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Robert Ouko: Widow speaks out 20 years later

Friday February 12 2010

Christabel Ouko during the interview with Saturday Nation on February 4, 2010. Twenty years since the murder of Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko, his widow has broken her silence about the tragedy. Photo/Jennifer Muiruri

Christabel Ouko during the interview with Saturday Nation on February 4, 2010. Twenty years since the murder of Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko, his widow has broken her silence about the tragedy. Photo/Jennifer Muiruri 

Twenty years since the murder of Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko, his widow has broken her silence about the tragedy and spoken about life with her husband.

Mrs Christabel Ouko has vivid memories of the events just before his death and she still wants to know who killed her husband.

Dr Ouko had just returned from a high-powered trip to the United States with President Moi. Once in Nairobi, he took a break to visit his Koru home with his family.

But two days after he allowed his wife to return to Nairobi, promising to follow later by air, tragedy struck.

A vehicle from the Kisumu district commissioner’s office was supposed to pick him from his Koru home, more than 40 kilometres away, and take him to the airport.

“I was totally in the dark and saw no signs of danger,” she told the Saturday Nation in her first ever interview about the death of her husband.

“When he failed to come (to Nairobi), I called him at night and we spoke. He said he would again be picked by Kisumu DC’s vehicle to the airport the next morning, February 12. That was the last time we talked.”

She continued: “If I knew that his life was in danger, I could not have travelled. He released me and nothing was suspicious to me.”

The 69-year-old mother of seven - four girls and three boys - is demanding justice and the truth about her husband’s killer(s).

Dr Ouko’s charred remains were found later by a local herdsboy, Joseph Shikulu, at the foot of Got Alila hill, which is 2.8 km from his home.

The minister’s permanent secretary, Bethuel Kiplagat, who was also a family friend, is the chairman of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.

Mrs Ouko says Mr Kiplagat is now in the best position to tell Kenyans who killed his friend.

“Am not opposed to his being TJRC chairman because he can use it to let us know who killed Dr Ouko. I have no grudge against anybody and if the killers are known, I will welcome them for tea in my house.”

Speaking about losing a breadwinner, a husband, a companion and the father of her children, Mrs Ouko says politics and power could be the reason, some evil-minded people killed Dr Ouko.

“He loved his country, his children, family and his books. I never heard him even whisper that he wanted to be president and therefore I am still bewildered by what happened,” Mrs Ouko said.

Demanding justice for the matter which has been a subject of local and international investigations, commissions of inquiry and parliamentary select committee, Mrs Ouko says she doesn’t want to bear false witness by speculating on who killed her husband.

“I have no power to judge anybody but I am still at a loss. I don’t want to apportion blame, though the sad news is that I have gone through hell.”

The theories about domestic differences with his brothers, which led him to shift his home to Koru, according to her are mere propaganda, intrigues, manipulation of facts and sheer politics.

She said the family moved to Koru because of scarcity of land in Nyahera, and their home was too small for them to even develop a kitchen garden.

So domestic rivalry could not be related to the murder.

“People have problems everywhere, but it could not reach the level of such brutal murder. They were not fighting over land or any property,” Mrs Ouko quipped.

She offered an olive branch to the killers saying only God would punish them, although her forgiveness to all of them would get approval in heaven.
She first met Dr Ouko at Ogada Primary School where his brother, John Eston Okara, also deceased, was a headteacher.

Dr Ouko, was a junior teacher at the school in Nyahera, Kisumu Municipality.

She was then a pupil at Chianda Primary in Rarieda where she sat for Common Entrance Examination, done in Standard Four then.


She passed with flying colours and joined Ng’iya Girls High for intermediate school (Standard Five to Eight) education and again the sky was the limit.

Mrs Ouko qualified to join Butere Girls’ for her O-levels at a time when girls excelled academically.

She proceeded to Alliance Girls’ High School and later to the University of Nairobi. She and Dr Ouko had strengthened their love. The relationship was so deep that “ I could pay any price to defend my turf”.

She, therefore, dropped out of the University to get married to Dr Ouko in 1966. Mrs Ouko had been admitted to read English and Geography in the Faculty of Arts.

Mrs Ouko joined the civil service as a tax officer with the East African Community in Arusha and later became an immigration officer before resigning to join Dr Ouko who was appointed head of the East African Community.

She has fond memories of her husband, describing him as charming, caring, knowledgeable and dedicated.

“I lost a husband, companion, breadwinner and a father of my children.”

She said although she dropped out of the university, what Dr Ouko taught her in life makes up for the knowledge she could have acquired with a degree.

When Dr Ouko was killed, all the seven children were in school but now they completed university education and are all married except the last born who is an engineer. She has nine grandchildren.

There will be no occasion either at church or his Koru home for the remembrance but it will be done later this year when the first phase of his memorial library will have been completed.

About Sh10 million has been raised for the project, which was estimated to cost Sh40 million.

“I want Kenyans to give him a memorial occasion befitting his aspirations as an avid reader and scholar,” Mrs Ouko said.

Dr Ouko served in the Kenyan government from the colonial period through the presidencies of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi.

He was a member of the Parliament for Kisumu and a Cabinet minister, rising to the post of minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation by 1990.

He was murdered on February 13, 1990. The murder case remains unresolved.

Dr Ouko was born in Nyahera village, near Kisumu. He went to Ogada Primary School and Nyang’ori School.

After schooling, he studied at the Siriba Teachers Training College. He worked as a primary school teacher.

In 1955 he landed a job as a revenue officer of Kisii District. In 1958 he joined the Haile Selassie University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, graduating in 1962 with a degree in Public Administration, Economics and Political Science.

He then went to Makerere University in Uganda for a diploma in International Relations and Diplomacy

At the time of his death, he had nearly finished his doctoral thesis at the University of Nairobi.

His doctorate was honorary from the Pacific Lutheran University in Seattle in 1971.

Shortly before independence in 1963 he worked as an assistant secretary in the office of the governor.

He was soon posted as the permanent secretary in the ministry of Works. After the East African Community collapsed in 1977, Ouko became a nominated member in the Kenyan Parliament and was appointed as the minister for Economic Planning and Community Affairs.

He was elected to Parliament in 1979 to represent Kisumu Rural constituency and retained his seat at the 1983 elections.

For the 1988 elections, he moved to Kisumu Town Constituency (later split to Kisumu Town West and Kisumu Town East constituencies), and was re-elected to parliament .

On January 27, 1990, Ouko  was part of a delegation of 83 ministers and officials, among them President Moi, to attend a ‘Prayer Breakfast’ meeting in Washington DC.

The delegation returned to Nairobi on February 4. On Monday February 5, Ouko met with President Moi, the Japanese ambassador, the Canadian High Commissioner, Mr Kiplagat (permanent secretary and Mr Hezekiah Oyugi (permanent secretary, Internal Security).

Later that day Ouko travelled to his Koru home near Kisumu, accompanied by his driver and a bodyguard.

On the night of February 12/13, 1990, Dr Ouko disappeared from his Koru farm home near Muhoroni never to be seen alive again.