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Kenyan who refused to be defined by his ethnicity

By Kamotho Waiganjo | March 13th 2016 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

This week we laid my friend Owino Magana to rest in dusty, hot but serene Nyamboyo village, Karateng’ Kisumu County. This being the second piece I will have written about death in the last 12 months one might conclude I am over consumed by this saddest of human occurrences. Death gives me no unusual interest, but the truth is that death gives opportunity for reflection and lesson learning. You, my reader are unfortunately condemned to reflect and learn along with me.

Permit me to share Owino’s story for three reasons. One is personal. Owino was my friend. For many years we shared many great moments and uplifting conversations. I must however confess that in his final months, I was absent. Vibrant, hilarious, proud, witty Owino died lonely. Me and many of his friends, busy with the mundane things that occupy our time, had deserted him in his last months as he struggled with the vagaries of life after returning from a long sojourn in Rwanda.

I have cried many tears alone, even stopping my car by the roadside to weep, wondering whether I could have added to his days if I had been a better friend. I have made peace with myself, since I cannot make that peace with my friend. I have however made a covenant to invest more in my friends and never assume that they will always be around. I do not want to carry a burden like that again. May that be your covenant too.

But I share Owino’s story at another level. For those that knew him, Owino was one of the most brilliant Kenyans that I know. He had a great mind, was blessed with boundless intuition, and was a brilliant strategic thinker. He was a gifted communicator, able to convert complex concepts to simple, interesting and easy to understand notions.

Owino suffered no fools and had no patience with mediocrity. I remember his days as a Director of Information Technology in one of the Presidential campaigns and the many ideas he implemented to make the Directorate one of the best in the campaign. I watched him consult for governments and listened to him advise youth on entrepreneurship and business. The saddest thing is that in a country which is highly tribalised, many, especially in power circles, saw Owino solely as a Jaluo.

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Never mind that Owino’s political history was one defined by principle never by tribe. Courtesy of that pigeonhole, when the cake was being shared after the 2008 coalition agreement, Owino who had been an emissary of government to many African capitals during the 2008 crisis was now consigned to “Jaluoness”. Those that he had worked so closely mistrusted him. Those on the other political wing considered him a traitor, and so he ended up consulting in foreign capitals; a prophet without honour in his homeland. An asset that would have defined a better Kenya, where we are not consigned eternally to the definitions of our birth was left unused, because he was incapable of being defined in any one mode.

I remember coming a across a conversation on his possible appointment to some board and the primary question was whether he had been for real; could he really be trusted? Knowing what I knew of my friend, I went ballistic but I could tell that doubts remained.

I know I have over stated the case and there may have been other reasons that made Owino fall by the way side but I suspect that I am right, not just of him but of many others who have refused to be defined solely by their ethnicity and who have dared seek public office.

To the credit of many of his close friends Owino was unhandcuffed to his tribe. Owino’s friends were the very mosaic that is Kenya and indeed the world, traversing all our diversities. And yet Owino was proud of his origins, and his people and was the first person who made me enjoy Ohangla. We buried a great man whose full potential was never really exploited.

Fare thee well Owino Magana my friend, you ran the race as best as you could, and you kept the faith.

Kenyan ethnicity
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