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Friday, October 12, 2007

Dr. Robert John Ouko (Kenya Betrayed)

Dr. Robert Ouko was one of the most brilliant technocrats on the whole African continent. He was intelligent - a borne diplomat – and he was dedicated to serve his country.

In a nation rife with corruption – right from the top echelons of power all the way to the bottom, he was the only one to mean what he said and to say what he meant.
After having finished his secondary education, he attended Siriba Teachers Training College and graduated with a Teachers Degree. As a teacher he taught at different Primary Schools in his home region.

He continued to study privately through correspondence for the Cambridge School Certificate and passed with a Division Two Certificate.

Consequently, the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia awarded him a scholarship for an under-graduate program. He graduated from university with a degree in political science, public administration and economics in 1962.

He returned to Kenya and joined the then colonial civil service as an Assistant Secretary in the office of the British Governor.

As a civil servant he proceeded to Makerere University, Kampala (Uganda) for a successful post-graduate study in Diplomacy.

After Kenya attained independence in 1963, he held different administrative positions, until President Kenyatta nominated him to the then East African Legislative Assembly. This organization brought together the three East African countries namely Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania as a kind of common market.

He first served as a Community Minister for Finance and Administration and then in 1970 he was appointed the Minister for Common Market and Economic Affairs – remaining in this post until the Community collapsed in 1977.

President Kenyatta then nominated him as a Member of the Kenyan Parliament and appointed him the Minister for Economic Affairs in his Government.

During the General Elections in 1979, he successfully contested the Kisumu Rural Constituency, thereby completing the transition from a bureaucrat to an elected politician.

He then became Minister for Foreign Affairs and here he could show his real capacities: making contacts and friends in the highest diplomatic circles always with the aim to improve the image of his country also abroad.

And because of his unrivalled dedication, President Daniel arap Moi while constituting a new Cabinet, had appointed him at the middle of 1987 Minister of Industry.

In another major reshuffle – only one year later - President Moi had called him over the phone and told him that he was moving him from Industry again to Foreign Affairs. “I have full confidence in your abilities. And besides, the Foreign Officials think very highly of you. They see in you the future of Africa – the promise of a better tomorrow. So congratulations, Dr. Ouko. The one o’clock bulletin will carry the news of your appointment.”

And Dr. Ouko – happy to serve this President and his emerging country – had promptly replied, “Thank you, Your Excellency.”

“Don’t let us down,” His Excellency had soberly added, “The image and reputation of my Government is now again in your hands.”

I remembered that story vividly.

Dr. Ouko had told me about it the evening I visited him and his family at their Nairobi home.

At that time, Bob’s focused desire to revive the stalled project of a Molasses Plant in Kisumu was going full-speed ahead and I had assisted him in introducing a big international Group and also arranged the financing.

Bob wanted the plant put up swiftly because the next General Elections were only a year away – and he had learnt that Nicholas Biwott together with other national haters – had sponsored another candidate to run against him.

I remember having asked him, “Are you really worried about them?”

“If the plant goes up fast enough, or if it is a point of near-completion by the time of the Elections, I will not have to worry about them.”

“And what if not?”

“Then there is a good chance I will be defeated. Biwott and his men are determined to take me down. They have brought in millions of shillings ….. and they are willing to spend millions more.”

He had then looked at me, “That’s what I am up against.”

I could not believe this, “But you have done a lot for your people. You have sent children to school. You have paid hospital bills out of your own pockets, helped secure employment for many. Why then would they want to ditch you?”

Bob’s brow had furrowed. How was he going to explain how politics worked in Kenya?

There was no easy way to explain how the triple-mix of hunger, illiteracy and depraved politics affected the discourse in his constituency - and throughout Kenya. One had to be born and raised here to understand it …..

I did not accept his silence, so I continued, “ You really think, they will be dumb enough to ditch you?”

Bob had sighed, “I am certain.”

I am certain ………

This evening – so many years later – these words rang in my mind, ate away at my conscience as I looked at the Summon another time.

I am certain ……

I picked up the phone and dialed again Sandra’s number, “I have made a decision - I am going to Nairobi.”


At his home in Kabernet Gardens, the former Head of State was having dinner with guests from Baringo when his phone rang. Excusing himself, he answered it on a second ring, “Hello?”

“It’s Nick.”

Cough, “What’s going on?”

Biwott said, “You know that Parliament had passed a Bill creating a new Committee on the Dr. Ouko murder mystrery.”

“I have heard about it.”

“So what do we do?”

The former Head of State had kept himself pretty busy during the last few years. Ever since relinquishing power, he had taken to visiting his grandchildren, touring his extensive farms, attending church-services, funerals, and counseling young couples at wedding ceremonies.

In every sense of the word, he had become an Elder Statesman …. And because of the incredible incompetence of the new ‘boys’ at State House, his wise counsel was sought constantly.

Besides, a strong coalition of his supporters had taken shape in Nairobi, with many former adversaries to his defense whenever his name came up adversely in any forum.

He felt totally safe. Hakuna matata …..

“Mzee, what do we do?” Biwott repeated, irritated by his silence.

Moi cleared his throat – his eyes flashed, “Let them continue doing their work.”

Biwott caught his lip between his teeth. He was furious. “Do their work?” He brought the phone to his mouth, “I guess whoever briefed you failed to tell you that composition of the Committee.”

“I was told.”

“Did they tell you who is leading it?”


“How about the fact that the Committee has been authorized to summon anybody it thinks can shed light on what happened?”

“I was told that, too.”

That was Biwott’s cue. He wanted to drive his point home with ferocity. It was the only way to get Moi’s attention. The only way to make him sense the danger this Committee paused.

When he was sure Moi was listening, he whispered, “Look, I don’t mean to disrupt your evening, but I hope you know what that authority really means.”

“I still don’t understand what this is all about – so what do you mean with ‘authority’ ?”

“The authority to summon any witness.”

“And …?”

Biwott finally dropped the bomb, “ Marianne could also be summoned …….. she could come back to Nairobi …….”

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