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How Ochwada rose and rose in political circles

By - | Apr 28th 2013 | 4 min read

By Oscar Obonyo

NAIROBI, KENYA: Sometime in 2005, some old man travelled by road from his rural village of Nakhasiko in Busia County and upon arrival in Nairobi, he was declared a State guest.

The perplexed man was driven off to a five-star hotel where he rested his tired limbs and spent the night.  “I was both confused and elated. A car and chauffeur were at my disposal and I was booked at a five-star hotel where I stayed for two weeks waiting to meet the President,” the old man told this writer. 

When the time finally came, he was picked from his hotel and driven to State House, where he had a lengthy chat with retired President Kibaki over a cup of tea.

The old man – Arthur Aggrey Ochwada – was indeed well known to Kibaki, whom he met in the late 1950s. The two worked closely in Independence party, Kanu, as pioneer national officials, with Ochwada as Deputy Treasurer and Kibaki as National Executive Officer.

During his heyday, Ochwada, who passed on last week aged 87, wined and dined with political bigwigs including three of Kenya’s former Presidents – Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. He was also close to Kenya’s first Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Uganda’s former President Milton Obote and the late Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leader John Garang de Mabior, among others.

Trade unionist

Ochwada’s entry into politics was rather accidental. He started off as a trade unionist and by 1954 he served as deputy to Tom Mboya in Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions (present-day Cotu).

But following the state of emergency in 1952 declared by Sir Evelyn Baring, the then Governor of Kenya British colony, a major political vacuum arose. This was after Baring proscribed political parties and arrested political leaders including Mzee Kenyatta.

“I was lured by colleagues to join politics and I took up the challenge to keep the fire burning. Here, I came face-to-face with veteran trade unionists such as Tom Mboya,” Ochwada recounted. 

After mingling with such great men, he was transformed into a politician. Having strategically positioned himself in Kenya’s first Government, Ochwada was elected Kanu’s first Deputy Treasurer and nominated to Parliament by President Kenyatta. And for his closeness to the President, he met and married Lucy Nyokabi as his second wife. Nyokabi, who later separated from the MP, was a daughter of Peter Muigai Kenyatta — Mzee’s first-born son. But all was not rosy for Ochwada, whose closeness to Kenyatta did not go down well with some. Ochwada particularly had a run-in with Mboya, the influential Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister.

Past rivalries

He explained to The Standard On Sunday, that differences with Mboya stemmed from past rivalries in the trade union. Mboya, claims Ochwada, used his influence to fix him politically by having him arrested for “misuse of union finances for past years”.  

It is while at Kamiti Maximum Prison, that he met a young Sudanese, Garang. The young man had been confined at Kamiti for being in Kenya illegally and serving as an untrained teacher without a permit. Ochwada used his contacts with the then VP Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who was also Home Affairs minister, to secure Garang’s release.

And for his gesture, Ochwada and Garang became the best of friends. In fact, he is the one organised for the old man to meet retired President Kibaki. This was Garang’s secret and last surprise gift to Ochwada, a couple of days his tragic death in a helicopter crash.

Before that, Ochwada only bounced back to politics after Mboya’s death, when he beat Habil Kanani to secure the Busia Central (present-day Funyula) constituency in 1969. Mzee Kenyatta appointed him Natural Resources and Fisheries assistant minister.

Fondly referred to as “Mashini Kodongo (Odongo’s machine)” by his constituents, Ochwada is remembered for engineering a series of development projects including set up several learning institutions. What stands out, though, is his effort to afforest the mountains of Ageng’a, Funyula, Nambuku, Nangina, Nyahobi and Odiado.

Campaign teams

He once told this writer that he was nicknamed “Mashini Kodongo” because of the high level of efficiency and co-ordination of his campaign teams.

Some, however, attribute the nickname to the late politician’s abrasive campaign approach. 

Ochwada was born in Busibi location of Samia 87 years ago to the late Isaiah Odongo and Leah Nerima Nasubo. His father was the elder brother to Kenya’s ninth Vice-President Moody Awori’s late mother, Maria Nakhulo.

The politician was educated at Namboboto Primary School and Maseno High School before joining the Army as a non-combat officer. However, after training he opted to teach at his former primary school between 1947 and 1948. He later joined the labour movement and was elected secretary of the Building Workers’ Union. The union sponsored him to join the prestigious Harvard University in the US, where he undertook short courses in economics and public relations.

At the time of his death, Ochwada, a member of giant Abakhulo clan of Samia, was leading a quiet life in the village with his two wives, Ruth Nadebu and Beatrice Makokha.

Reacting to The Standard On Saturday story, which broke the news of Ochwada’s death last week, a resident of Funyula, Francis Bwonya captures the feelings of the locals: “Poleni sana Abakhulo, Abasamia, Busia County and Kenya at large. Rais Uhuru, kuja Samia uzike shemeji yako.”


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