Intellectual par excellence
Former anti-corruption czar Professor Patrick Loch Otieno (PLO) LUMUMBA tells PETER MUIRURI why he has not lost faith in the country’s politics and that he is ready to serve the country in any capacity
He is one of the most decorated and highly regarded legal minds Kenya has produced.
His numerous public speeches, heavily laden with colourful quotes and anecdotes, all in the smooth flowing Queen’s English, leave many tongues wagging besides shaping the country’s policy framework.
Unknown to many, however, is the fact that Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba, better known as PLO, is equally proficient in Swahili.
His skill in using East Africa’s lingua franca caught the attention of none other than Tanzania’s founding President Mwalimu Julius Kabarage Nyerere.
In December 1984, PLO was invited to deliver a speech in Dar es Saalam where the president was in attendance. Shortly thereafter, Mwalimu Nyerere wanted to know more about the young Kenyan with such a good grasp of Swahili.
"I told him that I invested a lot of time and dedication in anything I considered worthwhile, including being proficient in languages," says PLO, whose current goal is to improve his French, Spanish and Portuguese in addition to other local dialects.
However, in contrast to public opinion, PLO is a reserved person who prefers quiet and solitude. His straightforward character was shaped by his early upbringing in a strict Christian household.
A man of two worlds, PLO was born in Pumwani, Nairobi, in July 1962, but also spent part of his early childhood in Usenge, Nyanza. The first born in a family of three sisters and two brothers, he credits his late parents, Noah and Jane, for carving out a moral path for him.
"My late mother was not one to trifle with. She was a humble, committed Christian and a strict disciplinarian," says PLO.
He recalls the slow but enjoyable pace of life in Nairobi’s Eastlands, notably Maringo and Jericho.
He says: "Living in Eastlands then was an enjoyable experience unlike what many today think of the area. Garbage trucks would converge in the area with regularity. Schools could afford to feed the children while neighbours were kind to one another. We lived without giving a care to one’s ethnicity."
After completing his primary education at St Patrick’s School in Maringo, PLO enrolled in Pumwani Secondary School while living with his uncle, Thomas Onono.
An avid reader with a thirst for general knowledge, PLO came to love all subjects, making good use of the class library. This made him a good debater, perhaps laying the groundwork for his future oratory skills.
It was not all books and no play in Pumwani. PLO was an accomplished high jumper, besides playing football. It was here too that PLO undertook vigorous training in martial arts and is currently a black belt holder.
"I loved martial arts for the discipline that comes with it and not as a means of physically ‘fixing’ others," he says.
PLO joined Ambira High School, Nyanza, for his A-Level and he was always top of his class. Fast forward and PLO is lawyer with a PhD from the University of Ghent, Belgium.
It was while at the University of Nairobi that he met and fell in love with a fellow Law student, Celestine.
"She was humble and focused. She has and continues to make a good life companion. Together we debate and brainstorm on many issues," he says of his wife.
They have two teenage girls, Jane and Michelle.
What informs his many public debates?
"As I mentioned, PLO pursues whatever he believes in with the zeal and zest of a missionary. However, I do not make important decisions, both personal and public, without broad consultation," says PLO.
He feels that though there are numerous forces that hinder true democratisation, there are other countless forces of good that can exert a positive influence in the country.
"The children of darkness are organised against the rest. However, those who mean well are seldom organised but spend their time agonising rather than organising," he says then adds: "It is difficult to live in Kenya if you are honest. The honest ones are said to be naïve and weak. This is because independent thinkers are not liked much by society. To many people, the end justifies the means instead of the means justifying the end."
This, he feels, is a sorry state of affairs since Kenya has enough intellectuals able to propel the country to the next level.
He cites the Biblical story of the sower and the seeds where some seed fell on thorns and hard ground, never to germinate.
"Many, especially the political class choose to disregard expert opinion preferring to lean on their respective ethnic cocoons for warmth. In Kenya, the forest may have changed but the monkeys are still the same. That is why elections are nothing but ethnic census," says he.
PLO wishes the leaders would emulate great minds such as Mwalimu Nyerere, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, whose selfless determination in the face of adversity brought relief to millions. Incidentally, portraits of the three visionaries hang prominently in his office at the ACK Gardens, Nairobi.
Despite the odds, PLO feels the country has great potential and should not be compared with other failed states.
"We cannot afford the luxury of giving up hope. It is better to move from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm. All of us must play our part without sinking in the deep sea of sorrow and lamentations. Every step forward is the right move," urges PLO.
For the country to progress, PLO says Kenyans must demand high standards from those they have put in high office.
"Change in the country must come from within us. A constitution does not change minds and hearts neither do politicians. If our leaders are the windmills of change, then we must prove to be the wind that drives the process," quips PLO.
Apart from his law practice, PLO is also the founder of the PLO Lumumba Foundation that aims at transforming the country’s youth by helping them start income generating projects. Started in 1990, the foundation is active in all provinces and organises merit awards in various institutions of higher learning.
As his contribution, PLO donates ten per cent of his earnings, that include loyalties from his published books, to the foundation.
Despite the high-octane politics in the country, the former anti-corruption czar prefers to keep his options open but adds that he can serve the country in any capacity.
For relaxation, PLO likes to work out in the gym while he has a goal of visiting all the African capitals and museums around the world.
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