“Activist. Blogger. Poet. Organic intellectual. He is not the TNA guy.” That is how Onyango Oloo described himself on his Twitter handle @OnyangoOloo. Perhaps due to Twitter’s character restriction, he was unable to add “Communist” to that description.
My comrade Onyango Oloo was an unrepentant global citizen in the mould of what Thomas Sankara had called “The Upright Man”. He was ideologically radical, pure and committed.
A prolific and dogged debater, writer and activist. He read voraciously and published long essays, poems and commentaries on everything from Marxism, Pan-Africanism and imperialism to music, world politics, feminism, globalisation and the environment.
Although he was named David Onyango Oloo, he had dropped “David” after leaving prison in 1986. Before seeking exile in Tanzania in the late 1980s, Kenyan newspapers had named him a member of the “Kenya Revolutionary Movement” together with Raila Odinga.
The ensuing propaganda against the KRM precipitated Oloo’s flight into exile. Soon, Raila Odinga also fled to exile in Norway using a Ugandan passport.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most African socialists opportunistically opted to redefine themselves.
They avoided delicate ideological debates and rebranded themselves as “social democrats”.
In the early 1990s, it was distressing for committed communists to watch those they had considered their compatriots — who had proudly worn long beards, called themselves socialists and who had engaged in radical opposition to imperialism — jump into the capitalist bandwagon overnight without much compunction. Not Comrade Onyango Oloo.
“I’m a communist. A Marxist-Leninist,” Oloo continued to proclaim defiantly until he travelled to join our ancestors. He resisted the life of privilege, materialism and conformism because that always meant diluting his principles in exchange for temporal opportunism.
As fate would have it, I met Oloo in Canada; not in our native land, Kenya. I was introduced to Oloo in Toronto by Adongo Ogony, who had served as the secretary-general of the Students Organisation of Nairobi University (Sonu) in 1982. This was shortly after they had arrived in Toronto from Tanzania, with Omondi Obanda, James Mwangi and Githirwa Muhoro in November 1988.
I had been granted asylum in Canada in June of the same year, together with former Sonu leaders Peter Mutonyi Gakiri, Munoru Nderi, JTO Ogola, Omill Oloo and former University of Nairobi third-year law student James Anampiu.
We had quickly established an exile pro-democracy movement called the Committee for Democracy in Kenya (CDK) and rallied Kenyans living abroad to champion for the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in our motherland.
During this period, the majority of Kenyans in Ontario were foreign students — mostly children or relatives of ruling party Kanu mandarins or their business associates. But there were a few other political exiles like James Karanga, Kamonji Wachiira and a man we only knew as Kamotho.
Dr Willy Mutunga, who was completing his doctoral studies at the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, also joined the CDK.
Oloo worked as a radio broadcaster, community programme manager and consultant for a number of non-governmental organisations.
He also assisted many refugees from numerous African and Latin American countries to prepare and present their cases for asylum.
Whenever he was confronted with difficult choices between remaining loyal to his political principles or fitting in so that he could keep a job, for instance, Oloo always stuck to his principles.
Many of his critics considered him an unrepentant idealist. A stubborn fool. They dismissed him as a man who had refused to change with the times.
Those critics preferred dishonesty, opportunism and hypocrisy to strong principles. They considered people like Onyango Oloo who believed that the world needed to be transformed through a socialist revolution for everyone to have equal opportunities and to have control over their means of production as dreamers. They contemptuously referred to him as an “activist who had refused to grow out of his university mold”.
In the 1990s, before blogging became popular among Kenyans, Oloo was already a veteran blogger who traversed Kenyan discussion platforms like a colossus.
He was ubiquitous on platforms such as Kiseru, Kenyans Online, Kenya Community Abroad and Kenyans in Ontario before he founded the iconic Jukwaa: Kenyan Discussion Platform around the year 2005 as a forum for the Kenya Democracy Project, which he had co-founded with Ogony.
They had also founded a publication they called Haki, an organ of the Kenya Human Rights Organisation we had also founded during the same period.
Whenever anyone confused him with the TNA/Jubilee secretary-general, he would quickly quip, “I’m The Onyango Oloo. Not the TNA guy!”
Oloo returned to Kenya from exile in Canada and worked briefly as the national coordinator of the Kenya Social Forum 2006, in addition to many other civic organisations he would be affiliated with over the next two decades.
He is the only genuine male feminist I have ever met. He understood power and power dynamics. He eschewed faddism.
He believed in substantive equality between races, ethnic groups, religions and sexual orientations. He was fully committed to the establishment of a classless society. He fought gallantly against artificially constructed structural and institutional hierarchies.
In the end, despite his many skills, abilities, ideological commitment and tenacity, Oloo’s efforts were consistently thwarted by entrenched neocolonial interests and merchants of impunity in Kenya. Oloo reminded them of their ideological limitations and moral weaknesses.
Had Kenya been a merit-based society, Comrade Oloo would not have died a painful, neglected and lonely life. The challenge is on us to honour his legacy and seek the transformation of Kenya so that true heroes like him would be treated humanely here on earth.
Onyango is survived by a son, Sankara Onyango. God willing, Comrade Oloo, we will soon be able to build monuments in your memory!
You were my revolutionary comrade, trusted confidant and valued friend.
Rest in peace Jak’Agola. Owadgi nyiri kombe laro. Agulu kitwang’.