WASONGA SIJEYO: WHAT MANNER OF A MAN!
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
It is interesting how the Odinga family name is constantly used the world over to mask errors of commission or omission. After the failed 2007 elections the former colonial masters were busy telling the world how the election violence was fomented in Odinga-Nyanza until the Scandinavian countries through the European Union called their bluff to explain that the violence emanated the injustices of the colonial masters like in Rwanda and Congo and everywhere else. Similar attempts were even made to yoke Odinga’s Kibra and President Obama. But it is not only the west who are good at perfecting this falsehood.
In Siaya county for a start we have cases where when it was convenient the reason was put on the Odinga name but when it came to positive action based on the Odinga name then amnesia took over. The case of ex detainee Odero Sar and Wasonga Sijeyo of Ugenya and Gem constituencies serve as a good illustration. When these two detainees came back after being released from detention together with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the two constituencies did not want to hear about them to dethrone the incumbent so called ‘anti- Odinga’ sitting members of parliament, even though the two were strong Odinga disciples.
However, when they had axes to grind with their darling sitting MPs it was now convenient the Odinga card was needed to justify their change of member of parliament. Suddenly the word on the political experts’ lips was that they were “anti Odinga”. It is amazing that even now decades later such lame slurs exist. As Wasonga Sijeyo passed on a year later and was not even interested in politics, his case cannot be attributed to convenient amnesia.
Wasonga Sijeyo was first detained by the colonial government in his persistent campaign against imperialism in the Rift Valley. His agitation and pro Kenyatta campaigns in the Rift Valley together with the likes of other Rift Valley tribemate Richard Achieng Oneko who was ironically later detained by the same Kenyatta led to his detention. Legend has it that when this time Kenyatta asked for Richard (later Ramogi) Achieng Oneko to be taken to him in state house for admonishing before release after 6 years in detention, fate placed a very poetic furniture next to Mzee Kenyatta. Right behind Kenyatta was the famous photograph of Kapenguria team including Jomo Kenyatta. Innocently Achieng’-Oneko glanced at the portrait and in so doing drawing Kenyatta’s attention and they both ended up focusing on their past together. Such is the power of fate.
Wasonga Sijeyo had been saved by fate from detention by Independence but detention fate was not quite done with him. Born in 1920, Wasonga Sijeyo was to serve almost another 10 years of his 21 years’ adult life in his second detention. This means not more than 10 years of his adult life was pent outside prison.
Wasonga Sijeyo of Gem Agola clan was a man in so much of hurry to re unite with his destiny a second time that he even forgot to pick his pay. It is typical of people with a date with martyrdom to be in a hurry. It is as if they are attracted by that force of tragedy that they approach it with studious inattention to everything around them. You could even put them in solitary confinement in a dungeon and they would not be distracted. Wasonga Sijeyo was such a man in a hurry to meet his political demise.
On the 29th January 1969, Argwings Kodhek the Member of Parliament for Gem constituency died in a Nairobi Hospital after an encounter with full metal jacket disguised as a road accident. In the intervening period between 29th January 1969 and 30th October 1969 the following events had taken place in Gem constituency:
· Argwings Kodhek was buried,
· Gem by-elections was gazetted and held,
· Wasonga Sijeyo was elected as the Member of Parliament for Gem
· Wasonga Sijeyo was detained a second time as the seat fell vacant.
In a record three months Wasonga Sijeyo, had lived his second political life in full and was now serving detention for the next nine years! This was no ordinary detention.
At about the same time when one martyrdom was about to begin in Nyanza another one was departing the world with very similar life after life on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The martyrdom of Malcolm X and Wasonga Sijeyo are dissimilar in every way conceivable except in the reaction by the people they so much cared for. We will come back to that.
In the three months of constituency representation Wasonga Sijeyo cannot be judged on any real development because he was in the opposition party, Kenya Peoples Union (KPU). And knowing Tom Mboya even those in your company would be ostracised just for saying hallo. Gem people hardly got to know him in development or community organisation. In any case KPU MPs were still popularising the party, when Tom Mboya was gunned down and a different ball game was now in play in Nyanza.
However, in terms of advocacy and campaign we must give Wasonga Sijeyo A** both in Rift Valley and Nyanza. This is because Wasonga Sijeyo scored top marks and can only be bettered by the two Odingas. No Luo has spent so long in detention. And do not lose sight that Wasonga Sijeyo and Ramogi Achieng Oneko were Rift Valley settlers.
In detention Wasonga Sijeyo earned the respect and admiration of other detainees to an extent that the latter day detainees like Ngugi wa Thiong’o preferred that he is released.
According to his son Daniel Kariuki Wasonga-Sijeyo, he never wilted in his insistence whenever he went for those detention repeal committees. He never begged for mercy. He never accepted that he needed rehabilitation. He never pledged loyalty to a cause he did not believe in. He basically refused to conform. Other detainees were conforming and pledging loyalty. Not Wasonga Sijeyo who appeared to be courting martyrdom. He could easily have been poisoned, after all with every year the world was forgetting about him.
In the words of detainee Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wasonga Sijeyo refused to renounce his 1969 anti-exploitation and anti-imperialistic views. It is a stand we all hold when we sing Nelson Mandela or Gaddafi or any of those catch phrases while propounding armchair politics. Wasonga was shouting them right in enemy territory. And his strength and cheerful state of mind acted as a source of hope to those detainees that found and left him there.
After the passing on of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978 the detainees were all due for release. Interestingly Wasonga Sijeyo was a forgotten man and only became an afterthought that he should also be released.
However, something else is the matter. it appears Wasonga Sijeyo in three months had upset Jomo Kenyatta so much that he dished the harshest penalty. The public spat and detention can be explained that Kenyatta was concerned for a strong ill wind blowing from the lake and was threatening to engulf the whole country. The nine years’ detention is not quite clear to a man that was detained for agitating for his position in the presidency. A son explains to me that his legendary Gem clan belligerence and unforgiving onslaught on the Kenyatta administration even while in detention ensured that he was locked. Is that all really?
On the outside in Gem and Luo politics, things were changing very first. Isaac Omolo Okero was the MP for Gem during this period. He was reputed as being anti Odinga but was very popular. In fact, he was so popular until the last year of his elections when the game of numbers floored him in 1979 general elections. Here is the twist. Gem people and his friends who were outside and who allegedly voted out Okero for being anti Odinga failed to notice that Wasonga Sijeyo had served the longest for being pro Odinga. They failed even to notice him and that was it. Not that Wasonga Sijeyo a true member of Gem kagola clan was looking for pity. The arrogance of Gem people ensures that every time they buy a dictionary the pity word and all its synonyms are deleted. (I wonder what they do with google these days).
The only sin I can see being committed to Gem people must be seen in the language of US President Donald Trump to late senator McCain, “I prefer my heroes not get caught but die on the battle field”. Otherwise it is not conceivable that Gem turned their back instead of receiving him the same way Jomo Kenyatta was received with three times James Gichuru resignation to pave way for him or closer to home the way Jonah Ougo had stepped down for Jaramogi.
And now we cross from the “Ugenya Siaya Alego” North Eastern shores of Lake Victoria to the North Eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean on the USA
The behaviour of the people of Kenya and Gem Constituency in turning their back on Wasonga Sijeyo resonates to the behaviour of the people of New Jersey in turning their back on Malcolm X.
Firebrand civil rights campaigner Malcolm Little fondly known to the world as Malcolm X was to meet his death at the hands of his disciples from neighbouring New Jersey Mosque. The assassin went to a school named after Malcolm X. Transcribed wiretaps from FBI caught Elijah Mohammed his boss urging his assassination in very pointed spiritual lingo to imply who ever does it goes to heaven. While Wasonga Sijeyo was being incarcerated by his competitor, Malcolm was slain by one of his own.
Both Malcolm X just like Wasonga Sijeyo had tried to point at the sloth and greed of their leader. Malcolm’s decisive capital sin was the scoff to Head of Nation of Islam that “You can’t be 70-year-old man, surround yourself with 17-year-old pretty young girls and still be right in the head”. That was it.
There is a huge difference between Wasonga Sijeyo and Malcolm X. In fact, to try to compare is a sacrilege. It is like rubbishing history of such a great person like Malcolm X and I am not even beginning to imagine a comparison. However, the similarity between the Nation of Islam community in New Jersey, USA and the people of Nyanza or Gem is comparable.
The real assassin of Malcolm X lived uninterrupted full life in the community and everybody accepted that he is the assassin. In fact, elderly people protected him from documentary investigators. The “keep off” warnings were issued in the full glare of cameras. They were protecting their own against Malcolm X friends. When the assassin finally died after a full life, he was given a celebrity send of which included in the civic authorities who all along knew that this is William Bradley aka William X Bradley who took down a world hero.
Wahu Kenyatta and Wahu (Wasonga-Sijeyo).
There is another subplot in the Malcolm X and Wasonga Sijeyo comparison that I want wade into.
Wasonga Sijeyo was a propaganda chief in Rift Valley for Kenyatta just like young Malcolm X raised the profile of Nation of Islam from a couple of hundred thousand to millions with a very short period. In the process he was recruiting high adherents like Mohammad Ali (Cassius Clay). Likewise, in traversing the Rift Valley, Wasonga Sijeyo got to know of the wealth of Rift Valley farms just like Malcolm X became aware of insane amounts of money coming into to the Nation of Islam to urge for least equipped black people to seek a separate state to be marooned in the USA like kwaZulu states. The same same Rift Valley farms that even Jaramogi started talking about is an issue not easily talked about. JM Kariuki and Pio Gama Pinto are a lot wiser now. But Wasonga Sijeyo knew first-hand the length and breadth of those farms and how they were being dished out.
Then there is the Elijah Mohammed and young pregnant girls that sounded the death sentence to Malcolm X. Wahu Wasonga- Sijeyo who was on course to be wife no 4 is nyamin (first cousin) to mikayi Wahu Kenyatta (Jomo’s first wife). In dholuo Jomo Kenyatta and Wasonga Sijeyo call each other Sangi. Sangi is a very special relationship in African traditions. However, this was enhanced by the fact that Wahu Kenyatta apart from being wife no 1 was well positioned in influential son Peter Kenyatta and Margret Kenyatta. Anybody who wanted to stand in the way of auntie Wahu Wasonga- Sijeyo would have to go through Peter Kenyatta and Margret Kenyatta first.
And then there was a small matter of Wahu Wasonga- Sijeyo being pregnant with Daniel and the baby was due in November 1969 (coincidentally, 2 months before 1969 detention).
Cue Kisumu riots and Wasonga Sijeyo who was Jomo Kenyatta’s Malcolm X, was hardly a year in KPU, was not even in Kisumu town at the opening of the Hospital riots was dragged from his Gem house at 2 am and detained. His absence I must say was conspicuous. Did he hate Jomo his sangi so much or did Wahu tip him of the impending stage managed fracas and bear upon him not to go to the Kisumu function? I know for a fact these tipping by okuyu girlfriends of impending panga raids were going on. My own brother's okuyu girlfriend raised smokescreen dondruok then locked him in the house and walked away with the keys. Unfortunately on the way just before Nairobi school gate B, she met the panga wielding youths who beat her badly demanding the whereabouts of my brother. These things happened in the flare up after Gatundu oathings in 1969.
And while the other people got released, Wasonga Sijeyo who was an internationalist got the longest terms. It appears someone could not hurt him for fear of repercussions but was keen to keep him away from the two Wahu’s and their siblings as long as possible. This was a juvenile mistake by Kiambu Mafia or whoever was interested in keeping this separation. I will tell you why.
While the initiation among the other tribes takes place of during residential period after the surgery, the Luo initiation takes a long period of education from toddling to adulthood. For example, we were taught that as a man you should never let your wife know that you suspect her of infidelity even if it is true. Reason is the moment she became aware she will assess the harshest punishment you can give and then prepares for it mentally and physically for that punishment. And you are done, my brother. The military trick is like what was once explained by British prime minister Margret Thatcher, “If the world and our enemies know that our most destructive arsenal are just for show then they cease to be a deterrent”. That Luo training is in the same breadth. Keep that knowledge a threat and hence a deterrent to the transgressing wife. It will be a deterrent. The point I am making is that by holding Wasonga Sijeyo in detention, they just gave Wahu the strength to continuously whisper in young Daniels’s ears that your father is a mwomera in detention. And when she remarried Daniel’s grandpa said, “you go your way but mwomera remains with me”.
Are Nyanza electorate fickle? Do Nyanza people unnecessary use and conveniently take advantage of the Odinga name to explain issues? Was Wasonga Sijeyo playing silly heroism not to have begged the tribunal for mercy?
I don’t think Nyanza electorate are any different in the case of Wasonga Sijeyo. KPU candidates were either being barred or not cleared like in the case of Ougo/ Jaramogi. What is missing in both Ugenya and Gem is the good faith exhibited by Ougo in standing down for Jaramogi. Otherwise Nyanza electorate played a safe game. And Wasonga did well by not begging for mercy because nobody was letting him out of detention. No wonder he was always smiling and cheerful in detention. He knew he had all the aces.
After release following Jomo Kenyatta death, Wasonga Sijeyo continued a private life like former MP Okero and died peacefully from detention related illnesses in 1979, (a year after detention). He was an internationalist and the local politics that he paid so dearly for was not his thing. Like Omolo Okero had said, “Punde oyier punde wete gi”. He passed on with the details he knew about the Rift Valley farms, the Gatundu oathings and all the secrets that meant he could only be released after his sangi, yuore and nyathi yuore had passed on.