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Prof Ogutu death puzzle deepens as kin differ on cause

Prof Gilbert Ogutu. The cause of his death is yet to be established. [Courtesy]

Prof Gilbert Edwin Meshak Ogutu’s piercing eyes often betrayed his trademark smile.

His grey hair represented wisdom and in good old days, he walked with the gait of a confident philosopher.

His demeanour, the rare mastery of religion, history, cultural and political philosophies attracted friends and critics like a magnet. He was controversial.

His lecture halls were packed and he spoke with authority on every paper he wrote or presented. 

He often strayed out of the University of Nairobi where he taught for decades to delve into politics and cultural issues. 

But it was during his short stint as Ruadh Goro (Secretary General) of the Luo Council of Elders that many Kenyans came to know  him.

He added colour, splendour and new identity to the once lackluster outfit with powerful speeches and a candid history and origin of the Luos.

In a tactical and philosophical attempt to explain why the Luo must pursue their own political and cultural path, Prof Ogutu coined the now famous phrase; Wan Wan Wan. Gin Gin Gin (We are ourselves. They are themselves).

Prof Ogutu came across as a man at peace with himself. A scholar who has seen it all. At 78, he remained versatile and alert, despite an on-and-off struggle with diabetes. He was also a counselor and many of his friends remember how he helped them resolve family issues. So, how can such a strong character commit suicide?

And if he killed himself, what drove him to do it? There are also those who have refused to buy this theory.

If he was murdered, why would someone think of killing a 78-year-old scholar? Opinion is divided and family members are split over this debate.

The bitter verbal exchanges between family members during the autopsy at the Bondo County Mortuary over claims that some of them were being sidelined from the exercise and failure by the pathologist to expressly identify what killed Prof Ogutu, pointed to a controversy.

Consultant Government Pathologist Dickson Muchana, who worked on Prof Ogutu’s body on February 18, announced he was could not conclude what killed him. He said the autopsy results would be released in three weeks.

The failure to confirm or rule out suicide heightened tension among family members and sparked speculation over the don’s death, especially those who felt suicide would have been easy to confirm.

Dr Muchana said he would undertake intensive laboratory analyses of samples taken to determine cause of death.

“We have done an exhaustive autopsy and for now, I would say that my findings were inconclusive. I am still working closely with the police to give me additional information. We have agreed nothing tangible was found to explain cause of death,” Dr Muchana said.

Kennedy Oduor, a family member who was present throughout the autopsy, said it was worrying that such a tedious process could turn out inconclusive results.

Cause of death

“The fact that autopsy results were unable to establish the cause of death is worrying, but we are convinced that the pathologist did his work professionally and we are waiting for the results as he had explained,” Oduor said.

Prof Ogutu’s wife, Imelda and a section of family members engaged in a bitter exchange as some claimed the death was being handled casually. Prof Ogutu’s first wife died late last year. Prof Ogutu’s body was found in the first wife’s house in Wambasa village, Bondo on Sunday. He was hanging from the window, a piece of cloth around his neck. His second wife Imelda, lives only a few metres away.

So was Prof Ogutu so stressed that he had to commit suicide? Did someone want him dead and for what reason? If he was stressed, was it difficult for those around him to realise that?

According to Imelda, her husband was fine when they got home from Nairobi.

“I left him relaxing on Saturday at around 7pm and drove back to Kisumu ... I was shocked to receive a phone call from our long-serving domestic staff that he was dead,” she said.

The Sunday Standard also learnt that the scholar had been to various hospitals last year and one of his kidneys had been removed.

“Prof Ogutu was a brave man, but he was also temperamental and became angry easily. On the day he went home, I could see that he was angry although he tried to compose himself.

Even the taxi driver noticed that the professor was depressed,” said a relative, who asked to remain anonymous.

On the day Prof Ogutu’s body was found, his worker, James Oloo, said his boss never showed any signs of being disturbed, but wanted him to be with him during his stay at home. Other sources at the University of Nairobi where he worked for many years said he was slated to leave the institution next month. According to Thomas Achando, Secretary Luo Council of Elders, the scholar’s death is shocking.

“This is one man who counseled people and even taught the word of God. It is rare in the Luo community for a man his age to commit suicide,” Achando said.

Poet, playwright and novelist Adipo Sidang mourned Prof Ogutu as a great scholar.

“His death is unfortunate. The veteran scholar and History professor was a great mind and was generous with his knowledge,” Sidang wrote in his blog.

Prof Ogutu will be buried on March 7.

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