He once stripped at the Siaya County Assembly, grabbing news headlines and earning a three-week suspension from the chambers — all in the name of showing his love for his party leader Raila Odinga.
This was in June 2015 and Fred Ouda, then MCA for Gem Central, was protesting an alleged abusive tweet directed at Raila by a man who had parodied Deputy President William Ruto’s Twitter account. This act earned him his political nickname “Dugi dugi” (the naked one), which has stuck as his political signature tune to date.
A year later on April 26, 2016, when his colleagues thought he had dropped his political theatrics, Ouda struck again. This time, restless, furious and dressed like a soldier, he sneaked into the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) offices in Kisumu at midday and chained himself to the gate using three huge padlocks. He was demanding the disbandment of the commission ahead of the 2017 elections. He was arrested and charged in court.
As his name spread like bush fire across Nyanza and beyond, Ouda quickly weaved his way into the big league politics and sprinted into the fast lane that would see him become one of the youngest MPs in 2017.
How he rose from an MCA to become an MP in another county has been the subject of debate.
In 2013, only a few people knew him. He was dismissed as a greenhorn and an opportunist. But like the proverbial camel, Ouda first stuck his neck into the political scene as an activist and before they knew it, he had squeezed himself into the County Assembly.
In the thick of campaigns in 2017, Ouda went into the arena as an underdog. But he quickly became the darling of the voters, especially the youth and women who sang “Dugi dugi ni wetu” whenever he drove across the constituency. He had a thin convoy and no cash to dish out.
One voter, a middle-aged woman at “Chiro Mbero” (Jubilee Markert) was once quoted as saying: “We are supporting Ouda because he is transparent. He is one of us. He is hiding nothing from us. He is a people’s politician.”
At the ODM nominations, Ouda floored heavyweights such as then MP Ken Obura and former TNA Secretary General Onyango Oloo. He went ahead to win the main election with a landslide.
Last year, Ouda was in the news again when he filed a motion to block the Deputy President from contesting in the 2022 presidential election, arguing that he should retire alongside President Uhuru Kenyatta since he has been his running mate for two terms.
As far as he was concerned, Ruto will have served his two terms by 2022 and should go home. He also wanted deputy governors who have served for two terms barred from seeking to succeed their bosses. The motion stirred a lot of political heat and was later rejected by Speaker Justin Muturi.
But unknown to people who thought he was a political greenhorn, Ouda started his political journey in Nakuru where he grew up. As a youth he was influential in shaping the future of many politicians.
“I started in Nakuru where I lived for over 30 years. I have worked with MPs Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati), David Gekaria (Nakuru East), former Nakuru Mayor Alicen Chelaite and current Nakuru West MP Samuel Arama,” says Ouda.
After the 2007 elections, he shuttled between Nakuru and Siaya. In 2013, he pulled a surprise when he won the Gem Central ward seat.
Those who know Ouda describe him as a brave politician and discreet mobiliser.
“He is a man who always deceives his opponents to make them believe they are better than him. This is how he pulled a surprise on his opponents in the 2017 ODM nominations,” says Daniel Kochiel, a Kisumu trader.
“When he opted to vie for the Kisumu Central seat, his opponents rated him poorly. They wondered how an MCA could beat them. What they didn’t know was that Ouda had deep networks among the voters most of who live in slums.”
Another Kisumu resident, Milka Juma, says women and youth in Kisumu voted for Ouda because of his simple lifestyle.
“I have never seen my MP in a suit. He comes to our harambees dressed in simple T-shirts and jeans or khaki trousers. He tries very much to be like us,” says Ms Juma.
Ouda denies he is controversial and combative.
“I am not controversial as some people say. I just believe in being firm in what I believe in. I have my principles,” he tells The Standard.
When we met him at his house in Kisumu last week, Ouda was listening to Luo Benga music by the late Collela Maze as he answered calls from his constituents. He told off some of the callers, accusing them of spreading fitina. For some, he listened and gave fatherly advice.
“You see, I am a very pragmatic man. I don’t want to lie to my constituents by playing public relations. If one has a request I can’t fulfill, I will say so. I don’t want to give them false hope on something beyond me,” he said.
He had a burst of long, hearty laughter when we asked him whether he regrets his past actions.
“Those were very serious issues. I was dead serious. I normally speak out my mind. But let’s discuss issues about Kisumu Central now,” he said.
As we settled down to discuss his development record since he took up the seat, Ouda started enumerating the many projects he has undertaken -- complete with costs and the beneficiaries, most of them in the slums.
He has no regrets of his past actions, including stripping at the county assembly and chaining himself to the gates of IEBC offices.
“I have no regrets. I wanted to communicate my feelings about the situations at that time. I was very annoyed,” he says.
As the MP for Kisumu Central, Ouda takes care of the interests of voters in Kisumu’s biggest slums of Manyatta, Obunga and Nyalenda.
But keen on retaining his seat in 2022, the MP has now changed tack. He has toned down on controversies and is working behind the scenes to develop the constituency using the National Government Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF).
“I want to leave a legacy and my area of great concern is education. If you want to impoverish a community, deny them education. This is why I am investing heavily on education. I want the youth to go to school so that they can get jobs or start their own businesses,” he says.
Ouda says he is investing on education because he admires similar works done by MPs Samuel Moroto, Amos Kimunya, Olago Aluoch and former legislators Jakoyo Midiwo and Peter Kenneth.
“Part of my resolution and strategy is to work behind the scenes and in silence. I interact a lot with my constituents away from the glares of the camera,” says the legislator.
“I work for the silent majority so I don’t make a lot of noise. If you know you are doing a good job, you don’t need to make noise.”
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