Few Kenyans have been eulogised with so much poetry the way Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was mourned by the Young Turks, the group of youthful, radical politicians and activists heavily borrowed from the left-leaning wing of the intelligentsia.
Known for their sharp wit and courageous poise, it was only natural that this evidently worldly lot – presenting itself as the ultimate antidote to Kanu’s old and tired authoritarian ways – would deploy the same linguistic and other prowess which they exhibited, in remembrance of the man who had held their hands and weaned them politically.
In easily the most outstanding delivery during Jaramogi’s burial, James Orengo exalted his mentor just as he tormented the Kanu establishment – in the presence of a seemingly subdued and somewhat out of place President Daniel arap Moi – emotionally reading his infamous ‘Woe Unto Thee’ tribute, in which he castigated the powers-that-be as persecutors of Jaramogi “who have now shown up to shed crocodile tears”.
Jaramogi’s other protégé, Michael Kijana Wamalwa, won at brevity and succinctness, opening his remarks thus: ‘‘We are a children bereft.’’ It was possibly the one statement which summarised the sentiments of the Young Turks, since Jaramogi wouldn’t and couldn’t have an able replacement from then henceforth.
On July 26, someone who needed to be mourned with similar lyricism died. Though not as aged or as politically experienced, Kibra MP Kenneth Okoth was by all means a colossus to the younger generation of Kenyans, who saw in him the unpretentious embodiment of what it means to be a committed, self-less and near-pious leader at a time of chaos and madness.
Okoth was – much as he was his own man – a reincarnation of Kenya’s second Vice President, Joe Zuzarte Murumbi, carrying on with that rare Murumbist tradition of wanting nothing for themselves and instead working to give everything for the betterment of greater society. This rare breed, the A Class of the loosely thrown around servant leadership kind, is so scarce in Kenyan public life such that when a Murumbi or an Okoth shows up on the scene, they cannot help but stand out like a lone lost sheep amid a pack of wolves.
It is not that in celebrating Okoth everyone else must be shown in negative light. But it has become necessary, just like Orengo lambasted Kanu during Jaramogi’s burial, for some harsh truths to be told especially to the political establishment, which will obviously rush to offer empty words for Okoth when in practice they have sneered at him in their usual way as possibly a naïve greenhorn who didn’t know how to siphon Kibra’s CDF and instead used it to the last penny to build schools.
In fact, there really isn’t any better eulogy than that which Okoth wrote for himself especially for the people of Kibra. He did wonders with his portion of CDF, dwarfing whatever else was being done by his parliamentary colleagues, making many wonder whether they received a proportionate allocation of funds, or whether Okoth received a greater amount than everyone.
It was inescapable that the fact that he himself grew up in Kibra gave him a deep sense of meaning as he served his constituents, yet still Okoth remained an exception. Leaders are known to steal millions of shillings devolved for the very communities which raised them. Therefore there isn’t a one-size-fits-all grand explanation as to why Okoth did what he did the way he did it, other than to concede that here was someone cut from a rare kind of history-making cloth.
Just like Jaramogi raised an army – most of whom haven’t lived up to the ideals they learnt at his feet – Okoth has given rise to hundreds of Okothlets, a generation which looks at politics not as a conduit for enrichment, but as a chance to turn that thought around and enrich the lives of others.
In his brief life, Okoth has earned his place in the book of Kenyan heroes – not the ones who have roads and other installations named after them and have expensive statues erected in their honour – but those once-in-a-life-time individuals whose statues are permanently etched in ordinary people’s hearts.
Will the political elite eat humble pie and follow in the footsteps of this young soldier of humanity? Kenneth Okoth loved Kenya. Kenya can only return the love by emulating his ideals.
The inevitability of death forever looms like a shadow over our heads, yet like Okoth, we must persist.