“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sir. John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton.
James Aggrey Orengo has in most of his life been a reputed progressive man. From the time when the snobbish and apologist Charles Njonjo derisively referred to Orengo and his like-minded rebel parliamentarians known for their use of their own brains like Hon. Ms. Chelagat Mutai, Mr. George Anyona, Mr Abuya Abuya, Mr. Chibule wa Tsuma, Mr. Mashengu wa Mwachofi, Mr Mathew Charles Onyango-Midika, Mr. Lawrence Sifuna and Koigi wa Wamwere, as ‘the seven bearded sisters” to the time he was negotiating at The Nairobi Serena Hotel before the formation of the Coalition government. Sharp and articulate, he used to be a thorn in the flesh of the lords of impunity, injustice and corruption and, lo he was bold. Orengo fought for good governance in a just and equitable society, utmost respect for human rights, the full enjoyment of personal freedoms enshrined and entrenched in the constitution and wanted full and complete adherence to the rule of law and constitutionalism to prevail. It is no wonder then that growing up, Orengo was one person I always held in high regard for his unwavering commitment to the fight for ordinary Kenyans when most people were Moilettes, economic opportunists and bootlickers. Moi never bothered about what problems citizens faced, teachers had gone on strike, and most parents could not even afford to take their children to school due to economic constraints while Moi went on a private school building spree. Orengo spoke against all this, but now not anymore.
When I heard that Jimmy would be attending a fundraiser at Ndurarua Grounds in Riruta in support of The Dagoretti Educational Bursary Fund (DEBF) which had been organized by Hon. Beth Wambui Mugo sometimes in 1998, I resolved that I had to go and listen to Orengo talk. It must have been months after he had given Moi the kleptocrat a scare of his life when he brought to the floor of the August House a no confidence motion against the president. Nyayo had survived but emerged bruised. I remember with nostalgia reading the Sunday following the motion Lifestyle pull out of the Sunday Nation a special on Orengo chronicling his life. That was Orengo the lion. In attendance during the fundraising were luminaries of the Muungano wa Mageuzi lobby group. The late Hon. George Kapten former MP Kwanza, Hon. Kipruto Arap Kirwa immediate Cherangany MP who had been fired by Moi from an assistant minister’s post and several others. During the function, it was rumored that police from the nearby police station would disperse people. Orengo tickled the crowd when he said that even the police ought to join the people as they were also being oppressed by the government they were serving. He gave an example of the sharing of houses whereby whenever a spouse of one of the officer’s came visiting, the other would be forced to take a walk.
In 1997, Luo Nyanza was tightly in the grip of Raila’s National Development Party and the waves from Lake Victoria wafted the smell of the tractor. However, Orengo braved through the storm on a Ford Kenya ticket and retained his seat. His comrade Prof. Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o was not so lucky running on Ngilu’s Social Democratic Party (SDP), he lost his Kisumu Rural seat and had to be nominated to paliarment. Even when some opposition MPs were pandering and getting cosy with Moi the dictator before they were eventually incorporated into the government, Orengo steadfastly remained committed to the course of the liberation of Kenya from the corrupt and greedy. He would subsequently have his meetings broken by the police while other opposition figures would land plum cabinet posts and top-notch security under Moi. So it came to pass that when general elections of 2002 were called, he offered his candidature for the presidency of the Republic of Kenya. Running under the banner of “A man of the People”, he was the direct opposite of the amoral and morally bankrupt Chief Nanga in Chinua Achebe’s novel by the same name. It was an uphill task; the cards were stacked solidly against him. The state machinery and mandarins (including Sabatia MP and short-lived Vice President Musalia Mudavadi) was full throttle behind Hon. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta while the heavyweights of the “opposition” had thrown their weight behind Emilio Mwai Kibaki who eventually romped to State House with a landslide sealing the fate of KANU in State House.
When the votes were tallied, Orengo had not only lost the presidential vote, but had been convincingly routed by his brother-in-law Arch Bishop Stephen Ondiek for the Ugenya seat. He was to be in political oblivion until 2005 when he appeared to campaign against the enactment of the “Wako Draft”. He subsequently became a key plank in the politics of the Orange Democratic Movement Kenya before Hon. Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka “Wiiver, wiiver” took off with it precipitating the taking over of the shell Orange Democratic Movement “Chungwa Moja, Maisha Bora”. He had to fight tooth and nail to recapture the Ugenya Parliamentary Seat. We were later to see him at Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) in the company of Hon. Charity Kaluki Ngilu, Hon. William Ruto complaining about rigging of their party’s vote. Debacle followed and Kibaki was declared the winner by Kivuitu.
The declaration of the Kibaki win and subsequent hurried swearing-in at dusk was akin to a declaration of war. Some have called it an execution of a civilian coup d’état. I had been having drinks with a former friend at Ngong Hills Hotel when Kivuitu came on the television to announce the results. Tension was palpable in the air. Ngong Road was unusually void of traffic. ODM then called for mass action to force Kibaki to relinquish power to the people’s president, Agwambo. It was falsely assumed that just as marches led by Mahatma Gandhi during the British rule in India and black civil rights leaders in America had knocked sense into the heads of the white supremacists in America and had worked, the same would obtain in Kenya. They were wrong, Hon. Martha Karua and her coterie at the inner sanctum of state power, resources and the monopoly of “legitimate” violence were not about to hand over power, whether blood would be shed was the least of their worries. For them it was all about power, power and more power.
On 2nd January, 2008 in the evening, politically active youths in Riruta met and agreed to heed the call by marching to Uhuru Park the following day. On the appointed day at around 4:30 AM, those who had the nerves converged at Riruta Shopping Center and started the trek to Uhuru Park. On the way we encountered hordes of anti-riot police, the General Service Unit and the robotic wannabe Ninja Mutants, the Administration Police. Only those who woke up early managed to walk to the CBD. Uhuru Park was a no go zone, cordoned off by the Red Berets. Cops were everywhere, shops and businesses closed, Nairobi smelled of caked blood and dust. We heard that another group had been blocked at the junction of Ngong and Mbagathi Roads. We played hide and seek with the police engaging them in helter skelter running battles until word arrived that we were to go Orange House on Chania Avenue to join the galaxy of vigogo wa chama for the grand march to Uhuru Park proper.
Getting to Hurlingham posed a challenge, toing and froing with the overwhelming presence of the cops; we had again to be creative. At Yaya Center, we met Irshad Sumra an ODM operative from Embakasi and Hon. Fred Gumo, MP Elect Westlands who were directing people to Orange House. It was pandemonium. When we got to Orange House, youths were pushing and shoving to just shake hands with their “leaders”. Hon. Joe Nyagah, Ngilu, Ruto, Shikuku, Mudavadi, Omingo Magara and others advised the people to start the march. Just near where Kwetu Sports Café stood, Hon. Ruto leading the protesters was stopped by a very high-ranking policeman ( I could tell by his shoulder marks) backed by a lorry full of GSU who told him to call of the march; Ngilu could hear none of that. She was adamant that we march on which we did while singing. When marched on, singing how we would overcome. When we got to Agwings Kodhek Road just outside the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, we met a phalanx of AP’s. Amongst the crowd were policemen who had hidden teargas canisters which they lobbed at us. Each one was looking for water to wash their eyes with, Mudavadi and a common mwanachi, teargas was wasting them all. For those who couldn’t lay our hands on a bottle of water, our saliva saved the situation.
This time, the police meant business, shots had been fired. When the expended shells were collected and handed over to Hon. Farah Maalim, currently the Deputy Speaker and Hon. Ababu Namwamba MP elect Budalang’i, in the presence of Hon. Prof. Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o to their consternation, it was found out that real and lethal bullets were being fired, not rubber bullets. Human lives were at stake and a life saving decision had to be made. After consultations, Ruto, Mudavadi and Ngilu were of the opinion that we go back home as they went back to the drawing board. However, Nyong’o, Orengo and Namwamba were more of trench hardened generals. They asked those willing to follow them to Serena for a press conference. Of all those who were strong-willed, Nyong’o and Orengo were shoulders above the rest. They started walking with the people. We took circuitous routes until we got to the junction of Lenana and Nyangumi Roads. A GSU officer came and advised us that it was not safe to proceed further. Nyong’o asked the young men to fall back and head home. Before I got to the house while walking, I received a call from a concerned lady friend of mine who wanted to know whether I was okay. It turned out she had seen Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga on television at City Mortuary where he had gone to see the bodies of his unlucky unarmed peaceful but loud protesting supporters felled by police bullets. It is sad that the plight of those who died was forgotten and I can only thank God that I lived to tell.They were the sacrificial lambs for the consecration of ODM/PNU power sharing.
That was 3rd January, 2008. Kibaki had power; ODM had the popular will and trust of the people. In fact Nyong’o was wondering how Kibaki of all the people could think and act like Moi. But times have changed, and time has changed people. The two gentleman now have trappings of state power, as confirmed by the miniature flags on GK vehicles they are driven in. It gives credence to the Orwellian maxim, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. Nyong’o is the one strenuously and arrogantly pushing for the exorbitant NHIF levies to be extracted from the people who walked with him when what stood between all of them and death was just the bullets from the AP’s. The vibrant and change proponent Orengo who could take no-nonsense from even the president is now the lyrical and court poet per excellence he stooped as low as asking Kibaki to rudisha mkono. He forgets how he sent this same Kibaki to the canvas during the swearing-in of MPs only getting saved by the intellect of former Attorney General Amos Wako. Perhaps he has found what he was looking for. Last year the cost of basic commodities went beyond the reach of those who walked with the two, this year before threats were issued the punitive VAT Bill which threatened to raise the prices of basic commodities was on the table and once again no voice of dissent from the two members. Orengo is neither a coward nor a fool, he is scheming and I just hope he can redeem himself and start speaking for and serving the people who he had always defended.