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Ogolla's death adds to list of dark chapter in Nyanza history

The casket bearing the remains of General Francis Omondi Ogolla during his memorial service at Ulinzi Sports Complex in Nairobi. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Last week’s shocking demise of the Chief of Defense Forces Francis Ogolla in a helicopter crash adds yet another dark chapter in the larger Nyanza region that has lost several leaders at their prime.

They are the gallant sons and daughters of the region that redefined public service, the country’s political scene, and the social constructs, but yet at their prime, the angel of death plucked them out.

Some of them perished in natural causes, others died in accidents, others in unexplained demise, while the stars of some of them dimmed in suspected political assassinations and repressions.

For others who died during political upheavals, the quest for justice has been a long road with no end in sight. For instance, the family of Baby Pendo, a six-month infant who died at the hands of rogue police officers in 2017 is still waiting for justice several years later.

Analysts and politicians believe the gapping holes some of the deaths have left in the region are large and some of the talents that the Grim Reaper has plucked may take years to replace.

And for several years, the families of some of the stars that have fallen from the region are yet to find closure over their mysterious deaths.

After Ogolla’s death in a helicopter crash, the region is craving for answers and the technical details that might have pushed the helicopter to plummet from the sky and end the lives of decorated soldiers.

“We have been here before. All we want is answers and closure,” says Siaya Senator  Oburu Oginga.

But despite their deaths, the legacies they built are still breathing through the spine of the region and are inked in the country’s history books, earning them heroic statuses in the community.

Analysts and the Luo Council of Elders believe the demise of some of Nyanza’s brilliant brains has been a big blow to the region and the country.

“Some of the talents and brilliant minds we have lost are irreplaceable. It is heartbreaking,” says Luo Council of Elders chairman Odungi Randa.

Randa believes the government will investigate the crash to closure and help the region find closure and end doubts that one of their sons might have prematurely exited.

In the past, news surrounding the deaths of some of the prominent people from the region has slowly faded away and become history.

The list of influential leaders the region has lost is long and dates back to the 1960s when the region played an instrumental role in the establishment of an independent Kenya to the present day.

They include the late Minister for Economic Planning and Development Tom Mboya, Dr Robert Ouko, Argwings Kodhek, Titus Ofafa, former Homa Bay Senator Otieno Kajwang’, devolution specialist Odhiambo Mbai, ICT guru Chris Msando, rising political star Fidel Odinga, and former Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode, among others.

“We are justified to wonder why none of these matters has ever been investigated and rested conclusively,” Communication Consultant Barrack Muluka says.

Schools, roads, and residential estates have been named after them, while the fruits of their philanthropic work are still felt in some parts of the region.

And so when the news of the death of Ogolla reverberated across the region last week, the region united in grief and pain as the grim reality of another fallen hero struck.

He was the leader, holding the highest position in government at the time of his death and was an accomplished military official whose star shone brightly.

So saddened was the region that one of the popular Ohangla artists faced a major backlash while attempting to market one of his shows on an online platform at a time when the region was in mourning. The artist deactivated comments on his social media posts after an avalanche of insults and criticisms.

President William Ruto has promised the matter will be investigated and a report on the circumstances surrounding the death will developed.

Several MPs from the region said they are optimistic the region will find closure on Ogolla’s death.

“We shall wait for the outcome of an independent and transparent inquiry,” says the Minority leader in the National Assembly, Opiyo Wandayi.

For several decades, the region has been waiting with bated breath on the mysteries surrounding the deaths of prominent figures.

At the time of his death in 1969, Mboya was only 39 years old and at the prime of his career. He had built a profile as an intelligent, charming, and progressive leader who transformed the region.

Unlike other key figures who died of natural causes, Mboya was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Nairobi. The faces behind his death were never conclusive.

According to the book by Godfrey Sang and Vincent Orinda “Paul Mboya: A Portrait of a Great Leader” which details key events in the country’s history, Mboya embraced capitalist ideologies and was a force to be reckoned with in Nyanza.

At the time, Tom Mboya also wielded a lot of power courtesy of his appointment as the minister of Economic Planning and Development in the Kenyatta government.

A few months before his death, the region had also lost another iconic member-barrister Agrwings Kodhek in a road accident. At the time, the country’s first president Jomo Kenyatta described his death as a major blow to the country.

Sang and Orinda document that the country flew flags at half-mast in honour of Kodhek.

Similarly, at the time of their deaths, both Dr Ouko and Ojode, who died decades apart, were senior members from the region who were serving in key government positions.

Ojode died in a plane crash on June 10, 2022, in a police helicopter alongside the then Internal Security Minister George Saitoti.

They died alongside two pilots and two bodyguards on their way to a fundraiser in Ojode’s backyard of Ndhiwa, Homa Bay county.

However, more than a decade later, questions still remain over what caused the fatal crash that happened in Ngong.

Similarly, the closure on the brutal murder of Dr Ouko also remains a mirage several decades later.

The attempts to find closure on his death have suffered several bottlenecks and it remains unlikely whether the region will ever know what plucked Ouko from their midst.

In 2017, the quest to know what was behind his murder suffered a near-final blow after his wife Christabel Ouko died in a road accident in Muhoroni.

The death of Christabel Ouko further diminished hopes of ever knowing the people who murdered her husband – former Foreign Affairs Minister John Robert Ouko three decades ago.

Mrs Ouko took with her loads of secrets about the murder of her husband to the grave after her decades-long pursuit for justice over the heinous murder of her husband failed.

Dr Ouko went missing from his Koru home on the night of February 13, 1990, after returning from a trip to the US, where he and 84 other Government officials.

His charred body was found at the foot of Got Alila Hill, some 2.8km from his Koru home on February 13, 2017. Next to the body was a jerrycan, a Somali sword, and a leather jacket.

Almost all major witnesses and suspects in the Ouko murder mystery have died over the years, including the once-powerful Cabinet Minister Nicholas Biwott who died after an illness.

Some of those who have died include former powerful Permanent Secretary for Internal AffairsHezekiah Oyugi, former Commissioner of Police Philip Kilonzo who investigated the murder and the herdsman Paul Shikuku who found Dr Ouko’s smouldering body, also died under mysterious circumstances.

Others who have died include Otieno Yogo, Dr Ouko’s driver cum bodyguard, Superintendent of Police Joseph Mbogo, who participated in the initial investigations and a Special Branch officer, Hannington Ochwada, Ouko’s close friend, among many others.

Luo Council of Elders chairman Odungi Randa says Ogolla’s death is just the same as others and describes his demise as a major blow to the community.

“We are just asking the government to go deep and reveal what happened to Ogolla,” Mzee Odungi says.

Odungi believes the gap the talents have left can never be filled.

Wandayi says it is very disturbing that, as a community, over the years, they have lost very promising sons in unclear circumstances.

“It is a tragedy that most of these deaths remain unresolved to date,” Wandayi says.

He is hopeful that in the fullness of time, the region shall find answers and that the families of the deceased shall get justice

Nyatike MP Tom Odege says this a very unfortunate death and the truth must be dug out. “Any suspicion must be addressed,” Mr Odege says.

Communications expert Charles Nyambuga says that some of the past deaths have never been fully investigated.

“Certainly the region is feeling it because the loss of Dr Robert Ouko at his very prime when people thought he was moving up was very painful. For Kodhek, many thought that he was going to be the chief justice in a short while and so many others,” Nyambuga says.

He opines that the worst part of it is that most of these deaths have not been properly investigated.

[Additional reporting by Anne Atieno]

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