....and the story, that must be told, is now told!!
A Reflection on Kenya's Social Justice Struggle:A piece capturing OO's life and moments with his comrades in the republic and beyond. The story, his story, as told by Adongo Ogony.
Adongo Ogony and Onyango Oloo.
Folks and good friends now I have to tell our story with Onyango Oloo.
In the last weeks I worked with the community at home especially with Comrade Atieno Odenyo who is in Kenya now and was here for a long time she worked with myself, OO, Kathure, Wangari, Miguna, Willy Mutunga, Perez Oyugi, Abdalla, Barouk, Muhoro wa Githirwa, Mwakudua Mwachofi and many others to build a movement against the Moi regime in North America.
So Atieno was on the ground with so many other comrades. In my world there has been nothing like this since Mandela went down. And believe it or not I was at Atieno’s house in Nairobi with my son Karimi Daniel Adongo when they had the Mandela Memorial.
But my story with OO goes way back. Some of it is frightening even to me.
So Oloo gets arrested pretty much on the second day after the August 1, 1982 coup attempt. They grab him for a piece of paper he wrote. Absolute crime against him. He was at Voi Railway station going home.
I get arrested a day later. The whole world knows that I knew about the coup. As a matter of fact we were so mad when it was taking so long that we went into town to see what was causing the delay.
We gave up and were coming back to campus when we dropped in this place not Karumaindo but close and we were having some beers.
It was me, Adongo Ogony, David Murathe, Cornel Onyango Akello(CA) and Rateng’ Oginga Ogego with Muga Kolale and then the action started.
There were shots from everywhere towards the campus and KBC which is just behind the campus. We were near the campus. We got out. And believe this if you want but bar patrons were getting smashed down by massai security guards from the the bar. Their crime? They run out of the bar with their beers.
So we survey the outlay and decide we are not taking the landrover we had back to campus. If we try that we would be shot quick and fast. We abandon the car in the middle of the street and disappear.
So we ran and make it back to campus and we go to Rateng’s room in Hall 2. It was a big space and he had a library there and we could listen to the announcements about the coup from KBC just behind Hall 2 by the way. It was going well. Or so we thought.
By morning we roll out. As Oloo says in one of his published articles the first place students went to was the Police Headquarters down next to the Railway Station. There we saw the cops were getting armed and ready to fight the coup.
Right there we knew the battle is just starting. So we ran back. Then at 680 Hotel I meet my boss Chairman Titus Adungosi trying to address students. Adungosi was the Chairman of SONU which we had just launched in 1981 and I was the Secretary General (SG) of SONU.
Adungosi was telling the students not to break windows and shops. Nobody was listening. I went to the chairman and told him things were really bad and we need to go back to campus.
Then I ran back to campus and I meet Leonard Menya Ong’onge, one of my most beloved friends in college who was in the same Faculty of Commerce (Accounting Option) with me. With him was my girlfriend whom I had I told I was having a busy night and she had to stay at Menya’s place.
They ask me oh is this how busy you were during the night?. I told them I had no clue about anything. None whatsoever.
Anyhow I get arrested on August 3rd 1982. After the coup I made it to my aunt’s place and then I went back to pick up my stuff from campus. I had it all packed up in my suitcase and then went to Serena Hotel Bus Stop which would take me to city centre and then I would take the trip to Mariakani South B where we lived.
Into the bus, suitcase and all. Minutes later the bus stops. The Special Branch (SB) Police enter the bus grab me and with my suitcase we are gone. They put me in this van and I tell them how grateful I was for them to arrest me.
I told them we need to clear up a lot of things. I was furiously thanking them for arresting me when they dropped me up at Turkoman Carpet House building. That was the Special Branch Police headquarters right next to Nairobi campus main buildings.
So we arrive there and who greets me. Arap Too the Director of CID at the time. I don’t want to tell you what Too did to me because it annoys me just thinking about it.
Then I end up in Langata Police Station and they throw me down the stairs and my head is blown open. I am kind of dead.
They take me to some place and stitch it up and give me pain medication. I was awake finally and I heard the doctor telling the cops they were doing a good job.
I was terrified but I figured getting out of there was the best thing for me. Then they took me to a crazy police station from Langata. That was always the SB plan. They move you from one police station to another almost every week. Nobody can trace anything.
My mother came all the way from Bondo and with my aunt they went to every police station asking for me and they were told we don’t even know him. Never seen him.
My mom always told them we know he is alive. What happened here was that when I was arrested at Serena Bus stop one student saw me and he called the Weekly Review run by Hillary Ng’weno who was a pretty strange character. Weekly Review run the story of my arrest and people went to my family and told them he is alive and he is in police custody and don’t let them lie to you.
Remember the Special Branch which we later got abolished was a Secret Police Department only answerable to the president. They put you in a police station and cops there can’t even talk about you. Not even their boss. They are supposed not to know the SB police and they have no idea why they are bringing you to their station. They just know you have done something terrible. In this case a failed coup attempt. Nothing can be more terrible than that.
So I arrive at the other Police Station in real bad shape with a broken head bandaged everywhere. The cops there looked at my painkillers and took them. They told me when your head goes crazy you come and get them. I said fine.
Then my head went crazy while I was in the cell. It was blowing off. I knocked the door so loud. They came for me and asked what I wanted I told them my meds. What meds? They asked me. Obviously they needed the pain killer medication more than me. I understood it perfectly.
Then the other prisoners noticed I was in trouble. They asked what is wrong with you? I told them I need pain killers and the cops stole them. Then they said they will bring me something when they come back. This was some nasty police cell. The boys come back and give me a ton of aspirin and some other stuff. I tell them it does me no good. We fight on. And on.
And now we go to court in front of Abdul Rauf. We were 67 students on that day who had spent more than three months in police cells. So Oloo is there in his last court date. We didn’t get a chance to hear the case. After the case Oloo comes downstairs where we were. Oloo tells us our nightmare is just beginning.
He tells us jail is really bad. We tell him we have been through the cops beatings and tortures and nothing scares us. Then OO says the Prison Guards in court will strip you naked before they take you prison.
Why would they do that we ask him.
He tells us they are going to examine your asses to see if you are carrying any merchandise into prison. We thought he was joking and laughed it off. We thought what possible merchandise would anyone carry in their ass.
But Oloo was damn right.
The guards came for us and lined us in rows of five (Kaba Kaba) stripped everybody naked and did exactly what Oloo told us they would do.
We were looking at each other, all 67 of us just quiet and terrified. Nobody talked or joked which is how we had survived all this stuff before.
We used to laugh at cops in the police cells when they told us our lives were over because we were arrogant students. We told them no. We were very confident.
But this was another level and you could see the comrades looking around and realizing this was as close to hell as you can get while still on this here earth.
That is before you leave the court and go to Nairobi Industrial Area Remand Prison (INDA), one of the nastiest places in the face of this earth bar none.
Then we arrive at INDA they do the same thing. That is when we realized we were in a big mess because we had no rights whatsoever as political prisoners. We also figured these guys are not searching for anything, they are just trying to humiliate us. Which was fine with us.
We knew before entering the battle with the Moi dictatorship that the government was going to be mean and ruthless to us. So it was game on. They bring what they have and we bring what we have. Whatever happens, happens. They had guns and muscle. We had the guts to face it all even with bare hands. Fair game. That was it. You couldn’t just cry around.
So we are at INDA first night, OO tells us he wants to make a statement after he is sentenced for whatever years. So we hang around as he is writing it late at night at INDA cells. It was Onyango CA, David Murathe and myself with OO.
Then the guards come knocking at the door. They told us to go sleep. We told them to get lost. We knew one thing. The night Prison Guards do not have keys to open prisoner cells. So we told them to go home and sleep. They were mad. We didn’t care. Big mistake.
Then in the morning they came. They grabbed OO and were whacking him real bad. Then one of the comrades, David Murathe no less, jumped into the fight he grabbed one of the guards beating OO and he took a swing at him.
That is a sin in jail. After that it was complete warfare between the students and the guards. We were 67 with nothing. They were hundreds with arms. If you swing at the guards they throw everything at you.
They made us lie in INDA concrete all day. It is like being put in an oven. Then they took us to Block E which is complete isolation.
For me from Block E I was taken to the Wenda Sector. Basically for Wendawazimu (the nut cases). Those are the cells for those considered mad. I was declared mad while at INDA,
What happened is that in our solitary cell we had issues one day. In the cell was David Murathe, Onyango CA, Omotto (We used to call him “Ofire”, Kibitsu Kabatesi, myself and this other guy whose name I forget.
In these isolation cells in Block E the Prison Guards give six of us in each one pail. Not vey big pail. You poo there and pee in this miserable pail all night and all day because you are not allowed to leave your cells at all. We were 67 students so we took 11 cells in E Block. The other guys in Block E were prisoners in death row waiting to be transported to Kamiti Maximum Prison to be hanged. There was one of those death row inmates who became a very good writer later. He survived and his case was not related to us but we got to know about him.
Anyways one day I call the guards to the door. I ask them to allow us to go empty the poo pail into the laterine outside. I mean literally. The guy says you are too late. Keep your poo box the way it is. I tell him it is full and overflowing.
Then he says that is your problem. I tell the guy my good friend here Onyango CA (not to confused with OO) can fill this thing with one shot of massive load. I told them we have to offload the pool of shit.
Then he says he doesn’t care.
I told him I care and then I unloaded the track of shit and all through the door.
The guards were astonished. They got the big boss to come in.
They asked who did it.
In our law we don’t talk. So we knew nothing. Inmates don’t talk about who did what. That is the law.
Then they grabbed Kibitsu Kabatesi because he had dreadlocks.
Then I said. I did it. Not him.
I was declared mad immediately and ended up in the mad people cell. That is where they got me from when we were released. They said we had to go to our home districts. People like OO, Adungosi, Rateng’ Ogego. Muga Kolale and may others were being kept in prison. In fact they stayed in jail until many of us who were released we were arrested and brought back to jail 3 years later in 1986. This time under the pretext that we were members of the Mwakenya movement. I mean we just loved Kenya and still do. That is all.
Then when they freed me they said go home. I refused. I went to my aunt’s house at the Railway Training School (RTS) where she worked. We used to call it RATASA and we loved that place.
I go there and I find this girl and I tell her I am looking for my aunt. She says she knows me from the university and she is going to take me to where my aunt moved in Golden States nearby. I tell her I am going to figure it out myself and leave.
I am thinking there are cops everywhere. Of course I was wrong in this case. I thought this girl was a police spy. She claimed she knows me. I have never seen her in my life. I knew that for a fact. She is in my aunt’s house and now she wants to take me to my aunt’s new house. I was having none of it. I said thank you and left.
I found my aunt’s house in Golden States because my friend (the spy) gave me very clear signs of where to turn. She must have thought I was nuts because I didn’t want any help from her but she kept giving me help.
Then I meet OO at Kamiti prison again. This was my second jail term and this time they took me to Kamiti. OO was in Kamiti Maximum Prison. I was in Kamiti medium prison. But I was in the coffins business at Kamiti, I had to check the coffins and they are at the max. So I used to go there and ask where Oloo and the others were. They heard about me inspecting the coffins and they said just burry us nicely.
That is exactly what just happened. Rest well Comrade.
But the way they killed people at Kamiti was really rough. The last killing day was in 1987. So I am at Kamiti medium. The hanging takes place at Kamiti Maximum Prison next door. Me I do the coffins. But the most important people are called Special Gang. They are in Kamiti Medium.
Before the hanging day it is a lock up in the entire prison. Members of the Special Gang are put in their own block and they are served with five star hotel kind of food for the two days the killing is planned and executed, literally. Then they hang the guys in these case it was the last batch of 1982 alleged and convicted coup plotters.
The hanging machine in Kamiti is a mess. It is very old. They are still using the death machines brought by the British Colonial nightmare to hang Mau Mau freedom fighters. They hang people and after that they drop them to the floor of the hanging room. (We prisoners had a special name for it I am going to remember it)
Most of the time the hanged are still alive when they drop to the floor. Then a bunch of prison guards descend on the half dead bodies with massive rungus to finish them off.
After that they are piled up in the coffins and the Special Gang goes to burry them in some secret place. The entire prison is dead quiet. Everybody knows what is going on. As a prisoner you feel the most helpless. They are telling you they can kill you just like that.
Next day we are out working and I am in charge of clothe washing and my fellow prisoners are telling me they don’t want to touch the clothes of the guards who had to rungu the half dead prisoners because the blood of those prisoners is on their clothes.
I tell them I don’t know which is which. My job is to give clothes to prisoners to wash and then they give them back to me. I told them just throw it into the water step on it rinse it and dry it. Blood gone. May be not.
But coming to Tanzania was something else. I get out jail after my second shift. This time for fifteen months. I go back to teaching in this Accounting Academy in Nairobi. Then trouble breaks up again.
My friend Omondi Obanda comes to the Academy and tells me the cops are coming. So I tell the students mostly accountants and professionals that I have to step out and will come back shortly. That was it. They never show me again. So we go to South B and burn all the documents we had. My aunt is puzzled. Then we leave and go to Bondo my home town.
My mom was very happy to see me with my friend Omondi Obanda. So she starts chasing chickens to make food.
Then to her astonishment I am leaving with my bag and my friend. She asks me what the problem was. I told her we were just going to the river to wash clothes. So she keeps chasing the chickens. We never came back. She never forgave me for that.
I feel bad about it but if I told her what was going on she would have been in a whole lot of trouble when the cops came looking for me because they would have figure out she is lying if she tells them she does not know where I am.
The way things were when the cops came she was ready to smash them with her cooking stick asking them to tell her where they took. She wasn’t listening to any nonsense because she genuinely had no idea where I was. So there is a science to whole madness.
We from home we go to my uncle Mawere Nyambara in Bondo Town who always employed me as his accountant and I tell him we are leaving the country because we don’t want to go to jail again. He asks me where we are going. I tell him we are going to Uganda. He said a flat NO. He told me we cant survive in Uganda. Instead he said we should go to Tanzania.
Then he takes us into one of his apartments and locks the door from outside. We were locked up pretty much. Then he told us he knows all the bad cops in Bondo and he was going to make sure they don’t touch us. He jokingly tells us he will find away to keep the cops busy doing other things as we figure out where to go and how. But the door remains locked from outside.
He sends in food but he says he is worried we were going to get nervous and do something stupid and get arrested again.
So he sends us to Tanzania but before that I wanted to go talk to my girlfriend, Naomi, who was a librarian at Maseno Teachers’ College. We get there and she helps us to get to South Nyanza to cross the border. We both knew we were losing each other forever. Pretty sad but there was nothing we could do about it.
Down there I meet Tom who is from Railway Training School in Nairobi, he was now working in his father’s mechanic shop. He was a great boxer there and he sees me and he couldn’t believe it. So I tell him we are getting out of the country and he says it is about time.
Now the plan. Tom takes us to the home of the area chief. Tom says if the chief gives us a stump we can cross the border pretending to go to a relative’s funeral after we use the stump some piece of paper to show we are going to a funeral.
We get there the chief is not home. So Tom starts charming the chief’s wife and we tell Tom we have no time and he tells us to keep quiet because he was working on something. So Tom’s something comes up. The Chief’s wife is ready to go grab the Chief stump and give it to us. Big problem. The stump is not there. The chief took it with him. It is money.
So we are stranded at the border of Kenya and Tanzania. Then Tom buys a bottle of chang’aa, you know the wicked achwaka and he says you guys have to take a glass each. I hit mine and Obanda did his. Then we said we are crossing the border right away. And off we were.
Then this kid shows up at the border. He says don’t cross with the bags. Give me the bags you cross and I bring the bags. So we listen to this kid and give him our bags and cross and wait and wait and wait for the kid to bring the bags to us. Finally we realized we had been robbed by a 9 year old kid.
So we went to Dar and that is where we met OO who was already there. And this is just the continuing of a long journey we have as comrades. From Dar we went to Canada both of us on the same day with Githirwa Muhoro. I will continue writing this piece. I have no idea where it will end if at all. I will continue tomorrow.
So we arrive in Canada. Onyango Oloo, Githirwa Muhoro and Adongo Ogony. The Canadian Immigration ministry picked us from the airport and took us to a place to live at Dundas and Jarvis. It was a lovely place.
But here is how we got there. Here we are in a CBC documentary done by Barry Greenwald about how refugees get to Canada. I look at myself in the doc and I say oh I was pretty once upon a time.
That is Mike Malloy the Canadian rep for Kenya and Tanzania. I talk to him and he says I am Ok for Canada. Then he tells me I have to go see a doctor to get a medical. I had never seen a doctor in my life. I was 28 years old and I am telling him I don’t need to see a doctor. I was fine.
I told him the only thing I have was ulcers from jail and the UNHCR were aware of it and it will take a while for that to kill me. So there is no problem. I will die of course I tell him, but t is a long way coming. So I am going to be a productive in Canada.
He sends me to the doctor anyway. The doc takes a lot of blood from me. I ask him why he needs so much of my blood. He says it is for tests.
Then my nightmare begins. The Canadians take your blood for tests if you are a refugee trying to come to Canada but they don’t tell you the medical test results. If you pass the test you get a Visa to go to Canada. If you fail the test you don’t get a Visa and they don’t tell you the results because it is illegal internationally to deny refugees entry into a country that is signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention which Canada is, based on health conditions.
This reminds me of the jail house at INDA and why were terrified of medical tests. One thing we hated in jail was line ups. So every time there was a line up we the students liked to be at the back.
Then we go for this line up and they are giving needles. Everybody is getting a shot. We ask why. They tell us it is for germs and bacteria that we are going to collect in the jail. So this was supposed to protect our health and save our lives. Great!
Then they come with their needles loaded. It was punch and punch and punch with the same needle for up to five or six people. They don’t even reload it. These needles hold a lot of stuff. So the prison meds just swing it from one person to the next within seconds.
We freaked out. It was a complete shock and outrage. We were in the HIV/AIDS era. You can’t do that. Next time they lined us up for the needles we went in front of the line. I don’t think that helped. First we were arguing who should take it first because we didn’t know who was safe. I mean just the sheer headache. Talk about protection from prison needles. We had none.
Back to Toronto, me OO and Githirwa rent a place at Pape Avenue. All three of us. Then Muhoro gets a job and moves to his own house. Mathenge, a great friend of ours comes to visit us at Pape and the landlord goes nuts on him and Mathege tells him to F off.
There we had a war and we told the landlord we were ready for battle. He backed off. Our roots are deep my friends and we have not even started yet. We will start. Believe me. Yes.
Anyways we move from the building at Pape Street. We go to Kennedy Road in Scarborough, Ontario. The OO marries his girlfriend Kathure and they have a baby.
I am very peaceful and quiet. Then I meet Rediet and we become very good friends. Rediet says I need to go and see my mom because I talk about her all the time. That is 1995. It was actually Christmas Time. Then she buys a whole lot of presents for my mom, her daughters and the little nephews and nieces.
So I go home. I just hit home. My mom couldn’t believe it. She asked me who is this girl who sent so much stuff to her. I told her she is from Eritrea and she is something else. Of course she is.
While I am home December 1995, my good buddy Comrade Muhoro Githirwa kills himself in his apartment in Toronto. It was a complete shock.
And on the same note, one year later in 1996, another good comrade of ours and close friend to OO and myself Mwakudua Mwachofi shoots himself in the head in Wisconsin in the US. He was the brother of the other well known Mwachofi, one of the seen bearded sisters that MOi loved to give hell and detain.
Anyhow I come back to Canada and Rediet and me have a son on August 21, 1997. The boy is named Karimi Daniel Adongo. Then in 2001 Karimi and me go home to see my mom and sisters.
My mom give us instructions. She tells the boy not to eat street foods which I like in Bondo. You know Nyama Choma and Kachumbari. My mom tells the boy he will have none of that. Because they are going to be a health hazard for him. Me I thought we could get some ideas around. With my mother you either eat roast food at home or you eat none at all.
So in the morning at 7 a.m my mom is at the door with mandazi and tea for this young man. How terrible is that. Can you believe it. And then Karimi and his grandmother just figured it out at their grandmother’s house.
One day they are shifting corn and beans in baskets with the grandma, cousins and nephews. The next day they are doing something and running in Bondo town where I was king. Anytime the kids showed up in town I had to figure things. This means I had to carry the weight including carrying the boy all over town. One of my uncles asked me: Does your back hurt? I don’t remember what I told him but may be my back was hurting at the time. It was great.
So it was all beautiful experience for me and the boy. Meanwhile his mother Rediet back in Toronto wasn’t having it easier either. Her close friends were asking her how crazy she was to let a four year old boy go to a foreign country. She told them she wanted him to meet his grandmother.
At the Eritrean Embassy in Nairobi where I took Karimi, we met very courteous officials. They were happy to see a young guy who by Eritrean Law was an Eritrean citizen and a very little kid. They wanted to know when he will be going back. I told them I will let them know. They said fine.
Anyway back and forth in Canada. I remember the day we launched Jukwaa and were doing all sorts of things. Before that we published the incredible HAKI monthly paper.
Then we go back to the country in 2003 and put this together.
I am pleased to have had the time today, to read the rich reflections on OO's life. By the testimony of many who have shared, the man lived a full life in half the time.
I remember sitting and chatting with OO at a Nairobi restaurant in 2011. It was a calm and splendid communion that till the deflating news of his demise, I always wished would repeat. Now only through the words of others, others with whom he shared his good life, does it. He was a good man!
Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.