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Chief Anam of Yimbo, pioneer administrator of 1913

By Amos Kareithi | May 2nd 2021
Chief Anam. [Courtesy]

Back in the days when there were no mobile phone cameras, the British had a way of freezing moments. Their uncanny knack of discovering whole countries, communities, mountains and lakes, coupled with meticulous record-keeping today serves as a rich repository of modern history.

Our gem today is a picture taken 108 years ago on June 3, 1913 at Kadimo in Bondo, Siaya. The subject of the picture, simply given by the caption as Chief Anam and his headman is now remembered as a pioneer administrator whose imprints are still evident today.

He is unmistakable with his flowing great coat (kabuti) and a headgear complete with a crown while his unnamed assistant is equally attired, regardless of the sweltering climate in Siaya and how uncomfortable they must have felt, in greatcoats during the day.

The chief’s name is Anam Ulwa and was first engaged by the colonial administration to be accompanying askaris (police) on safaris within Siaya. Owing to his ability to speak English, he was appointed as a court interpreter in 1907 to translate Dholuo (Luo language) into English at the district headquarters, Kisumu. He was later elevated into a chief opening the doors to public service for his large family of 16 wives and his descendants.

In those days, the chief’s main duty was to collect taxes from his subjects, remit them to the government and ensure that there was a ready labour pool to work for Her Majesty’s agents and the colonialists as servants.

Yimbo has generated a lot of interet among scholars because it conducted the first democratic election in 1947 to elect a chief. At that time Anam was long gone, and his family was no longer producing administrators.

One of the most prominent of Yimbo’s descendants is William Odhiambo Okello who at one time worked in Egypt at a time Raila Odinga was travelling to Egypt. When Raila encountered difficulties because some of his papers were not in order, his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga turned to Okello.

Some accounts have it that it was Okello who introduced Jaramogi to communism.

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Today, Yimbo is not known for producing illustrious administrators but it boasts of many professionals such as engineers and doctors who have made a mark in private and public sector.

Yimbo has since been split into East and West and is now known as one of the few remaining beaches along Lake Victoria where traders can get some of the biggest fish. It is a haven of fresh fish as it was during Anam’s time, and continues to feed the local people and the country at large.

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