By Anderson Ojwang’
At the dawn of independence in 1963, a little known young man from Nyanza Province made history by becoming Kenya’s first independent candidate to get elected to the National Assembly.
And had he been alive today, Elijah Omolo Agar would probably be among those spearheading the ‘Yes’ campaign on the Proposed Constitution. This is because he was the country’s first beneficiary of the provision for independent candidates.
Over four decades later, the clause that allows independent candidates to participate in General Elections could be back, with many Agars in the waiting.
Since the exploit by Agar, Kenya has not witnessed another independent candidate in
Parliament. Electoral rules changed soon after the first General Election in 1963 requiring candidates to vie for seats only through political parties.
Transport Assistant Minister, John Harun Mwau, is among those who have consistently protested against this rule. And although he considers himself an independent candidate, the burly legislator was compelled to vie for Kilome parliamentary seat on the Party of Independent Candidates of Kenya (Pick).
Back in 1963, considering the political might of then Big Two — Kanu and Kadu — Agar’s ride to Parliament was no mean achievement.
To date, the fame of the heavily built politician with a bushy moustache lingers on. A street in the lakeside town of Kisumu has been named in his honour.
Although Nyanza Province pioneered political democracy by producing the first independent candidate, it was not by choice. Agar’s contemporaries maintain he was also Kenya’s first victim of election rigging.
As in the early 1990s when there were cracks in the ruling party Kanu, there were equally ideological differences within the party leadership ranks at independence, giving credence to rumours about the existence of Kanu ‘A’ and Kanu ‘B’.
Agar belonged to the Kanu ‘A’ wing alongside powerful Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Tom Mboya. This was apparently the genesis of his political troubles with Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga of Kanu ‘B’.
Jaramogi, who was embroiled in a supremacy battle with Mboya, reportedly rigged out Agar in the party nomination.
According to his nephew, Omolo Ongati, after the Kanu nominations, Agar switched camp to freedom fighter and Cabinet Minister Paul Ngei’s Akamba People’s Party. But Mboya convinced him to run as an independent candidate.
In a hotly contested race, Agar beat Kanu and the VP’s preferred candidate, Gogo Ochok, to clinch the Karachuonyo constituency seat.
Curiously, President Jomo Kenyatta appointed Jaramogi’s sworn enemy Assistant minister in the Office of Vice- President.
Though they were members of the Luo community and the same political party, power battles between Jaramogi and Mboya, the Kanu Secretary General, were vicious.
Agar’s victory was a major political score for Mboya, whose camp celebrated for months. Ochok was later hauled to court and jailed with freedom fighter Bildad Kagia of Kenya People’s Union (KPU) for 12 months in February 1967 in Kisii by Resident Magistrate JO Nyarangi for allegedly holding an unlawfully assembly.
The victory of Agar, an India trained economist who also held a Master’s degree in military science, did not surprise. It was the result of political intrigues in Kanu, where two of the party leaders were each sponsoring a parallel candidate against the other. "Agar was a powerful person and commanded respect not only in Karachuonyo, but in the larger Nyanza Province. He was articulate and a freedom fighter," says Odungi Randa, a confidante of the late Jaramogi.
Prof Ongati, a lecturer at Maseno University, adds Agar was an associate of Mboya and they commanded respect in the larger Southern Nyanza, the latter’s political bedrock.
He further recollects that Agar was the first editor of ‘Uhuru’ newspaper and was detained by the colonial government for his struggle for freedom.
"One time a district officer led several police officers to our home where they searched for military literature that Agar had. They searched every corner of the home, including granaries. We had hid the books some 20km in a maize plantation and they could not find any evidence. He was subsequently detained in Lokitung through the power of the crown," he says.
Agar did not last long. He died following a car accident at Ruga, on Oyugis-Kisii highway. He received treatment at Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi where he stayed for one year, until late 1967 when President Kenyatta facilitated him for specialised treatment in the United States.
Among those who saw him off at the airport when he was being flown to the US for treatment was Mboya.
Agar returned to Karachuonyo for the first time on March 15, 1968, on a wheel chair where he received a hero’s welcome from his people at Gendia Mission Hospital.
He damaged his spinal code, and despite professional treatment in the US, he remained on the wheel chair until his death.
Randa says Agar came from a family of leadership and that is why he commanded a following.
Agar may be dead, but his memories linger – thanks to the current constitutional making moment. More ‘Agars’ are on the verge of being born, if the Proposed Constitution passes at the August 4 referendum.
The draft says one does not have to be a member of a registered political party to vie for a presidential, senate, parliamentary, or civic seat.
Agar left a widow and three children.