Prof Muga: Scholar, fearless politician dies a lonely man

By Joe Ombuor | Sunday, Sep 9th 2018 at 00:00
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Joseph Ouma Muga

The 'genius from the lake', Joseph Ouma Muga, slowly ebbed away in a discreet hospital in the outskirts of the city he rattled in his heydays.

And then on Friday, as the nation’s attention was focused on his neighbouring county of Migori, he made the final bow, leaving behind a trail of imprints in the nation’s history.

Born in Homa Bay eons ago, the man was a shadow of his former self by the time photos of his gaunt looking frame were sneaked out by overzealous friends who thought he was getting a raw deal for his stature. 

Research maestro

To authenticate the photos, we maneuvered through protective family layers to find the research maestro in deep slumber in Kikuyu Presbyterian Hospital’s private ward, watched over by relatives.

As an admirer concerned about the professor’s health, the relatives let me in on condition that I allowed him to sleep undisturbed.

In my eyes, the hailed man of books looked wasted by disease and was deserving of higher attention.

“It is running to three weeks since he was brought here hardly walking, his leg swollen as a result of stubborn diabetes,” explained a nephew, Paul Ogema.

“But his condition has improved now and he is doing some walking. He is pulling through well”. I was told Prof Mugahad been grappling with hypertension, but that has been controlled. What really put him down was diabetes.

“He did not sleep well last night, that is why we do not want his sleep to be interrupted,” Ogema said.

A bottle of what looked like intravenous fluid hung suspended over his bed. Pained by his state, I excused myself, promising to return.

It was difficult to fathom this is the same man who wowed his rural backyard in Kochia, Rangwe sub-county, Homa Bay County, where he was MP for seven years. With an ornate house perched atop a hill overlooking Lake Victoria at a time such mansions were a rarity in the neighborhood and beyond, the man was riding high.

The allure of his trademark beards was gone, his achievements in politics and academia all collapsed in the vanity that is life’s exploits.

Born in Rangwe, Muga’s genius personality ran in tandem with his controversies. His name was roped into the failed 1971 coup against President Jomo Kenyatta and he was jailed for it.

At the time, he was teaching at Makerere University in Uganda, then a citadel of higher learning in East Africa.

In the 80’s and with a new man at the top, Muga bounced back from the “coup plotter” status, winning the Rangwe parliamentary seat and earning a slot as assistant minister for Propaganda and National Guidance in President Daniel arap Moi’s cabinet. 

But his stint in Cabinet turned out to be a quickie of sorts for the man was sacked for allegedly boasting that he was the brains behind President Moi’s acclaimed Ozone Layer speech in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1989.

Thrown out, he cast his lot with Second Liberation struggle and in 1992, he returned to Parliament on Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford-Kenya).

When Jaramogi died, and Michael Wamalwa was entangled in wrangles with Raila Odinga over party leadership, Muga took to Wamalwa’s side.

Free spirit

This decision would cost him dearly as he lost the Rangwe seat in the 1997 elections to Shem Ochuodho, never to capture it again.

His fall was inversely proportional to Raila’s rise to the top and dominance of not only Luo but national politics.

For the next two decades, Muga moved to the background and slowly faded away. Known to speak his mind freely, intimidation was never in his vocabulary.

At a funeral in his Kochia village courtyard in 2006, Mugasurprised all and sundry with his public assertion that Raila would not clinch the presidency in 2007, stoking public uproar that saw him branded a mad man by a former Chairman of the Luo Council of Elders.

But fate was to vindicate him when Raila lost to Mwai Kibaki in contested elections deemed to have been stolen in favor of the latter.   

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