenya and elsewhere in the world who would easily trade places with one time cigarette being stubbed in their face than face abusive employers just because they are of a different sex or tribe or race. Why? Because being inquisitive to your seniors you can manage by stopping. But how can you stop being a different sex or tribe or race?

I heard he was born in 1938 and was in form one in 1955. I hear he was born on the Lake basin island of Rusinga of South Nyanza just like Tom Mboya.

I also hear his Luo tribe were initially warriors who were into speculative preoccupation like the Nordic Vikings of the Scandinavians. Any life style that involved daily routine after routine did not suit them. They lived an explosive life. The routines just like for the Vikings was left to the women. They would go on a dare devil raid and come back with food, loot and women and hand it to the women to do the management. They would then go on about partying after partying and retooling their arsenal.

I hear that after every explosive adventure they would make merry until the next venture that is why in their dances spears and arsenals were not part of the attire like many other African groups.

I hear the Luo nation believed in expansion of their empire by marrying and bringing forth children to fill their numbers. Safety in numbers is the game. It’s still a numbers game, really.

I also hear that the when the white explorers came into contact with the Luos they were amazed at how civil Luos were with a history longer than the Anglo Saxon history and indeed some words appears in both tribes dialect. And even today Shakespeare faithful concede that the celebrated Merchant of Venice set in Italy was a historical happening much earlier along the River Nile that led Luo Exodus into present day Kenya, Tanzania and Congo Empire.

I hear Phillip Ochieng’ was an atheist even if he never for once dropped the Christian name of Phillip. I hear Luos are 80 % religious, 5% Muslims, 1% the "other one" but they 1,000% Luos. So it is alright to be a Luo atheist just like it is alright to be a Luo priest.

I hear Phillip was revered at Alliance High school that no matter how many times he dropped out, the European teachers went to fetch him from god forsaken where he absconded to. I have lived a life with insanely gifted persons but mostly in football. The closest was Otondi Loketo of Seme. I think he was the greatest football player to have graced this earth. But I could never get him to love to play routinely. He hated routine. And when I suspended him for indiscipline I would end rescuing from the police station because other players just came to plead that, “Now you have finished Otondi. Just let him be”. And I just called him back. The other one from a distance was the great Luo Union winger Eric Omonge. I read about George Best, Diego Maradona and the rest. So I know a thing or two about insanely gifted people like Phillip Ochieng’ or Barack Obama Senior. Phillip Ochieng’ is not alone and it is a privilege to be born near one. You can see how the social media is drooling of things about him that they don't even know.

I hear Phillip Ochieng’ is the only person on the Tom Mboya airlift that came back without a degree. I hear for whatever reason he turned his back on higher education. I also heard another Asembo man who migrated to South Nyanza from Central Nyanza by the name Tom Mboya and who like him first shunned higher education in Kenya leaving it to his bro Alphonce Okuku. It is poetic that this Tom Mboya from rival schools St Mary’s Yala/ Mangu did not even bother to get into the plane himself but willingly arranged to a rival school Phillip Ochieng’. And then Phillip also decides to turn his back on that degree. I find it more than a coincidence. What did the two find not special in a University degree?

I heard in Chicago he decided to terminate his studies and came back to Kenya without a University degree for very personal reasons. I read somewhere that the Luos are boisterous enough but not to the level of their brethren’s from the west of Africa. I read that when the west Africans first arrived in USA as part of their own airlift, the down trodden African Americans and Native Americans sighed with relief that at a last someone has arrived to be at the bottom of the pile at number 5 of the American classes. How wrong could they be! As far as the noisy Nigerians were concerned, they were sons of Chiefs so were highly ranked than number 3 Jews; and higher ranked than number 2 Irish. In fact, they even out ranked number 1, the White Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASPs) and should only share rankings with the British Royalties or students of English Etonian colleges. And hence read the riot act for numbers 2-5 as they were now the new number 1 in the United States of America. I heard that similarly this new number 1 from Kenya Eton (Alliance High school) and well tutored , Carey Francis protégé refused to sit for Test of English as a Foreign student (TOEFL) class to be taught standard 4 grammar that lead to some random degree from some US Independent college. Like the Nigerian cuz, he was the new no1 in town!

I also heard like another Kenyan Barack Obama he left a child in Chicago and typical of Luos from 1100AD who left children in empires on their way to wherever part of the world it was their way of building an empire. And I heard South African Steve Biko also proclaim that the first mixed race was born exactly 9 months to the minute from the time the Boers first set foot on African soil, "so what's the fuss with apartheid business?". If that is true the then what is the fuss with a Rusinga child being born in Chicago! I hear other countries have gone to war and are still going to war very far from home just to put their names on the planet just like Rusinga put their name on Chicago.

I heard that back in Kenya he kept books and books and more books like Barack Obama Senior and was proud of this. That instead of plots of land and beds and fat bank accounts they preferred books of great knowledge.

I heard that he refused to steal but would take advances for the work he is about to do and drink it like Barrack Obama Senior. In a country where even a secondary school headmaster in a Nairobi Eastland's school of 1970s could steal school grass to go and feed his cattle and worshipers steal from an overturned lorry his refusal to steal but take advances was looked down upon. To Kenyans it is equivalent to a police officer refusing to steal confiscated cash or contraband exhibits. In fact in Kenya like Italy, it is alright to be crooked than to be poor that is why Kenyans looked down upon taking of moral salary advances.

I also heard that he lived like pauper but his brilliance like that of Tom Mboya and Barack Obama senior was unmatched. I also heard that towards the tragic end Tom Mboya friends had deserted him and Tom Mboya himself was also hard for cash and if he had lived longer he may not have competed in a thieving Kenya where Champaign socialists and Trade Union socialists roll in Choppers, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, limousines and custom made suits.

I also heard that in human life reproduction system there is a stage of growth termed mutations and meiosis in biology. Mitosis results in two identical cells. I was looking at my student yearbook of 1975 when I first witnessed an artist impression of mitosis in a mural on a New York wall by a random graffiti person. The 1975 graffiti illustrated the cell mitosis between the non-violence philosophy of Dr Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and whether they existed in real life. Or did he mean did they succeed? (It’s a long time ago). I don’t know the two very well but I understand what the graffiti was saying. And that is why even though I never met Phillip Ochieng’ and Tom Mboya, I asked a graphics man to reproduce for me an artist's impression of Tom Mboya and Phillip Ochieng’ in reproduction cell Mitosis.

I think it is possible to see the two Rusinga island born men, Tom Mboya and Phillip Ochieng’ in cell mitosis resulting in two similar Luo men excelling in a field they had not been tutored in from 1000 AD to 2021AD.


Africa's Greatest Leader Was A Heroic Failure

By The Late Philip Ochieng, The East African, Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, 19 October 2009

It takes extraordinary personal strength for a leader to admit in public that he is a failure.

Julius Nyerere is the only one I know who has ever done it.

Some time towards the end, he stood on a podium to announce that he had failed to achieve the social goal that had driven him into leadership.

But if you have genuinely tried, failure is to be respected.

Julius Nyerere is among the extremely few world leaders who have selflessly attempted great things for their national peoples.

Other African leaders notably Leopold Senghor and Tom Mboya have spoken of African socialism as a means of restoring human dignity to the African person after a protracted era of colonial brutalisation and dehumanisation. But none has ever offered a plausible definition of African socialism.

Mwalimu Nyerere was the first probably the only African nationalist leader to cast a serious moral and intellectual eye upon Africa's extended family tradition and weave a practical national development philosophy around it.

Ujamaa had two basic components.

The Ujamaa Village was an attempt to revive traditional rural communalism bringing groups of villages together, investing collectively in them and running them through modern democratic precepts.

Since the turn of the 21st century, Kenya's own leaders have divided and sub-divided what used to be called districts into veritable village units, claiming a purpose similar to Nyerereism to bring utilities and social services closer to the people.

The second component was much more theoretically shaky a series of nationalisations intended to bring urban commerce and industry under state control, the state purporting to be the public's trustee.

But the 1967 Arusha Declaration in which this doctrine of socialism and self-reliance was enunciated opened a Pandora's box of ideology. Ideas ran from the extreme right to others that were so leftist that, in the circular prism of ideas, they actually bordered on the right!

In a single-party system, all these ideas were forced to contend with one another within that party.

It was no wonder, then, that Marxist-Leninists, Bepari (capitalists) and even Kabaila (feudalists) held central positions both in the party and in government.

This, indeed, was where Nyerere began to reveal his greatness.

In other socialist situations such as Sekou Toure's Conakry every thought and activity deemed dangerous would simply have been banned, often on pain of death.

Nyerere encouraged even his bitterest opponents to express themselves freely and without fear.

And he often took them on not by means of such state machinery as our Nyayo House basement, but intellectually, replying to each critic point by point.

The Nationalist (the party's own organ) and The Standard Tanzania (the government publication on which Ben Mkapa and I worked later renamed Daily News) routinely published news, features, columns and letters expressing the most diverse views.

Nyerere demanded only that his detractors produce the facts and figures and weave these into cogent thought.

"Argue, don't shout!", he once admonished his equivalents of the loudmouthed but empty-headed coalition that rules Kenya.

No, Mwalimu was not a revolutionary in any Marxist sense.

Like all of Africa's petty bourgeois radicals in power at that time Ben Bella, Kaunda, Keita, Nasser, Nkrumah, Obote, Toure he rejected outright all of Marx and Lenin's theories on class, revolution and party organisation.

His, said he, was a national mass movement in which every Tanzanian must participate.

Such a policy might sound noble, but it was what finally proved Dr Nyerere's Achilles heel.

You cannot implement any socialist programme except through a committed vanguard.

For his Ujamaa Village projects, he relied on the peasantry, a property-owning class whose members, as a rule, are interested only in their small individual property.

For his nationalisation programme, he relied on another property-owning class, what the Kiswahili Academy called vibwanyenye.

This propertied urban class was led by the educated elite who monopolised the civil service, the police, the provincial administration, the army, the classroom, the shrine a social stratum deeply drilled right from the classroom in liberal Western individualism and self-pursuit.

In 1972, goaded by Idi Amin's overthrow of Milton Obote the ally across the Great Lake Mwalimu issued a set of ruling-party Guidelines called Mwongozo, which, among other things, introduced an elaborate leadership code.

But to no avail. Soon the Ujamaa Village administrative network, as well as the two custodians of nationalised property the National Development Corporation and the State Trading Corporation were drowning in a well of corruption deeper than Lake Tanganyika.

Mwalimu reacted by decentralising the leaderships of both those bodies and the central governance system succeeding only in spreading bureaucratic ineptitude thinner on the ground, thus making corruption much more difficult to detect.

By replacing the colonial educational structure with what he called Elimu yenye Manufaa (functional education), he enabled Tanzania to kill up to five birds with one stone.

Tanzanian is the only African country that has totally banished illiteracy, and the Three Rs are solidly linked to vocational interests.

In the process, Tanzania became the African country with the highest degree of national self-consciousness and through it and through Kiswahili has almost annihilated the bane of Kenya that we call tribalism.

But, as a rule, internal policy is what guides a country's foreign policy.

Any nation that tries to cultivate self-sufficiency, self-efficiency, self-respect and self-pride will find it morally compelling to share these ideals with other nations the world over.

Ujamaa inspired Tanzania into spending much of its meagre resources on liberating the rest of Africa and the world from the colonial yoke.

At a time when Nairobi was drowning in crude elite grabbing, Dar es Salaam was a Mecca of the world's national liberation movements, and a hotbed of global intellectual thought.

From this perspective, it is justifiable to say that Mwalimu Julius Kambarage, son of Chief Nyerere, is the greatest and most successful leader that Africa has ever produced since the European colonial regime collapsed 50 years ago.

About The Author: The Late Philip Ochieng --was a Kenyan Editor with the Nation Media Group. Like Obama Senior, he too went to the US on the famous Tom Mboya Airlift of 1959 when hundreds of Kenyan students were given scholarships to American universities.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page