Moi-era exile Odindo Opiata succumbs to cancer

Sunday August 17 2014

Mr Odindo Opiata (right) after the opening of a

Mr Odindo Opiata (right) after the opening of a one day consultative forum at the Mombasa Continental Resort on February 2,2013. The human rights activist died at the Mater Hospital, Nairobi where he was being treated for liver cancer. PHOTO | WILLIAM OERI | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MARTIN KINYANJUI
More by this Author

A Moi-era exile and human rights activist Odindo Opiata has died in Nairobi from cancer.

According to his brother Naaman Opiata, Mr Opiata died at Mater Hospital where he had been admitted on Friday.

He was suffering from liver cancer. His body has been moved to the Lee Funeral Home.

Mr Opiata went to exile in Tanzania in May 1981 together with US-based Prof Makau Mutua and Mr John Munuve, the current Mwingi North MP.

This followed a crack-down by the Moi government on activists who were advocating for an end to one party rule and the widening of the democratic space in Kenya.

The activists were accused of planning to overthrow the Moi government.

Mr Opiata was jailed for three years from 1986 to 1989 during Kenya's one-party rule and was a victim of the infamous Nyayo House torture chambers.

Up to the time of his death, Mr Opiata was the director of Hakijamii, an organisation he started in 2004 with the aim of helping help community groups at the grassroots to advocate for their rights more effectively.

He was also a member of the National Slum Upgrading Policy Task Force and also served in the Technical Advisory Panel for UN-Habitat’s Advisory Group on Forced Evictions.

Previously, he worked as the coordinator of Legal Services and Community Partnerships at Kituo Cha Sheria between 2000 and 2005.

His brother, Naaman Opiata, urged Parliament to ensure that The Evictions and Resettlement Procedures Bill is passed into law in honour of the late Opiata whom he said spent his last days agitating for its enactment.

PIONEER OF DEMOCRACY

While paying tribute to him, Prof Makau Mutua termed the late Opiata as one of the pioneers of democracy and human rights in Kenya.

Prof Mutua remembered the tribulations they underwent in the fight against the Kanu dictatorship in the 1980s.

As student leaders at the University of Nairobi, the late Opiata, Prof Mutua and Saulo Busolo Wanambisi (who would later become an MP), led other students in protests against the repressive policies of the Kanu regime.
“Opiata and I were arrested after the demos and detained without charge. We were released over a week later and exiled to Tanzania,” said Prof Mutua.

Prof Mutua said that he arrived in exile in Tanzania first and Mr Opiata followed him.

BEST FRIEND

“He was my best friend at the University of Dar es Salaam. We became refugees in Tanzania under the UNHCR,” added Prof Mutua.

The SUNY Distinguished Professor recalled how, on returning back to Kenya after finishing law school, Mr Opiata was arrested and jailed on trumped up charges of being a member of the Mwakenya movement.

"He (Opiata) was tortured brutally. I don't believe he ever recovered from those acts of state barbarity against him, although he managed to rise up and become an important human rights voice for voiceless Kenyans,” added Prof Mutua.

Prof Mutua returned to Kenya in 1991 when multi-party politics were allowed.

EDITOR'S NOTE

An earlier version of this story had erroneously indicated that among those exiled in Tanzania together with the late Opiata were CJ Willy Mutunga, former MP Gitobu Imanyara and US-based Prof Makau Mutua. It has since been clarified that Dr Mutunga, Mr Imanyara and Prof Makau Mutua were not among the exiles. We take this opportunity to apologise to the three. The error is regretted. --