The Making of a ‘‘University of the Future’’: A Conversation with Dr. Kennedy Okongó, Chairman of the University of Embu (UoEm) Council

University of Embu Council Chairman Dr.Kennedy Okongó during a graduation ceremony at the institution in 2020: PHOTO: University of Embu

The University of Embu (UoEm), was ranked the best performing state corporation in Kenya for the 2019/2020 financial year, in evaluations undertaken by the Public Service Performance Management Unit at the Ministry of Public Service and Gender.

The university, whose rich history dates back to 1947 when it started as the Embu Agricultural Staff College, has set its eyes firmly as an educational centre of excellence in the region.

The man currently chairing the university’s Council is Dr. Kennedy Okongó, who, at 39, has the onerous task of sustaining this streak of excellence.

Having been appointed to chair the Council in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Dr. Okongó says his work and that of the Council is clear; to position the UoEm as the ‘‘University of the Future.’’

The ICT policy specialist with stints in Africa, Asia and Latin America, holds a PhD in Information Systems from University of Cape Town, South Africa.

I spoke to him on his appointment, the COVID-19 crisis on the education sector and what the future holds for the university.

CG: Tell us a Little About Yourself

KO: I was born in former Western province but grew up in different parts of Kenya including Nyanza, Coast and Central provinces. I am an ICT policy specialist with interest at the nexus of public policy and digital technologies.

With over 10 years of work experience, I have had stints working in Africa, Asia and parts of Latin America, in both public and private sectors. In these roles, I have done analytical work, led in-country ICT policy dialogues and roundtables, delivered technical advisory to governments and intergovernmental agencies. I have also spoken on international platforms to amplify best digital inclusion policies and practices. Currently, I support the United Nations Foundation’s work in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone, like many African countries, is taking advantage of the opportunities provided by ICTs to advance its economic growth and I support the country’s minister for Information and Communications in living the aspiration.

I am the third born in a family of six – four sisters and two brothers. I am husband and a father of two. I hold a PhD in Information Systems from University of Cape Town, where my research focus was in the Policies and Economics of Information Systems, areas that I have vastly published on.

CG: As a Young Person What Did the Appointment Mean to You?

KO: Far from being mere beneficiaries of the 2030 Agenda, young people must be active architects in the frameworks and processes that support the global growth agenda. This must happen irrespective of the sector. We must claim our rightful positions!

I am deeply honoured by the confidence the Government placed in me by appointing me to be the Chairman of the University of Embu Council. Previously, I had served in boards of the public sector for close to 10 years. I had been slowly cutting down on my engagements in the public sector, so that I focus on private sector developments. I didn’t know about this appointment until it was official. It was a surreal moment. I hadn’t imagined I would Chair a Board of a State Corporation at 38.

The expectations are high and the big question is do you reject an offer by the State to serve the people? There was so much to reflect on this front but I have been lucky. I work with a great and talented team of men and women. They have been very supportive. I am on course. It’s been a great opportunity to return back to the society that has supported me in many things over many years. I would want to at least positively influence a few things in the sector and I am excited things are panning out in a promising manner.

Innovation is the engine of our institutional development development.We encourage novelty on this front.

dr.kennedy okongó

CG: What is Unique About UoEm?

KO: We are unique on many facets. Key of course are our Core Values and the Motto. At the University of Embu, we embrace accountability in all our engagements. For us, innovation is the engine for our institutional development. We encourage novelty on this front. We do have a highly qualified staff base, very talented and the staff embrace work ethics in provision of services. Key for us is that we link what we do with customer needs and expectations – future or current.

We truly acknowledge the unity of purpose as an imperative ingredient in our work environment. We do believe “Knowledge Transforms”, and so we tap into the growing stock of global knowledge, adapt it to local needs, and transform it into products and services that are valued by the markets around us.

CG: What Strides Has UoEm Made Since Inception?

KO: Firstly, this institution a long history. It started as Embu Agricultural Staff Training College in 1947. The training college was later renamed Embu Institute of Agriculture in 1968. In 1990, it was upgraded to Embu Agricultural Staff Training College. The mandate was to develop and implement short management and technical courses, and offer research and consultancy services to enhance performance in the agricultural sector. In June 2011, His Excellency President Mwai Kibaki converted it to Embu University College, a constituent college of University of Nairobi, through a Legal Notice No. 65.

Five (5) years later, on a Friday, 7th October, 2016 a historic event happened.  This day marked the transition of the Embu University College from a Constituent College of University of Nairobi to a fully- fledged University where The University of Embu was birthed and formally awarded a Charter by H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta.

In an endeavour towards effective delivery of university mandate, we are currently implementing our 10-year strategic plan (2018-2028). This plan has a clear focus with defined priorities to drive this University into some desired future. This has been achieved some milestones – in terms of infrastructure development, human capital recruitment, collaborations and strategic partnerships. The student population has consistently grown from nothing some 9 years ago to current 9000 students.

Dr.Kennedy Okongó speaks at a dinner hosted by the UoEm to celebrate a stellar performance after it was ranked tops in the Performance Management evaluation for the 2019/20 financial year. PHOTO: University of Embu.

From the perception surveys, we have become a university of choice. A growing number of prospective students choose us as a first option during placement by Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS). We have tried to accommodate all but are forced to disappoint a few due to limited placement options in certain competitive programmes. Though we have continually expanded our programmes – at both undergraduate and graduate levels, and also fostered collaborative partnerships with institutions and organisations of similar aspirations. Constantly we have also evaluated internal and external clients’ feedback which we have formed a basis of continuous improvement over years.

A growing number of prospective students choose us as fisrt option during placement by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS).

dr.kennedy okongó

When the pandemic happened, we quickly adjusted, thanks to our understanding body of staff. We embraced the new approaches to learning and have put in place policies and guidelines around open and distance learning as quality is key for us at the University of Embu. In fact, you must have read, heard or been told that we have consistently remained at ‘excellent score’ in performance contracting since financial year 2014/15. That is 7 years of clear excellent performance. It’s not a surprise, in the very recent ranking by State Department for Public Service, the University was ranked the best performing state corporation out of 200++ state agencies in the 2019/2020 cycle.

The current focus of the Council and the management is to transform the University of Embu to a world class institution of higher education. This will enable us play a leading role in the global arena of higher education, training, research and support. Towards this end, we have identified key areas upon which to build this success legacy. I am happy with these many strides since the college was founded, truly excited about the future and being part of that future.

CG: In What Ways Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected the UoEm?

KO: True to those words, the unprecedented pandemic has shaken the foundation of the University ecosystem. Prior, the faculty and students have operated in close proximity but the COVID-19 has changed the structure and even the business models that have sustained the University of Embu and other local Universities over years have been re-configured.

Following the Presidential directives and many other public health protocols, we have re-structured a lot of our operations to align with the new normal. We have moved certain operations fully to virtual platforms and some to a mix of the two or otherwise called a hybrid way of doing things. We were able to complete 2020/21 academic year through online teaching. We shifted teaching to online platforms and we continue to strictly implement recommended public health measures to date. Majority of Council and Management meetings are conducted virtually, except where necessary.

Although far from unique, the pandemic has brought unprecedented difficulties for all stakeholders, and myriad challenges remain across admissions, course delivery, and student and staff wellbeing. As a Council and Management, we have been immensely challenged. As a Council, we were appointed at a unique time but we consider it a unique opportunity to serve. We have focussed on re-positioning the University of Embu as a ‘University of the Future’. We are working as a together as a team and exploring everything we can to ensure we are on top of these disruptions.

Dr.Kennedy Okongó (left) with the UoEm Vice Chancellor Prof. Daniel Njiru (centre) and the Chancellor Prof. Musili Wambua. PHOTO: University of Embu.

CG: How is the UoEm Leveraging COVID-19 for Its Competitive Edge?

KO: Indeed, COVID-19 pandemic has created not only unprecedented challenges but also opportunities for universities.  Academics are looking to peers as well as trusted sources to help curate high-quality online learning tools. This is one opportunity for the higher education sector to unite, forge connections across the country, across the region and the world, and truly share what works in a global way. I don’t think, prior to this crisis, universities have been able to do this, and we will have missed a big opportunity if we don’t try to do that now.

Leaders in academia have been charged with restructuring systems, ensuring academics remains quality while operating with significantly diminished financial and human resources. These are challenges but I choose to look at them as opportunities to lead in innovative ways.

I am confident that we will be a resilient sector post COVID-19-if it ever goes and I believe it shall-and the University of Embu will learn from this experience.

dr.kennedy okongó

As leaders, we acknowledge that, in this moment, we are charged with responsibility for maintaining the continued operations, demonstrating care for those under our charge, and planning for future, all while working in and with on-going uncertainty. However, we do acknowledge no single solution can address the complexity of the issues faced around COVID-19. We are called upon to confront and tackle, challenges that include hiring freezes, extending promotion timelines, professional learning such as use of new pedagogical technologies – hybrid and hy-flex models of instruction. While all these are critical, the pandemic is also new and so these are not the kinds of issues that are well-addressed on the fly and in the absence of relevant data. Thus, an opportunity to model additional scenarios, given right data on COVID-19.

As a sector, I believe we’ll get through this stronger. When you go through a big national crisis or are hit by a global crisis on your local setting like this, you come out stronger because you’ve not only been fighting together, but also working together. I am confident that we will be a resilient sector post COVID-19 – if it ever goes and I believe it shall – and the University of Embu will learn from this experience.

CG: The COVID-19 Has Magnified the Need for Academia to Generate Solutions to Emerging Challenges in The Country. How is the Academia Fairing on this Front with Respect to the Pandemic?

KO: Firstly, this is an unprecedented public health crisis. It has exposed both the best and the worst of us as a sector. It has understandably caught us off guard and there are mixed signals and conflicting advice from different levels of academia, some have left stakeholders feeling forsaken.

However, at this precarious moment, when the proliferation of information, disinformation and misinformation from a variety of sources contributes to the spread of panic, universities and the scientific community are largely emerging as the best and most reliable sources of information that can address the pandemic and its terrible economic, political and public health consequences. Paradoxically, this pandemic has also been a game changer in terms of the public perception of universities which have been under attack in some parts of the world. Public universities have been discredited by both fake news and undermined by severe budget cuts – the current crisis now underscores the importance of research institutes for the future of a country doing catch up like ours and the world at large to face this and future threats.

At the same time, universities have excelled in many ways. University research has been critical to developing vaccines in extraordinary timeframes, saving millions of lives under threat. University graduates have been heroes of the pandemic response. They have offered their expertise on statistical, scientific and medical spaces. And beyond these short-term horizons, the key trends that were posing existential questions for university leaders pre-COVID are still with us. These have accelerated digital transformation that has characterized the global economy. 

University research has been critical in developing vaccines in extraordinary time frames, saving millions of lives under threat.

Dr.kennedy okongó

So as vaccine roll out gets scaled up, the critical question for leaders in the sector is how do we remain as lead advisors in the societies or bounce back stronger than before? I would add that higher education institutions have a duty to continue their activities, despite the restrictions that the current situation imposes. They represent a huge social investment that cannot be overlooked. Now, more than ever, they must make it clear that this long-term investment is a fundamental one for a better future. Sadly, it’s only in the future that we will only know if the best decisions were made.

Dr.Kennedy Okongó (extreme left) at a graduation procession, during the UoEm graduation in 2020.

CG: How Is the University Curriculum Responsive to the Needs of Kenya’s Labour Market and Economic Growth?

KO: Today’s universities are quite different from universities a couple of decades ago. The labor market is increasingly becoming more competitive and there is an increasing emphasis on instant results. I am persuaded to believe that for a university to stand the test of the current and the future labour markets, there is need for a greater emphasis on collaboration with industry and industry practitioners like you.

I find that there is a skills mismatch that is more of a problem than over-churning of graduates. I do not mean that higher education should be geared to providing highly specific skills that are currently needed by the industry. I mean general education and skills are equally valuable because they enable workers to respond to shocks in the economy, for instance, those that require sectoral change and advances in technology, and it would be essential that the current university curriculum – just as basic education curriculum – as being retweaked and continuously adjusted is understood in that context.

CG: What Are the Key Priority Areas for the UoEm Council?

KO: It is worrying that funding for the public universities is marginally down. Kenya has affected these, partly in response to a financial crunch facing the country. As a Council, we remain focused on mobilising resources to realize and keep on course with the University’s mandate of producing highly qualified professionals to participate in socio-economic advancement of the nation. This we do by promoting innovation, social equity and cohesiveness.

We are also keen to concentrate on our role of providing oversight, and ensuring compliance with good governance practices. We believe, there is need to continue enhancing the university’s standing as a place where focus on research and mentoring of young generation of leaders is central to what we do. I have confidence that together, with the Management, Staff, Students, Donors and the Community, we are on course.

CG: What Kind of Expertise Would You Be Relying on to Deliver the UoEm Vision?

KO: Our focus at the University of Embu is to be a dynamic epicentre of excellence in training and research. I am fortunate to be the Chairman of a Council that is comprised of great men and women, of diverse skill sets, diverse academic persuasions, diverse competencies, varied years of practical and professional experience in the higher education and adjacent sectors, and key for me is that each is ready to get down to work to deliver this University to the next level.

The competencies are of equal importance and I owe each and every member of the Council, including the Vice Chancellor, Professor Daniel Mugendi, an enormous debt of gratitude for the support so far.

CG: What Does the Future Hold for UoEm?

KO: We continue to work side by side with our stakeholders. We continue to impart key sets of skills and knowledge to our students to position them to succeed in the competitive global market. So, ours remains around fulfilling our mission with the future likely scenario in mind.

We may not, with exactness and precision, be able to predict the future, but we hold the key to ensuring our products are resilient and find fulfillment in the current and future market.

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The ‘End Justifies the Means’ for Kenyan Man, 38, Who Graduated from Varsity After Nearly 30 Years in the Academic Trenches

Mr.Mathew Nyamlori (centre) with his parents Nerea Diangá (left) and Mr.Thomas Nyamlori (right) after his graduation ceremony at Kenyatta University in July. PHOTO: Mathew Nyamlori.

If there was ever an army of people who have suffered in life, and lived to tell the story, Mr. Mathew Aol Nyamlori, would be a Five Star General of that army.

This man, whose middle name literally translates to ”I am tired” has pushed the limits of patience, beyond what physicists call the ‘‘limit of elasticity’’ and overcome all conceivable odds to achieve his greatest goal in life; academic excellence.

It is the reason why on 23rd July 2021, Mr. Nyamlori, 38, was trending in Kenya. This man literally took over all social media platforms by storm. And he did so for a good reason. On that day, Mr. Nyamlori graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from Kenyatta University in Kenya.

Mr. Nyamlori is no stranger to fame. For sometime now, he has been a constant fodder for the press, appearing in several interviews on TV, print and online. His singular story of determination, consistency and focus, is almost a fairy tale, the stuff that legends are made of.

His graduation from university was liberating. A breath of fresh air. Like a bird freed from its cage, Mr. Nyamlori tasted the fruits of academic liberty, one that he has followed through thick and thin, for almost 33 years.

It was the culmination of many years of hard work and sheer grit. He built his academic exploits by what former US President Barrack Obama calls, ‘‘block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.’’ Like Nelson Mandela, his has been a long walk academic to freedom.

‘‘This (graduation) means a lot to me. When you hold a university degree, you are free to interact with people from all walks of life, including the job market,’’ he says.

When I sat down with him to pick his mind on this incredible story, I really wanted to get a feel of what it must have felt like on 23rd July 2021.

‘‘That was the happiest day in my life. In fact, there are only two such days. The other day was in February 2012 when Equity Bank accepted me in their Wings to Fly Scholarship for my secondary education,’’ he tells me.

Mr.Nyamlori (left) during the interview with the writer. PHOTO: Catherine Naisianoi

He is most grateful that his parents were present to witness this watershed moment for their son, who in spite of the travails of life, demonstrated that nothing is out of reach if you stretch you hand to receive it.

‘‘Problems, like everything else in life, are temporary. Your life will end the day your heart stops beating. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel,’’ he says excitedly.

Mr. Nyamlori was born on 4th January 1984, at Kipsimbol, in the present day Bomet County, about 226 kilometres West of Nairobi, the ninth born in a family of 13. His father Mr. Thomas Nyamlori Aol was a tailor in Bomet, and at times doubling in menial jobs in the area to fend for his large family, while his mother Nerea Diangá was a casual labourer.

They are originally from Kokumu – Kagwel village in Nyakach, Kisumu County.

Problems, like everything else in life, are temporary.Your life will end the day your heart stops beating.There’s always light at the end of the tunnel

Mathew Nyamlori

His parents and other siblings fled Kipsimbol in 1992 at the dawn of multipartyism, with tribal clashes that ensured during the elections that year.

He remained at Kipsimbol at the home of an Administration Police officer who agreed to take him in, while his other brother got sanctuary at a neighbour’s.

Mr.Thomas Nyamlori Aol (left) and Mrs. Nerea Aol, Mr. Nyamlori’s parents. PHOTO: Mathew Nyamlori.

The End ‘Justifies’ the Means

Poverty knows no boundaries, so the saying goes. This is an adage that Mr. Nyamlori has lived through, all his life. But just like other phenomena in life, poverty is not permanent.

A glance at his WhatsApp profile, reads, ‘‘the end justifies the means,’’ perhaps borrowing from the famed Italian diplomat, philosopher, politician, historian and writer, Niccolò Machiavelli who advanced the thought in his seminal work, The Prince.  This has been his life mantra.

For Nyamlori, whatever it took to achieve his dreams, he would do. You see, this man secured admissions to big names like Kanga High School, Rapogi High School, Maranda High School, Kapsabet Boys High School, Maseno School, but was never lucky to actualize his dreams in those schools.

Like a restless shepherd looking to quench his thirst in a desert, Mr. Nyamlori first sat for his KCPE in 1998 at Kipsimbol Primary School in Bomet, and would later be a serial ‘‘resitter’’ of the exams in Rongo Primary School, Kitere Primary School, Sony Sugar Primary School in present day Migori County, Rangwe Junior Academy, Oriri Primary School, Agoro Sare Primary School, Agape Junior Academy in present day Homa Bay County, and Aldorebi Junior Academy in present day Narok County.

Why did he have to repeat school nine (9) times? What was he looking for?

Mr.Nyamlori in Primary School. PHOTO: Mathew Nyamlori.

‘‘The reason why I was repeating class eight was because I wanted to secure a scholarship for my high school. It was the only way out for me. I knew nobody would help me,’’ he says.

This explains why when the results of his first KCPE were out in 1998, he was disappointed to have scored 478 marks out of a possible 700.

He was targeting Starehe Boys Centre, which at the time, he says, only considered bright but needy students who had scored 550 marks and above in KCPE. It was then that he decided, he had to go for it, whatever it took.

Mr. Nyamlori then perfected the art of school nomadism, which for him was tactical. ‘‘I used to go to a new school every time, because I was avoiding areas where people already knew me, where I had been ostracized, suffered abuses and all manner of things,’’ he adds.

Between 2000 and 2001, he studied at Kanga High School in Migori County, dropping out in form two, after one of his distant aunties who was his benefactor, stopped paying his fees.

I was keen on finding out why, after all this, with his good grades, why no one seemed interested in extending a helping hand, and whether he made any efforts to seek assistance.

‘‘There’s nothing I did not do. I begged politicians; I was chased away even from churches whenever I requested for help. I didn’t stop at anything in my quest for assistance,” he adds.

Not relenting, this period of long suffering saw him have stints at construction sites, to fend for himself and his education.

Mr.Nyamlori (left) with another pupil at Rongo Primary School.PHOTO: Mathew Nyamlori.

At the height of it, he was forced to take shelter at a stranger’s outdoor bathroom in Rongo town, and this would become his home for a while.

‘‘I used to sneak in to the bathrooms at nights, when the owner was asleep and sneak out early in the morning before they woke up so I could go out in search for what to do. This was my home for some time,’’ says Mr. Nyamlori.

At one point, when he got admission to Maseno School. He was a daring man. Armed with just KSh. 7,000 that he had saved from his casual labours in Rongo town, he showed up at the school on reporting day. After constant pestering of the school administration, they allowed him in, but his stay was short lived. He dropped off again.

There’s nothing I did not do to get help.I begged politicians; I was chased away even from churches where I had gone to request for help.I didn’t stop at anything in my quest for assistance.


He admits that al his calling letters for Rapogi, and Maranda High School, are still lying at the schools, as he saw no need to picking them up if they would not amount to anything.

The 9×9 block and a Hot ‘‘Kitchen’’

Mr.Nyamlori at a construction site in this undated picture.PHOTO: Mathew Nyamlori

At one point he was working at construction sites in Mathare in Nairobi.

It was while in Mathare that he learnt that working at a construction site or mjengo as it is popularly in local slang, was no easy task.

He laboured there for a while but can’t forget the energy sapping struggle, all for a pittance of KSh. 100 a day.

‘‘There were areas I always dreaded. The first was offloading bag loads of cement delivered to the site from lorries, which we had to convey straight from the lorry to the top of a building. The guy at the end of the chain at the top of the building, was the one who also felt the weight,’’

But there was the dreaded ‘‘kitchen’’ where the ballast was being prepared. In those days, the automated ballast mixers had not come to the fore. It was this ‘‘manual’’ way of preparing ballast that was revered by everyone. Then there’s the 9×9 block, which he will never forget.

‘‘By the time you are through with the kitchen, you can’t even sleep. You body is aching like you are collapsing the next minute. The ears. The eyes. It was pain all over. Yet the following day, you must show up at the site again,’’ he notes.

At the height of the post-election violence in 2007, with the are being the epicentre of the skirmishes, he was forced to flee the city, back to the village for safety. He said, he would be better back in school.

He went to Oyugis town in present day Homa Bay County, enrolling at Agoro Sare Primary School. Here, he lived in one of the deserted class rooms which the school administration graciously agreed to let him use. He scored 394 marks out of a possible 500.He was admitted to Maranda High School.

He never bothered. It was at this point that Mr. Nyamlori, still determined in his academic quest, met a pastor who was sympathetic to his case. The pastor Oldomoro Ndege lived in Narok. He told this youngster that Narok being a hardship area, it would be easy for him to secure a scholarship if he performed well. He jumped to the chance, enrolling at Aldorebi Junior Academy manging 400 marks out of 500. He was called to Kapsabet Boys High School. He did not go. The scholarship was still not forthcoming.

1.Kipsimbol Primary School1998478/700Kabianga Boys High School
2.Rongo Primary School1999559/700Kanga High School
3.Kitere Primary School2002387/700St. Joseph’s Rapogi High School
4.Sony Sugar Primary School2003399/700St. Joseph’s Rapogi High School
5.Rangwe Junior Academy2004434/700Maseno School
6.Agoro Sare Primary School2008398/500Maranda High School
7.Aldo Rebby Academy2009401/500Kapsabet Boys High School
8.Agape Academy2010401/500Maranda High School
9.Oriri Primary School2011403/500Nairobi School
The various primary schools that Mathew Nyamlori went to: ILLUSTRATION: Chiimbiru Gimode

Lady Luck Smiles with ‘‘Wings to Fly’’

Mathew Nyamlori (standing third right) with other students at Nairobi School.PHOTO: Mathew Nyamlori

The year 2012 remains the year etched in Mr.Nyamlori’s memory with indelible ink. After eight years of repeating class eight with the hope of securing a scholarship, he succeeded in his ninth attempt. That year, Equity Ban Group, through its Wings to Fly Scholarship came calling. It was not the only scholarship he got that year, there were two others. But he says he preferred the Equity one because it also had a mentorship aspect which was quite critical.

But that is not the story here.

Fast forward to the day he was showed up at the selection panel for some screening interview for the prospective recipients of the scholarship. Mr. Nyamlori said he regaled the panel with his intriguing life story, so much such that at the end, the panellists contributed KSh. 3,000 for him. This was something.

 ‘‘After this interview I went back to the village and applied for a national identity card,’’ he says.

He can never forget the chairman of that panel Mr. Tom Kuyo and Equity Group CEO Dr.James Mwangi, for literally giving him the wings to fly in his academic journey.

When he reported to Nairobi School that year, he was received by a welcoming party, with celebrations to boot. His story was already well known.

He says prior to joining Nairobi School, his major worry was how he would fit in the company of his other younger peers in school. But he found the school warm, welcoming and instantly felt at home.

‘‘The teachers were very understanding. They supported me in every aspect. I am always grateful to them,’’ he tells me.

He exerted himself, scoring a B+ in his final exams, an in effect, securing an admission at the Kenyatta University for a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration.

Mr.Nyamlori at Kenyatta University.PHOTO: Mathew Nyamlori.

During his entire time at the Nairobi School, Mr. Nyamlori was a prefect from one to form four. He was also a student leader at the Kenyatta University.

‘‘Emotional Promises’’

Mr.Nyamlori poses for a photo at the Kenyatta University after graduation. PHOTO: Mathew Nyamlori.

If there’s anything that Mr. Nyamlori has learnt throughout this incredible journey, has been the fact that he can never trust human beings easily, especially when they make promises to him.

For instance, when he secured admission to Kenyatta University, many people, locally and abroad reached out to him, promising him to finish university and they would be willing to assist him.

‘‘Now that I have graduated, I have tried reaching them, they aren’t responding even to my text messages,’’ he tells.

His experience with what he now calls ‘‘emotional promises’’ is a long one. He remembers with pain, while at Maseno School, how he pestered his local Member of Parliament for school fees to no avail.

 This is despite the fact that the MP’s home was a stone throw away from his home in Nyakach. He attempted to meet the MP severally, to no avail. At one point, he decided to travel to Nairobi, in school uniform in a bid to secure an audience with his MP. He imagines, being in school uniform would elicit some sympathy from the legislator. It did not.

‘‘The MP instead told his Personal Assistant to write a letter to the school principal requesting him to allow me back to school. This letter was useless. The principal did not even look at it,’’ he recalls.

It is the same reason, he tells me, that even with all the publicity he has received in the recent years, there’s no one who has been interested in helping his cause.

He says he doesn’t understand why with all the publicity he has received, nothing positive is coming out of it.

Ready for the Battle Ahead

Throughout this interview, Mr. Nyamlori has been animated. There are times he is almost lost in deep thought. His journey of life has been a gruelling one, a rollercoaster of sorts, punctuated by the worst that life has to offer.

Having achieved one of his life’s greatest ambitions, it is now time for him to settle down for the journey ahead. With his degree in public policy and administration, he has acquired extensive knowledge in how to solve some of the pressing national challenges.

Mr.Nyamlori during the interview.PHOTO: Catherine Naisianoi.

He can now see his challenges within a prism, and can now see, how best they can be solved from a policy perspective.

‘‘About 90 percent of my life has been dominated by problems. Enacting sound policy will ensure that we limit some of these problems in the society,’’ he observes.

What he now needs is a job. Something to do. To keep him busy. To enable play a meaningful role in his country. To impact people. To inspire others. To leave a legacy.

‘‘With all my suffering, I think I deserve a job,’’ he says.

Until that is done, his graduation from university just opened a new frontier of another battle that he is now ready for. He is a Five Star General in the army of the suffering. He is aware of the terrains. He is prepared for the task ahead.

About 90 percent of my life has been dominated by problems.Enacting sound policy will ensure that we limit some of these problems in the society.


His fairy tale journey looks surreal, almost unbelievable. He is now at the cusp of what might be arguable the greatest breakthroughs of his life. But as the globally acclaimed Brazilian author Paulo Coelho says in his book, The Alchemist, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’’

Mr. Nyamlori harbours no ill feelings towards anyone who may have let him down at his trying moment.

He has chosen to focus on the future, to be the best that he can, no matter what it takes.

Mr.Mathew Nyamlori now marches confidently into the future, buoyed by his academic exploits.PHOTO: Mathew Nyamlori.

He has mastered the tides of life. He knows when it is convenient to make his sail.

It was the same wisdom that Brutus told Cassius as they contemplated the final phase of their civil war with the forces of Octavian and Marcus Antonius in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood,leads on to fortune
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

This is the time. This is the moment!

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Phone Call That Shattered My Life, And a Daddy Who Wouldn’t Be There Again, Forever

My late dad Mr. Charles Gimode. He passed away on 28th May 2019.PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

Memories of my father’s sudden death still linger in my mind, like it was yesterday.

Exactly this day, two years ago, my father Mr. Charles Gimode left without any goodbye. Without any last word. Just like that. And life has never be the same again.

The 28th May 2019 remains etched in my memory with an indelible ink.

On that day at about 8.30am, I received a call. It was from my dad’s handset. I was used to his calling me early mornings to get to know how I had woken up in the city, and of course, to get to secure some goodies from me whenever I was in a position.

On that day, it wasn’t him on the other end of the phone. My mother was Rose was. She was distraught. She was weeping uncontrollably. I could barely make out what she was saying. But in the din of noise in the background, she told me, that my old man was no more. He was 65.

Just imagine. Somebody who hadn’t been hospitalized in a long time. Hadn’t been in an hospital in the recent memory. Then you are told, out of the blues, that he is no more.

The news jolted me like a thunderbolt. It was unbelievable. How do you even reconcile this kind of news? How do you fathom this?

It’s been two years down the line, and today, I find the courage to write, the terrible loss of my dad and the fact that we shall never see him again.

After that eerie phone call, everything blew up. I couldn’t reach my mother anymore as she was inconsolable. The phone was in the custody of another uncle of mine who kept updating me of the proceedings.

I was helpless. My mother was 370 kilometres away. I was in Nairobi. It was painful. It was shocking. Yet I wasn’t there at that juncture to console her.

So, in the office, I went to see my immediate boss then. I told her what had befallen me. She was empathetic. She prayed with me. She told me it was important that I immediately make arrangements to go home. I have never forgotten her kindness.

I reached out to my siblings. I notified them of the sad turn of events. They were heart broken.

I was confused. I did not know what to do. By then my dad had been taken to morgue nearby, the Kimbilio Funeral Home, in Uasin Gishu County. This facility is run by the Living Room Ministries International, an American based religious, charitable, non profit corporation.

I was told he was initially rushed to the hospital, but was dead by the time of arrival. The doctor said he had succumbed to high blood pressure.

My mother was there when father died. She witnessed it first-hand. It looked like a gory movie. It was fast. It was furious. There was no time for goodbyes. He was no more.


A friend at an unusual time

I didn’t leave for home immediately though. I needed time to reconcile and absorb my new reality. I sat at my desk in the office. My mind was in tailspin. A few of my colleagues got wind of the sad news and were soon commiserating with me.

As I sat in my office distraught, at about 1 o’clock, a received a call from our main office gate that I had a guest who wanted to see me. I wasn’t expecting anyone that day. I was put through to talk to the guest only find out it was former college buddy seeking to see me. It had been a while since we last spoke.

He came to my office. We talked. He told me his dad had been hospitalized for a while now, and needed to undergo some emergency surgery to save his life. He had done all he could. He had exhausted all his resources. But it was him the family was looking up to salvage his old man’s life. He needed some money urgently.

But that isn’t the story. He had walked on foot from Umoja Estate, some 25 kilometres away, to come see me in Westlands, Nairobi, where I work. The previous night he had gone to bed on empty stomach. On that day he hadn’t put a thing in his belly.

I could see his shoes bore the mark of a long trek. He looked fatigued from the long distance. I was lost for words. More so because of the timing of his coming.

‘’My brother, if you don’t help me today, I don’t know what I will tell my mother. She is expecting that I will go back with something to salvage my dad,’’ he said amidst teary eyes.

Wow. I looked at him at said, ‘‘I feel you brother, but as we speak now, I just lost my father.’’ He slumped into his chair upon hearing that. He was crestfallen. He couldn’t believe that with such a devastating story, I still had energy to even speak to him.

He then looked at me and quipped, ‘‘You must be very strong. Your father is dead and you are still here talking to me?’’ I told him the die had already been cast and there was nothing much I could do about it.

I promised I would do whatever was in my ability to help him. I did it a few days later, in the midst of my grief. After all, what are friends for?


A week of sorrow

That evening, my brother and I left Nairobi for home at about 6pm. We drove the whole night, arriving at home about 1 am. Throughout the journey, we relished my father’s memories, by playing his favourite songs from YouTube, and reliving his life. He had instilled in us the love for music, and in me, he planted the seeds for my journalism career.

When we arrived home, we found my mother waiting for us. She burst into tears. We sobbed together. It was heavy. It was emotional.

Our arrival marked the beginning of a long week that would culminate in my dad’s burial on Saturday, 8th June 2019.

In the interlude, a lot was happening. Villagers and all who knew my dad trooped to our home every day. Everyone had an anecdote about him.

The most important part of this planning process is actually having in place a burial committee that coordinates all aspects of the burial, to the end. I was picked the treasurer for the committee.

It was hectic. I don’t remember how many times I actually put food in my mouth that week. Not because it wasn’t there, but because I was probably too busy or my hunger pangs had been numbed by the immense tragedy at hand. For most time, I slept for just two or three hours a night.

The most memorable time this period was the transfer of my father’s remains from the morgue to home. On Wednesday, 5th June 2019, in the company of some elders and my siblings, we went to Kimbilio Funeral Home to select the coffin that would be my father’s eternal bed. We did the selection. We identified a befitting suit. Then we went to see the morgue attendant, a Mr. Nzioki, to clear any other pending issues.

We cleared the hospital bill. All was set for his burial now. Mr. Nzioki showed us what I called the ‘‘book of death.’’ In it are names of all who have been through the morgue on their way to the land yonder. I don’t remember what number my dad was, but he was about somewhere in the regions of 3,600. Mr. Nzioki was a good man. He was professional. He did his job well.

I called Mr. Nzioki recently to say hello. I reminded him who I was. He could recall me. I told him I would see him soon, to thank him again, for taking care of my father at his loneliest moment.


An astute policeman

In my Maragoli community of Western Kenya, we believe that if someone dies well, that is they have exited the world peacefully through no machinations of another human being, they leave behind a trail of blessings. This can be in form of sudden rains even in periods of extreme drought.

Conversely, those who die through the connivance of other, whether killed or otherwise, they die with pain in them and may exert vengeance on those alive, as can be witnessed through destructive phenomena such as heavy thunderstorms that destroy property or even lightening strikes that may cause untold destruction. Those who have a hand in someone’s death are guaranteed never to know peace in their lifetime.

On that week of my dad’s death up until his burial, it rained heavily. The crops in the farms were almost flowering.The elders concluded he had gone in peace and left behind blessings of rain.

Many people from far and wide who knew him, showed up. The homestead was full to the brim. The groud was soggy, but this did not deter people. They eulogized him. They spoke well of a man of the people. We laid him to rest at about 2.30pm.

My mother, now a widow, is a strong woman. She has remained so since my father died, swiftly stepping into my dad’s shoes and into a role no one prepared her for, soldiering on with life. It has never been easy for her, I must admit.But she has faith, like we all do, that we shall meet dad again.

When my dad died, we had not experienced death in our nuclear family in a long time. That was something. For a man who had been a policeman for 26 years and fit as a fiddle, his death was a terrible stroke of bad luck.

His was a man of the people. No one can deny this. His death manifested the power of cultivating networks in the society.

After his retirement from the police service in 2004, my father kept himself busy with many community activities. He was a chairman of Parents Teachers Associations (PTA) of several local primary and secondary schools. He contributed immensely to raising education standards and general infrastructure for schools where he served. His track record there speaks for itself.

My father joined the National Police Service in 1980 as a constable. He rose through the ranks to the level of a Chief Inspector of Police at the time of his retirement and served as a Officer Commanding a Station (OCS) in a number of police stations.

My father, coming from the humblest of backgrounds in the deep recesses of Mwakibagendi in present day Kisii County, was a diligent worker.

My father’s exploits in the Police Service were admirable. In the days when he knew no god father in the city to hold his hand, my father found favour at every point in his career, especially the admiration from his superiors. All his career progressions were purely on merit, nothing else.

An uncle of mine told me that my father was a natural policeman. He loved the job with passion. He did it with exceptional zeal and finesse.

He was a leading parade commander during several public holidays in Western Kenya in his heydays, courtesy of his booming voice and authority.

He was a natural leader. He mentored many within and without the police service.

He helped mend many families that were on the verge of tearing apart, due to unending squabbles over various issues. These conflicts would on most occasions land at his desk as an OCS for preliminary arbitration.

One man who I met at my father’s funeral went so far as to tell me how my dad helped him when he was being disinherited of his rightful share of land.


A loving father

But to us, he was just our father. Even though as a policeman, we naturally revered him whenever he came home for his annual leaves in December. That was always a weeping ceremony. We diarized it.

It was time for our mother to read out the long list of every mistake we had committed throughout the year for ‘‘enhanced’’ punishment.

That is not to say that she hadn’t already worked on us thoroughly throughout the year. But bringing up seven energetic young men and two lovely daughters was no mean feat. It required some stamina to contain characters like me who were well known for notoriety. She needed further reinforcement from my dad. It always worked that way.

Our father knew how to balance sanctions and rewards. Amidst the showers of the cane that we would experience in the period, we knew it was also time to savour some goodies that he always brought along.

I am a father of three young children now. I feel the weight of parenthood. I can only imagine what my parents must have been through in raising the nine of us. My siblings all attest to this fact. 

My father sacrificed all for us. He forewent many personal pleasures to ensure we all amounted to something, amidst the numerous constraints he and mum faced in caring for us. He ensured we all got the education we needed to become better people in our lives.

Today, looking back, we appreciate his struggles the more, and the great lengths he went to see us grow into the gentlemen we are today. He instilled in us the values of hard work and the fact that if you have to succeed in anything, you have to show up and go for it.

My father’s death also gave me a first hand experience of what solidarity can achieve. The overwhelming support from the family, relatives, colleagues from work, friends and acquaintances from far and wide stood with us every step of the way. They supported us both morally, spiritually and financially at the hour of our need.

Without this support, the burden would have been unbearable. In a world fraught by many challenges from all corners, where people care more about themselves than others, it is rare to find people you can count on.

To date, we remain forever indebted to all who stood with us.

It’s been two years now since Mr. Charles Gimode took his sudden bow. We are lonelier without him, but we are certainly better off because of his sacrifices. His values of hard work, fortitude,forbearance,sociability and above all,respect for humanity, remain to us, his most cherished legacy.

It’s unfortunate that many of the grandchildren will never see him again and may never know the love of a grandfather. But in the race of life,we all have our entries and exits. My dad took his exit early, for good.

In his death, just like in life, he inspires us to soldier on and be the best we can in life. We shall never forget. May his soul continue resting in perfect peace in God’s bosom.

We shall see him again, in the land of paradise, where there is no surprise. No sorrows. No worries at all, as the song below assures us.

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Kenya 4th Best Country in Africa, 53rd in 2021 World Rankings

Kenya has maintained its 53rd global spot that it held in 2020.

Kenyan lakes are a sigh to behold and a magnet for tourists from around the world. PHOTO: Kenya Tourism Board.

Kenya is the fourth best country in Africa and 53rd globally, according to the 2021 Best Countries ranking released by the US News and World Report Best Countries rankings for 2021.

In Africa Kenya (which maintains the same spot it occupied in 2020) trails Egypt, Morroco and South Africa ranked 33rd, 38th and 41st globally.

Canada is the best country in the world followed by Japan and Germany in the second and third positions. The other countries in the top ten include Switzerland, Australia, United States, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Sweden and Netherlands.

In Africa, the other country that made it into the top five include Tunisia (65th globally).

The 2021 rankings released on 13th April 2021 feature global perceptions about 78 countries chosen because they contribute most to the world’s GDP.

Why are the Rankings a Big Deal?

Countries were also ranked on their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Well, according to the report, formed in partnership with BAV Group, a unit of global marketing communications company VMLY&R, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, more than 17,000 people around the world were asked to evaluate the countries based on 76 attributes ranging from political stability to racial equity to health consciousness.

These attributes were further broken down into 10 sub rankings namely; Adventure, Agility, Cultural Influence, Entrepreneurship, Heritage, Movers, Open for Business, Power, Social Purpose and Quality of Life. Participants assessed how closely they associated an attribute with a nation.

A third of the survey respondents were business leaders; one-third were college-educated individuals who were middle class or higher; and one-third were from the general population.

 ‘‘The more a country was perceived to exemplify a certain characteristic in relation to the average, the higher that country’s attribute score and vice versa,’’ notes the report.

This year, Agility and Social Purpose ranking were introduced to assess the responsiveness and adaptive capabilities of countries to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated challenges.

Kenya’s Score in 10 Key Indicators:

Who Was Surveyed?

In order to arrive at the 2021 findings, the survey engaged citizens of various countries ‘‘who are broadly representative of the global population, with an emphasis on those who would deem the topic and findings most relevant to their lives.’’

Three broad groups were identified:

  • Informed elites – college-educated individuals who consider themselves middle class or higher and who read or watch the news at least four days a week;
  • Business decision-makers – senior leaders in an organization or small business owners who employ others; and
  • General public – adults at least 18 years old who were nationally representative of their country in terms of age and gender.

A total of 17,326 individuals from 36 countries in four regions – the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East & Africa – were surveyed.

Of the respondents, 10,068 were informed elites, 4,919 were business decision-makers and 5,817 were considered general public with some of the respondents considered both informed elites and business decision-makers.

The identified participants took an online survey through Lightspeed GMI, a global market research and data collection firm. ‘‘We aimed to gather an equal share of responses from each type of citizen,’’ says the report.

Kenya’s performance in other indicators:

Source: US News World Report 2021

Why Canada Beat Them All

Toronto, Canada: PHOTO: Courtesy.

While it is the first time that Canada came top in the rankings that began six years ago, the country posted exceptional scores in almost every indicator.

Key areas that earned the North American state favourable perceptions include the quality of life, social purpose, agility, entrepreneurship, and an “open for business” climate.

It was also perceived by a majority of respondents as having a good track record in the job market, in dealing with corruption and impressive commitment to social justice and human rights.

‘‘There’s very, very little controversy that happens [in Canada], so it’s a country that people feel very positive about,” says Professor David Reibstein, of Wharton University of Pennsylvania and a key figure in the annual report.

Asia, Middle East and Africa Have More Favorable Views on the COVID-19 Pandemic Aftermath

The report shows that a majority of the respondents in the Asia and Middle East & Africa feel more socially connected and that society has become more caring since the pandemic.

‘‘For example, at least 70% of those surveyed in both regions say that society has become more caring. The percentages were lower for those two pandemic-related survey questions in Europe and the Americas; less than 50% of respondents in both regions say they feel more socially connected since the crisis,’’ notes the report.

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First Timer: How My Maiden Visit to Nyayo Stadium Turned into a 4 Hour Agony

We all have our first time at doing things in life. My first time in Nairobi was uneventful, losing my way for four good hours and learning my lesson the only way; the hard way.How was your first time experience?

Former President President Mwai Kibaki addressing the nation from the Nyayo National Stadium during the Madaraka Day event in 2011. PHOTO: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters.

The year was 2005.It was Kenyatta Day, on 20th October (Now Mashujaa or Heroes Day).

I was just 10 days old in Nairobi. The Green City in the Sun. The city of a thousand lights. For the streetwise, it is simply shamba la mawe (a rocky farm).

I had just reported to the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC) for a three-year Diploma course in Broadcast Journalism.

I must admit it was my first time in Nairobi, as an adult. When my father used to work in Nairobi as a police officer at the Parklands Police station in the late 80s, I vaguely remember the experience when we visited him with my mother and other siblings.

I was too young to remember anything concrete, except the flickering lights of aeroplanes at night, the City Park which had a maze and the monkeys harassing and eventually snatching a packet of peanuts from my twin brother. He was haunted by the experience for a long time.

That’s why my come back to Nairobi in 2005 was incredible. I reported to college late due to financial challenges. My father had just retired and was waiting for his pension to be fast tracked so he could take me to college. I am forever indebted to him for the sacrifice.

When we came to Nairobi, we put up at a cousin of mine. We came on 9th October, and early the following day, we went to report to college. But then it was Moi Day, even though we thought that since it wasn’t being observed as an official holiday, the college would be open.

Anyway, we went back to my cousin’s. On 11th October, we were back there, bright and early.

I got admitted. My father and twin brother went back home.

For those who know it well, the KIMC is in South B precisely along Uholo road, off Mombasa road. For the alumni, it is simply, the Powerhouse that has churned out media practitioners since 1961. For those of us who went there, there’s none like KIMC. It is a fact we don’t hide. We hold it aloft like a badge of honour.

Now the Nyayo National Stadium is about 3.5 kilometres away from KIMC.

It was here that on 20th October 2005, the Kenyatta Day celebrations were being held.

I was excited. Now I wouldn’t have to watch the event on TV, I had an opportunity to be live on location!

So together with my new friends we planned to be there to see the President at close range, and witnesses the usual razzmatazz that characterizes the event. This time, I was there, live!

We were there by 10am, the four of us.

At about 11.30am the celebrations began. As always, the entertainment, followed by speeches. After the event was over, we had the rare opportunity to storm the main dais to have a feel of the seats used by the VIPs! It was an incredible feeling for me. A sense of achievement.

I called back home on my then Motorola phone to announce my unlikeliest experience. It was exhilarating. It was a grand day. And one more important event to crown the day awaited us.

It was the first time we would be serving a sumptuous meal of chicken in college, which would be a once in a week routine. It was our first chicken feast. It was special for us. Where I come from, no meal beats the chicken. We are proud of this tradition.

We had agreed amongst us that as soon as the event was over, we would immediately dash back to college so we don’t miss this important ‘‘ceremony.’’

But there was a small problem.

You see when we entered the Nyayo Stadium, we used the lower exit around the Nyayo round about. But after relishing the VIP experience on the main dais, I lost track of my friends.

Seeing that I would waste more precious time looking for them, I decided to dash back to school. Except for one thing.

I excited the stadium using an upper exit that immediately lands you on Langata road. Now being a newbie, I couldn’t notice the fact that I was on a different road.

I mistakenly assured myself that I was on Mombasa road, heading back to KIMC.

So, in short, I dived straight up into Nairobi West estate.

I see walked on. I thought I was on the right path. I began sensing trouble when after a reasonable distance, KIMC wasn’t anywhere in the vicinity.

I did rounds in Nairobi West in into South C and at one point even reaching Wilson Airport. During all this time, I never bothered to ask anyone for clarification. You see when leaving the village for the city, I had been warned to be wary of strangers in Nairobi and avoid any unnecessary interactions that may expose me to the cunning townspeople.

So the trick I pulled was to walk with confidence as if I was a local and familiar with the area. At some times, I reached a dead end, and had to turn back. I did this several times.

We are now heading to 2. 30pm.The chicken feast is now fully out of question. Now survival and finding my way back to college was the most important consideration.

I couldn’t call the guys we were with since being new acquaintances, we hadn’t even exchanged contacts

Additionally, even if I had their contacts, they were all from the village just as I was and as such wouldn’t have helped my case.

 I soldiered on.

I was getting overwhelmed by hunger now, given the lad meal I had was breakfast. But I was determined to trace my bearings by hook or crook.

It was now heading to 4pm. I was getting frustrated. Then I had a eureka moment. An idea crossed my mind. Almost like an epiphany.

I said to myself, if I am able to locate the direction of KICC from where I was, I would easily get my bearings correctly.

So, I walked again for some distance. Got to a raised place and could see the Central Business District from afar and KICC standing majestically in the concrete jungle.

I figured that if I took a northerly direction, I would probably find a better way around the conundrum. Some sort of Pythagoras Theorem at work. Remember up until now, I hadn’t asked anyone for any direction.

 True to my instincts, I marched forward and voila! I was thrust on to Popo Road somewhere near the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) offices.

I could see Belle Vue to my left and of course Mombasa Road! What a relief. I was so battered by the long distance covered, famished and fatigued. I was almost losing it with each passing minute.

Soon I was on Mombasa Road and later, back at KIMC safe and sound.

I got to my friends who were equally worried at my absence, especially at the lunch hour. I had to conjure up some lies instantly. I told them I had gone to see a friend in Nairobi West and that the visitation had dragged on given we hadn’t seen each other in years.

They bought the lie, line, hook and sinker! I was surprised that they couldn’t immediately tell the litany problems from the dusty shoes to the dry mouth.

All this while, within me, I was almost collapsing from the four hours of walk and my immediate concern at the moment was when dinner would be served so I could mount a revenge mission for my lunchtime woes.

I will never forget that day. It was my first time in Nairobi. It remains etched in my memory with indelible ink.

We all have our first moments in many spheres of life and our outcomes are not always the same.

How was your memorable first-time experience?

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Adventures in the North, Part V: Walking In the ‘‘Footsteps’’ of Jesus!

In this final episode of ‘‘Adventures in the North,’’ we focus on Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Shrin noe in Lodwar town, Turkana County, that offers a lifetime experience on the ‘‘Way of the Cross.’’

Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Shrine in Lodwar, Turkana County. It has the ”Way of the Cross,” symbolizing the journey that Jesus Christ took in his last day on earth. It is a favourite spot for spiritual retreat.PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

The 2021 Easter season is here with us.

So just like 2020 (which most people wish to forget completely), this year’s Easter is no different.

It takes place against a backdrop of stiffer measures announced by the Government to stem the tide of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been a tough year. Things don’t seem to get any better. It feels like we are in a time capsule.

The new measures announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta have hit virtually every sector hard. Everyone is felling the pinch.

The president declared five Counties as a Disease Infected Area (DIA) with restrictions on movement into and out of this area until otherwise advised.

The DIA comprises Nairobi, Machakos, Kiambu, Kajiado and Nakuru Counties. Religious activities in these Counties remain in abeyance, especially the usual congregational or physical worship.

‘‘That all physical/in-person and congregational worship in ALL places of worship in the Counties of Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Kiambu and Nakuru stands suspended until otherwise notified,’’ said President Kenyatta in his fifteenth address to the nation on 26th March 2021.

With Easter now with us, in ordinary times, worshippers in the DIA would have thronged the churches during this period to mark this watershed moment in the Christian calendar.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the core of the Christian doctrine.

For the Catholic Church particularly, the Easter season is a solemn period that witnesses a series of activities full of religious symbolism, the most common being the Passion of Christ, where the faithful reenact various significant events of the period.

It is now common to see worshippers walk some distance, with some carrying the cross, and walking the various stages that Jesus walked on his way to crucifixion at Golgotha, which in Hebrew means, the ‘‘place of skulls.’’

In countries like the Philippines with staunch Catholic adherents, they have taken these observances a notch higher. It is commonplace to see people nailed on the cross.

A Filipino worshiper nailed on the cross as part of Easter rituals. PHOTO: EPA

But in Kenya, with the new measures, some of these activities now have to be significantly scaled down. With churches in the DIA now left with no option but to offer services online or through other platforms, it is impractical for some of these spectacles to take place.

However, outside this red area, worship is permitted in line with the Ministry of Health protocols that require places of worship to accommodate just a third of the usual capacity.


The reenactment of the ‘‘way of the cross’’ is a special event in the Christian calendar, especially for the Catholic Church.

In Lodwar, Turkana County in north-western Kenya, the Catholic Church has established a shrine that offers faithfuls and tourists alike, a feel of the real ‘‘way of the cross.’’

Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Shrine is a magnificent attraction is immediately visible as you descend into Lodwar Airport, as it is perched conspicuously on a one of the many hills that shield the town.

The entrance to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Shrine in Lodwar.PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

That hill and the surrounding area is now simply known as Jubilee Centre (no connection with a political party going by the same name), and is the headquarter of the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar, one of the most influential institutions in the area.

The Catholic church has sponsored the education of many needy students who have gone ahead to make a difference in the area. It oversees several institutions spanning education, health, and social services among others.

It was unveiled in 2011 to mark 50 years of the existence of the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar. The initiative is the brainchild of the then Bishop of Lodwar, Dominic Kimengich, who is currently the Bishop of Eldoret.

According to its website, the Diocese of Lodwar has 30 Parishes within four (4) deaneries, overseen by 15 Diocesan Clergy and 30 missionary priests. In total, there are 50 priests. There are also 15 Seminarians and over 70 religious nuns and 12 religious brothers working in the Diocese. 

The shrine is a place of worship, a venue for ordination, family days and a refuge for Catholic faithful to go for recollection and where children are taught how to live meaningful and Godly lives.

At the zenith of the hill is a larger-than-life statue of Jesus Christ, overlooking the town below. It is now Lodwar’s trademark.

The statue of Jesus at Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Shrine in Lodwar. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

It is a spectacle reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty in the USA or the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Jeneiro, Brazil, which is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

But it is only when you have a personal experience of the place do you begin to appreciate why it is special.

According to Emmanuel Cheboit, a journalist based in Turkana County, the area that presently consists modern day Lodwar town, used to be referred to by locals as Namoru-Kirionok, which in the local dialect loosely means, ‘’a place of hills with black stones.’’

Generally, Lodwar town is surrounded by several hills, and all of them, because of the arid nature of the environment, and probably from the intense heat, have rocks that appear dark from afar, even though at close distance, they are dark brownish.

It is this unique appearance that characterizes most hills in this part of Kenya.

‘‘All those hills surrounding Lodwar town don’t have a particular names. They are described by their appearances. It is the same case with other areas of Turkana County like Loima, which are also quite hilly, but all those hills are generally referred to as Loima hills,’’ says Mr.Cheboit.

The statue overlooking Lodwar town in background.PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

Last December, my colleague and I decided to visit the ‘‘Way of the Cross.’’ Like curiosity that killed the cat, we were anxious to find out exactly what the place looks like.

The Lodwar Airport. In the background, is the Jubilee Centre, that hosts the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Shrine. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

Many questions lingered in our minds. What must it feel like to take the same journey that Jesus took in his last moments on earth?

You see, some of these questions do not have easy answers. While it is one thing to read stuff in the Scripture, it is another to be called upon to live through the experience, or walk in the shoes of those who underwent the actual experience.

So one evening we decided to go. It was about 6 pm. The sun was feebly splashing its last rays on the horizon yonder, and Lodwar township, which feels like a kiln by the day, was now experiencing some calm relief.

For a place that can witness temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius, it takes a lot of adjustment for newcomers, to fully appreciate the way of life there.

But we weren’t successful on our maiden attempt. We were late. The guard advised us that people aren’t allowed at the premises beyond 5pm.

So we planned to be there at about 10am instant the following day.

The path to the top of the hill.PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

The sun was hot. We were literally melting and soaking in sweat. The journey to the hill is no mean feat. You have to withstand the steep climb, weather the rocky ground, as the sun batters your head.

For a pleasurable experience, it is advisable that you have the right shoes on. And a bottle of water.

According to Jacinta Kanini, the ‘‘Way of the Cross’’ has 14 stops, each signifying a milestone in the long, grueling journey that Jesus was subjected to on his way to crucifixion.

At the first stop, Jesus is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

The 14 stops are modelled along the Via Dolorosa, a Latin word meaning “Sorrowful Way” or “Way of Suffering” a processional route believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. In the Old City of Jerusalem, this stretches covers about 600 metres and attracts Christian pilgrims from far and wide. It starts with the condemnation of Jesus by Pontius Pilate to his death and being laid in the tomb.

These are the 14 stations: (1) Jesus is condemned to death, (2) he is made to bear his cross, (3) he falls the first time, (4) he meets his mother, (5) Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross, (6) Veronica wipes Jesus’ face, (7) he falls the second time, (8) the women of Jerusalem weep over Jesus, (9) he falls the third time, (10) he is stripped of his garments, (11) he is nailed to the cross, (12) he dies on the cross, (13) he is taken down from the cross, and (14) he is placed in the tomb.

At every stop, you are expected to make your intentions known. Here, there are also verses from the Scripture that speak to various issues.

The moment we arrived at the first stop, my colleague, whispered some prayers and intentions. I watched, almost feeling guilty myself, for not mumbling even a word. It was beginning to be a humbling moment right there.

My colleague Ms.Janet Imunya at the second stop where Jesus carries the cross. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

We then inadvertently took a route, which we felt was the shortest to the top of the hill. We eventually came face to face the imposing edifice of Jesus that stands majestically at the apex of the hill, about 10 metres high, almost in supplication to the town below.

At the tail end of the 14 stages is the holy water, which is replenished by the Bishop from time to time.

The top of the hill is exhilarating. The view of Lodwar town below is exhilarating. It is not for the faint hearted though. Those with acrophobia may not find it a pleasurable experience.

For about two hours, we delight ourselves at this wonderful piece of art. By the time we made our way down, the fatigue was real. Our feet were already manifesting the vagaries of climbing the rocky hill.

A selfie moment stop the hill after an ardous climb with my colleague Ms. Janet Imunya. Lodwar town can be see in the background. The journey uphill is no mean feat. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

Ms.Kanini tells us that the majestic spectacle is the handiwork of a priest, known as Father Simon, a Malawian a priest in Kenya.

He is the one who conceptualized and moulded the statues on the hill using cement, sand and iron rods. Due to wear and tear from exposure to the elements as well as vandalism from nefarious guests, Father Simon has the added duty to regularly maintain the premises.

‘‘There are people who go up there and are reckless. Some of them vandalize the statues and these have to be restored from time to time,’’ Ms.Kanini says.

It is for this reason that the Diocese resorted to charging a nominal fee for people visiting the place, as a means to get funds to carry out repairs from time to time.

The 11th stop where Jesus is nailed on the cross.PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

They also sell some souvenirs to guests who may wish to carry a piece of the shrine and keep the memory for long.

Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Shrine a favourite spot for the hospitality industry in the region, that now serves their customers a one in a lifetime walk in the footsteps of Jesus. It is now one of the must see places in Turkana County.

So next time you are in Turkana County, don’t miss a walk in the footsteps of Jesus!

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Adventures in the North,Part IV: Turkana Women’s ‘Hands of Gold’’ Churning Out Exceptional Artifacts

As the world marks the International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8th March 2021, whose call to action is #ChooseToChallenge, a group of women in Turkana County, north-western Kenya are doing something that deserves some mention.

Turkana County in north-western Kenya is famed for many things.

You see, the people there boast of a rich culture, it is an incredible archeological site and home to the Turkana Boy and the Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world.

And there are many other things that stand out from that part of Kenya.

But what would probably catch your attention are the artifacts that originate from there, some that are a sight to behold.

Perhaps the most amazing thing is what natural talent can do whenever human beings decide to exploit their God given abilities.

Ms.Josephine Lobur, the coordinator of the Taste of Turkana Women Group shows some hand woven baskets that her group has made. The project is transforming the lives of many women who now earn meaningful living from it. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

This is what the Taste of Turkana Women Group is adept at. These exceptional women have been at it for almost three decades now.

The women who started out this group in 1992 under the aegis of the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar, have now distinguished themselves as master crafters, and their handiwork is manifested in the quality hand woven laundry baskets and other artifacts that have become popular with locals and tourists alike. 

The over 200 women have made a mark not only in their lives, but also contributed greatly to the heritage of the County. With the proceeds from the weaving, the women can fend for themselves, in a dignified way.

Palm trees on the shores of Lake Turkana.They are important raw materials for the making of various artifacts. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

‘‘The money goes to the women. The women have benefited greatly from this project, which has helped them support their families,’’ says Josephine Lobur, the group’s coordinator.

Over the years, the business has been thriving largely on referrals from previous clients, and locals.

It is now quite commonplace to see domestic tourists who throng the area, coming out with a piece of the County; the masterfully created artifacts.

Lodwar Airport has opened up Turkana County for business. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode

The Lodwar Airport has significantly boosted tourism in the area and so are other transformative infrastructure projects like the upgrading of the Eldoret-Kitale-Lodwar-Lokichoggio-Nadapal road, which has opened up the northern part of the country for increased business.

And a lot is going on there.

For Ms. Lobur and her group, the need no create stable market base is now an imperative. The need to expand their horizon. To reach out to more customers that may be interested in their products.

Handwoven table mats by the Taste of Turkana Women Group. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode

The group, alive to the prevailing market dynamics, is now in the throes of coming up with an online platform to not only showcase their products, but also provide an easier way to connect with their customers far and wide.

‘‘We currently have no website but we intend to put up one soon so that customers can interact with us and even make orders online easily,’’ she adds.

Besides steady markets, other challenges include transportation for the raw materials, which they source locally from the shores of Lake Turkana, which is about 70km away as well as for the finished products to markets within and outside the county.

The upgrading of roads in Turkana County is making transportation easier and connecting people. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode

Water is also a primary challenge in the arid area. They need it, not just for domestic use, but also as an ingredient for their work.

‘‘Making the products is also time-consuming due to the need to process the raw materials while balancing with other competing domestic chores,’’ observes Ms. Lobur.

In spite of the challenges, the women march on, weaving one artifact after another, and living true to their name, of giving their customers, far and wide, a ”taste of Turkana.”

Next time you visit Turkana County, and you are in Lodwar town, be sure to ask for some articles being produced by this group. You will be mesmerized.

And as the world marks the International Women’s Day on 8th March 2021, whose call to action is #ChooseToChallenge, the efforts of these women from Lodwar, Turkana County, deserves some mention.

Star Witness Who Pocketed KSh. 317K to Fix the ‘‘Kapenguria Six,’’ Later Charged with Perjury

The Kapenguria Six in a group photo with Daniel Arap Moi (third right). They are, L-R: Bildad Kaggia, Kungu Karumba, Achieng’ Oneko, Jomo Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, and Fred Kubai. PHOTO: African Heritage House.

Rawson Mbugua Macharia, the star witness during the Kapenguria Six trial was allegedly paid  £2,070 (about KSh. 317,952 at current exchange rates) as ‘‘protection benefits.’’

Details from the proceedings of the UK House of Commons of 30th June 1959 show that Mr.Macharia, for accepting to be a prosecution witness, first asked whether the Government would give him protection on 6th November 1952.

And for his testimony, it is now understood that the colonial Kenya government rewarded him with a return trip to England, and a scholarship to undertake a 2-year public administration course.

‘‘The Kenya Government paid to Macharia and his dependants a total sum of £426 (KSh.64, 433) in Kenya and £1,644 (KSh.252, 518) in the United Kingdom,’’ said Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd, the Secretary of State for Colonies during a question-and-answer session in the House of Commons.

Mr. Lennox Boyd was responding to a question by a British legislator Mr.Charles Hale, who had sought an explanation from the Secretary of State for the Colonies the total cost to the Government of payments in money and grants of educational benefit, travelling and other allowances made to one Rawson Mbogwa Macharia since July 1952.

Mr. Hale had also sought to establish whether the payments were promised before or after the trial at which Macharia gave evidence. Mr. Lennox-Boyd was categorical that that Mr.Macharia gave the evidence without any manipulation.

‘‘In an interview on that day—6th November—with the then public prosecutor, Mr. Somerhough, after going over the statement of 6th October, Macharia asked whether the Kenya Government could give him protection should he give evidence against Kenyatta, and the deputy prosecutor said he would raise the question with the authorities concerned,’’ noted Mr. Lennox-Boyd.

The Kapenguria six: Jomo Kenyatta, Achieng’ Oneko, Bildad Kagia, Kungu Karumba, Paul Ngei and Fred Kubai were arrested in 1952 after the declaration of the state of emergency by the then Governor Sir. Evelyn Barring.

After standing on trial for six months, the six were found guilty and sentenced to seven years imprisonment with hard labour. They were detained at Kapenguria, with some of them doing stints in Lokitaung, Lodwar, Maralal, Manyani and the Tarkwa Special Detention Camp.

Rawson Macharia was later charged for perjury.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies however categorically denied that even though Macharia was found to have given false testimony, it wasn’t as a result of any undue influence, as noted by the magistrate in the findings.

Lennox Boyd, the British Colonial Secretary. PHOTO: National Potrait Gallery, UK.

‘‘The magistrate found that although Rawson Macharia gave false evidence at the Kapenguria trial he was not suborned to do so. He also found that the six other prosecution witnesses whom Macharia alleged had been suborned had not been suborned and had in fact given truthful evidence at Kenyatta’s trial. These included the three men whose evidence was considered by the Kenyatta trial judge as ” the most important piece of evidence ” against Kenyatta,’’ said Mr. Lennox-Boyd.

The other witnesses were identified Ephram, Johanna, and Stephen.

Following the case, British legislator Mr. John Stonehouse called for a judicial inquiry into the Kapenguria Six mistrial saying the turn of events had put the credibility of the whole trial in question.

‘‘As the magistrate in the recent case called him a perjurer, and as that case has thrown a very grave doubt on the conduct of the original trial at Kapenguria, is it not in the interests of justice in Kenya that there should be a judicial inquiry?’’ posed Mr.Stonehouse.

However, Mr. Lennox-Boyd dispelled any aspersions as to the integrity of the judgment.

‘‘It is quite untrue that anything has emerged to cast any doubt whatever on the validity of the sentence passed on Kenyatta,’’ said Mr. Lenox-Boyd.

The trial of the Kapenguria Six was a high stakes case.

It was submitted by the Kenya National Archives and Documentation Service (KNADS) for inclusion in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, which is a list of documentary heritage of world significance and outstanding universal value.

The entry is titled, The Arrest and Mistrial of Jomo Kenyatta and Five Other Nationalists.

Jomo Kenyatta and his co-accused were framed from their prominent role in the affairs of the Kenya African Union (KAU), the pre-eminent colonial era party championing the rights of Africans. In the period leading to the arrest of the six, KAU had waged a sustained agitation for various issues affecting Africans during the colonial period, particularly the desire for self-government and the return of land “allegedly” taken away from Africans.

The prosecution argued that even though the top honchos of KAU were appeared to be appealing to the outside world of their resolve to pursue self-government through constitutional methods, they were, on the contrary, secretly planning, organizing and developing the Mau Mau society, which was later designated a terrorist organization.

So On 17th November 1952, Supt. K.R.T. Goodale who was at the time an acting Superintendent of the Kenya CID, Special Branch, applied before a District Commissioner, who was also a Magistrate, for warrants to arrest Jomo Kenyatta and five others on charges of membership and management of Mau.

‘‘The place chosen was Kapenguria, a station so little known even to the officials in Nairobi that when they came to appoint a Resident Magistrate to hear the case they appointed him to the wrong province by mistake. Outside the houses of the District Commissioner and District Officer there was not much to see in Kapenguria,’’ reads the entry by KNADS.

The house where the trial of the trial of the Kapenguria Six took place. It is now a museum.PHOTO: National Museums of Kenya

The judge ruled that they used their positions and legal status in KAU as a cover-up for the underlying illegal purpose, which in reality was to drive the Europeans from the colony through armed violence and armed struggle.

At the centre of the trial was a key witness, whose evidence was greatly relied upon by the prosecution to nail the six accused persons; Rawson Mbugua Macharia.

He was the only witness who had claimed to have actually seen Kenyatta administering a “Mau Mau oath.”

Rawson Mbugua Macharia, who testified against the Kapenguria Six and whose testimony was relied upon to jail the leaders of Kenya’s push for independence. PHOTO:David Blumenkrantz

In their defence, the accused categorically denied the charges. Jomo Kenyatta, the most prominent of the six, put forth a spirited defence, arguing that his personal character and values, abhorred violence in all its forms.

“I have no room in my heart for violence or the use of force; even in my school I reprimanded any teacher who used it on children. I don’t believe in violence. We look forward to the day when peace shall come to this land and that the truth shall be known that we, as African leaders, have stood for peace,” he argued.

According to Prof. David Blumenkrantz, of the California State University Northridge and who interviewed Mr. Mbugua in the later years, he characterizes the star witness’s demenour as a ‘‘diminutive, bookish former government clerk and local KAU branch secretary.’’

He has published his interaction with Macharia in a book, Edges of Africa that also features recollections on various issues from across Africa.A synopsis of the same is available here.

Mr.Macharia in his testimony before the trial magistrate asserted that he was personally present at the home of one Joram Waweru on March 16, 1950, where he had been administered the oath at the hand of Kenyatta himself, in a ceremony that allegedly included drinking of human blood, and nudity.

That was it.

It was the only evidence presented that sought to demonstrate to the court a direct link between Kenyatta and Mau Mau.

The primary charges leveled against the six were; managing an unlawful society and being members of an unlawful society, namely, Mau Mau.

Kenyatta and the co-accused were imprisoned for seven years with hard labour in 1952.

But there was a new twist to this high profile case.

Six years later, on 22nd November 1958 Mr. Macharia swore an affidavit recanting his earlier evidence, claiming he was arm-twisted by operatives of the Colonial government to give false testimony to fix the six accused persons.

Two months later, the state swiftly instituted criminal proceedings against Macharia for perjury.

The trial of Rawson Mbugua Macharia started in March 1959 in Kitale, western Kenya. The trial magistrate I. Rosen found him guilty, and sentenced him to two imprisonment, the maximum sentence provided for by the law at the time..

‘‘The whole subject of justice was thus raised anew. Suspicion of miscarriage of justice had hung over the of Jomo Kenyatta for six years and therefore the unexpected confession of the chief witness of the prosecution further fueled the suspicious circumstances surrounding the Kapenguria Trial,’’ notes Prof. Blumenkrantz.

Rawson Macharia leaving the courtroom in Kitale upon sentencing for perjury in 1959. PHOTO:David Blumenkrantz

In sentencing Macharia, the trial magistrate said of the accused: “his love of the limelight would lead him, and has led him, to be prepared to pay whatever price, except money, to be considered important.”

The accused, noted the magistrate, was reckless and carefree, especially in his wanton indictment of senior Government officials of complicity in the alleged bribery of the witnesses.

“I can’t really conceive a more serious offense. The accused indicted the Government and Senior Officers and didn’t care about it, didn’t care who he hurt. He didn’t mind what happened to the country, which he claims to belong to. Is that not a case for giving him as much as the court can award?” Quipped the magistrate.

In his engagement with Macharia, Prof. Blumenkrantz asked him whether he was the only one approached to testify in the high profile case or if the were others too who got the alleged overtures.

‘‘I don’t know, I knew they were particularly interested in me, because the DC knew I was in the political party. In fact, I was not a stranger to the government, because I had been in politics since 1937. And then, there were very few educated people in this part of the country. So I don’t know if he was asking many people. But one thing I’m sure of, they were looking for any information that would connect Kenyatta and KAU with Mau Mau, the link…. you follow me?’’ said Macharia

Prof. Blumenkrantz believed that Macharia’s penchance for fame may have driven him more than his sense of patriotic loyalty or remorse, as ‘‘disgrace and disaster are compartmentalized in his rationale.’’

‘‘Despite the judgment Rawson Macharia steadfastly insisted that while he had admitted perjuring himself at Kapenguria, he and other witnesses at Kapenguria had indeed been coached, and compensation had been offered and delivered. The British government itself later conceded that this was in fact true,’’ noted Prof. Blumenkrantz.

At a personal level, Mr.Macharia however felt a sense of great relief for having gone public with what he thought was the truth and not even the sentence that waited him could dim his resolve.

 ‘‘I did not expect to be acquitted—it would have been unthinkable. That the truth was now revealed, I felt much reliefed (sic) and looked forward to my imprisonment not as a punishment but as a reward that I deserved for my great sins,” he told Prof. Blumenkrantz.

Mr. Rawson Mbugua Macharia, the star witness at the Kapenguria Six trial and at the time considered the greatest traitor to the African cause in pre-independence Kenya, published his long awaited book “The Truth About the Trial of Jomo Kenyatta’’ in 1991.

He died in 2008 after being hit by a motorcycle along Thika Road.

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Story of Retired British Soldier who Sought Deportation from Kenya in 1958 for Being Broke Only to be Detained for 5 Months at Kamiti Prison

On 17th January 1958 at 5p.m, Captain Ernest Law, a retired British military man and former chief officer of the Kenya Prison Department (now Kenya Prisons Service), went to the Kingsway Police Station (present day Central Police Station in Nairobi) seeking for assistance.

You see, Captain Law was apparently broke and jobless. During the colonial times, being declared a vagrant was a criminal offence.

The retired Captain was requesting police if they could assist him to be repatriated to his homeland in the United Kingdom. He was instead arrested and put into custody. The following day he was taken before the Nairobi Magistrate where, on his own admission of guilt, he was charged accordingly.

It is a matter that caused serious interest in the UK House of Commons, with members of Parliament pressing the Government to come clear on the circumstances leading to Captain Law’s controversial arrest and detention. He was later deported to the UK on 16th June 1958.

Details from the hansard of the British Parliament indicate that a year later, Captain Law’s incident was still festering with a number of politicians seeking answers on what exactly transpired.

One legislator who was quite passionate about this matter was Mr. John Stonehouse, a firebrand Member of Parliament for Wednesbury and later Walsal North between 1957 to 1974.

John Stonehouse, British MP who vigorously pursued Captain Law’s case.

On 5th February 1959, Mr.Stonehouse asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Julian Amery, to explain the details surrounding Captain Law’s incarceration at the Kamiti Prison for five months and whether the Kenya Government considered compensation for what he considered unlawful detention.

‘‘The magistrate found as a fact that Captain Law was a vagrant and ordered him to be detained in Kamiti Prison under Section 10 of the Vagrancy Ordinance,’’ answered Mr. Amery.

Mr.Stonehouse, not relenting, still pursued this matter on 12th February 1959 again, asking why Captain Law had to stay in prison for five months before he was deported.

‘‘A captain who served with distinction in the Army for twenty-five years asks the police for assistance. No charge is made against him, but he is detained in prison as a convict for a period of five months. Is the Minister satisfied that that is the way to treat a man who goes to the police for assistance?’’ He dug in.

It was the same line of thought advanced another legislator interested on Captain Law’s predicament, Mr.Aneurin Bevan, who was the MP for Ebbw Vale from 1929 to 1960.

‘‘Even though this man is imprisoned as a vagrant, how long must he be in prison in order to purge the offence of vagrancy? Is he to be there indefinitely, and how can he cease to be a vagrant, unless he has a chance of getting out of prison?’’ He posed.

Mr. Stonehouse also took issue with Captain Law’s repatriation on 16th June 1958, questioning why the exercise did not follow due process, specifically contravention of global aviation protocols.

He was concerned that Captain Law’s repatriation by air took place only three days after he had received his vaccination against smallpox and yellow fever, in contravention of the rules of the International Certificates of Vaccination, which require between 8 and 10 days, respectively, before validity.

Mr. Amery, while responding, explained to the legislators the futile efforts made to secure Captain Law sea passage. At the time, explained Mr. Amery, all vessels sailing for the United Kingdom were fully booked and as such, the air became the only available means, the concerns by Mr.Stonehouse notwithstanding.

 ‘‘An air passage was provisionally arranged for the 14th June or thereafter. A repatriation order was signed on 7th June. On being informed on 9th June that Captain Law’s air passage was definitely booked for 16th June, the officer in charge of Kamiti Prison arranged for him to be revaccinated against smallpox and re-inoculated against yellow fever immediately. So far as I know, the air company concerned did not contest the validity of the relevant certificates,’’ added Secretary Amery.

As to whether the Kenyan Government considered compensating Captain Law, Mr. Amery’s response was curt.

‘’Whether or not Captain Law could have any claim for compensation on the grounds of his detention is a matter for his legal advisers,’’ he quipped.

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Who ‘‘Created’’ Reggae Music? A Conversation with Ras Cardo who Claims Copyright Ownership to the Word ‘‘Reggae’’

On 20th June 2020, I published an article ‘‘University Professor Who Can’t ‘Stop’ Reggae’’ in which Mike Hajimichael, a university Professor in Cyprus and DJ for over 40 years shared his love for the music.

Following this interview I got some interesting feedback from a reader by the name Ricardo Scott aka Ras Cardo from Jamaica who was impressed by the work done by the Prof. Besides complementing the article, Ras Cardo made quite interesting claims on reggae music, indicating he was a contemporary of Reggae greats like Bob Marley.

He further claims that he was right there in Trench Town at the birth of a new tune. He claims to be the one who baptized that tune and gave it the name ‘’reggae’’ and as such, actually owns the copyright to the word ”Reggae.”

On his various online profiles, Ras Cardo describes himself as a ‘‘Reggae creator from Trench Town, Jamaica. Original Wailer who mentored Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and other known Reggae legends. Radiological Technology Expert.’’

Intrigued, I reached out to him to further understand those claims as well as other reggae experts across the world. I have included responses from other reggae enthusiasts immediately after the interview.

Richard Scott aka Ras Cardo.He claims to have created the word ‘Reggae’ way back in 1962 and has copyrighted the word, a claim that is contested by other reggae authorities.

You are very passionate about reggae music. What does it mean to you?

I, Ras Cardo, from Trench Town Jamaica, created reggae in my backyard while living there in 1962. It was done to send the messages of our struggles and sufferings to the world at large. I did it to let the world know what sort of abject poverty and conditions we were living in.

We were seen as ostracized people in the Jamaican prejudiced society. Those who were the oppressors told the rest of Jamaica and the world that-“nothing good comes out of Trench Town”. So Bob Marley and I put that in a song-Trench Town Rock. I was his mentor, teacher, brethren, and protector then.

Many reggae enthusiasts around the world greatly associate the music genre music to Bob Marley who is arguably its greatest world ambassador. Who was Bob Marley to you?

Trench Town was the -Musical Mecca- of Jamaica then. It was the place where any and everything to be called music in Jamaica came from. I was living there, long before Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer came there to live. It was the holy ground in music where all the legends live. It was the place where-SKA, Rock Steady, and my Reggae came from. This could be called- Ground Zero today.

When Bob Marley came there it was I, Ras Cardo and my brethren-Junior Braithwaite, who welcomed him and protected him. He became a part of our family. At that time Junior B, and I was already singing as the -Original Wailing Wailers. We later gave this name and torch to Bob when he wanted to start his group.

This was a tacit agreement. My family and friends protected Marley and taught him a lot. We did the same for Peter Tosh and others.

Bob Marley (second left, back row) and the Wailers.PHOTO: The Wailers Museum

What does reggae music mean to people of Jamaica?

To the poor people it means-hope for a better day out of the poverty, violence, and deaths we see around us. The economic hardships, prejudice and the ostracism we had to endure were unbearable.

Tell us about your journey in reggae music. When did you get into music?

My journey in the music would take more than this questionnaire to explain to you or to anyone today. I have the most massive archive. Most of what I have published so far does not scratch the surface. However, I will say this: -“The life of the poor man is either miserably long, or tragically short”. Keep that in mind and share this with others.

I was the first Trench Town- original wailer to sing upon a stage. I was only 12 years old then. I formed the first ever youth club in Trench Town also-Prominence Youth Club- to educate the youths. What I learned from High School, I shared with them all. It was Junior Braithwaite and I who gave Bob Marley what he needed to form his own group with Bunny (Wailer) And Peter (Tosh)…We took him to meet-Joe Higgs and Seeco Patterson. I named the group- Wailers– because the mothers of murdered sons used to wail in the streets about it. I took it from the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible-” For a wailing has come out of Zion”.

You have come out strongly publicly to claim that you are the highest authority on reggae and that you actually coined the word ‘‘reggae.’’  How true is this?

I legally and exclusively own the copyrights to reggae and its creation. You can check the Library of Congress copyrights office in Washington DC USA. “Reggae, Origin of The Word and Incorporation Into Music”- Scott’s Official History of Reggae, The Original Wailers, and The Trench Town Experience”. Go and check it out. Jamaica is fully aware of all this, but their music industry folks will lie about it. I have shown them in media there several times.

Cover page of Ras Cardo’s 2005 book. With the book he claims to the highest living reggae authority.

In 2005 you wrote a book, Reggae Jamaica – The Wailing of a People: Ras Cardo, The Man, The Legend of Reggae Music: Ras Cardo, The Man, The Legend of Reggae. What motivated you to put your thoughts in such a book?

The book is one of many I have written and published in Reggae and Radiology over the years. I did this because so many people began to tell lies and falsehoods by writing books spreading falsehoods about us, which I had to step in to set the records.

Listen, The murderous music industry in and out of Jamaica, do not want the true story about Trench Town Reggae to come out, because they make money from selling lies, and killing those whom they later will rape in their graves. This is what they are doing to Bob Marley and Peter tosh even as I write this. I see so many from the UK and USA putting my name and quotes in their books without getting my written permission so I called them out globally. They form a conglomerate of robbers and thieves who make a living from stealing my works, and surely, I have all the evidence I need to hold them accountable. They still hide and follow my works online and off.

What are the highlights of this book?

Surely, my books are an authority on Reggae because it is all  true. I have lived the experiences. It was written in the first person. It was not hearsay evidence. It is incontrovertible, indomitable, and indubitable true and authentic. The highlights of the book are many but I will summarize by saying- it is the truth on reggae, which those in Babylon cannot steal nor deny, no matter how hard they may try.

In your opinion, how has reggae music evolved over time?

Reggae music has been robbed, raped, pirated for decades now. The music of the Trench Town people shared with Bob Marley was stolen from the Marley family in a court action of his estate. The universal groups of these thieves are all over the place trying to control the music of the world, and some of the Jamaican artists are too blind to see it.  They are now trying to brand the Marley children so that they can control them.

Since Bob Marley’s death in 1981, how has reggae music faired on in Jamaica?

Jamaica is better for only those who control political power and wealth. The poor folks still remain in the abject poverty they know so well. Trench Town today is worse than when we lived there. The money made from tourism using Reggae goes to the benefit of the pirates and echelons of the society.

Music is a powerful tool for emancipating the minds of people from retrogressive ways. How well would you say reggae music has performed this role?

Surely, “my music is for a healing of the nation. It is a reggae education.” It heals the broken hearted, and calms the troubled souls of the poor people.

Young Bob Marley (left), Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. PHOTO: The Wailers Museum

What would you say is the current state of reggae music globally?

I can say a lot on this issue, but for now, I will say this briefly-” I will never be happy until I see the poor people in Jamaica, and in Trench Town getting the help they need from the returns of the Reggae blessings I have left for them.

Tell us a little bit about Rastafarianism and reggae. How are the two intrinsically linked?

Reggae music by any other name is Rasta music. It is spiritual music, never secular, it is non-political, biblical, non-prejudicial, message music of truths and rights, equality and justice, for the redemption of Jah people, peace and love and unity, and it shall free all African peoples. The -“Grammy’s”- will never know what reggae truly is about. I have another book to show how they are intrinsically linked. I will not disclose that at this time. Follow up with me later on all that.

What do you see as the future of reggae music?

“My reggae music is for a healing of the nation.” I am here to make sure that the people of Trench Town and others all over the world including- mother Africa- benefit from the reggae I named and helped to create. I know that Babylon system in the murderous music industry will not stop to kill and steal what it can to reap the rewards of the works of the legends.

I created this to help poor and dispossessed peoples globally, and to empower women to take charge in protecting this legacy for the perpetuity of our peoples. I am Ras Cardo from Trench Town.


Given the gravity of Ras Cardo’s claims, I reached out to a number of other authorities on reggae on their take on Ras Cardo’s claims.

Haji Mike, a university don and DJ in Cyprus. PHOTO: Cyprus Insider

My first port of call was Prof. Mike Hajimichael, who as been a reggae DJ for over 40 years and a university Professor in Cyprus, and the subject of my first article that elicited Ras Cardo’s interest.

He observes that there have been many claimants to the reggae music throne, and not sure who is genuine about it. Additionally, reggae legend Bob Marley’s disciples and acquaintances are many, with each having their fair share of a story to tell.

‘‘There are many people claiming the word Reggae including the late Toots Hibbert who was the first to sing it on record. Drummers have also claimed it. I am not doubting the person’s credibility, but many people knew Bob Marley, and every one of them has a story to tell,’’ says Prof.Hajimichael.

I also engaged Roger Steffens, journalist, musician and producer, reggae historian and collector, a Marley archivist and author of recent book So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley. He is based in Los Angeles, USA.

Roger Steffens, one of the most respected reggae authorities globally and variously referred to as the ”reggae encyclopedist.” PHOTO: Cultural Weekly

While he admits to have encountered Ras Cardo, he discounts the latter’s claims on reggae music.

‘’I have had several encounters with him over the years. His main claim is that he named the music c.1962. I find this hard to believe,’’ he says.

For Steffens, Kingston town has been a melting pot of lingual dexterity and no word is constant. Everything is in state of flux. And so is reggae music.

‘‘Slang/patois is in a constant state of change, and words in the Western Kingston area spread like wildfire. In that case, why did it take six (6) years before Toots used the word, albeit misspelled, on ” Do the Reggay?’’ he poses.

He writes off Ras Cardo’s copyright claim to the word ‘‘Reggae.’’

‘‘And as for his copyrighting the term, I’ve never heard of that before. That’s like saying one owns the words “rock and roll” or “blues,” he opines.

Roger Steffen’s massive reggae archive. PHOTO: Roger Steffens.

He backs his assertion with recollections of a few members of Marley’s team with whom he has had a personal interaction with over the years.

‘‘Joe Higgs was a very close friend of mine, and he agreed that in the earliest days of Bunny (Wailer) and Bob (Marley) in Trench Town, Cardo was around and often jammed with them in their yards. But he was never a Wailer. Both Bunny himself and Joe, the Wailers’ early tutor, agree on that point,’’ he adds.

And as for Cardo’s contribution to reggae music:

‘‘I don’t know of anything concrete. Did he ever make a record, or write a song that was recorded?’’ he poses.

The late Joe Higgs, considered the ‘‘father of reggae’’ and an early tutor of The Wailers acknowledged that Cardo was among the many youths who used to do gigs with the group but wasn’t an actual member.

‘‘But to say he was an original member of Wailers, I contest that statement very, very strongly—I don’t know of it. Cardo neither founded the group nor came up with the name,’’ says Higgs, as quoted in Roger Steffens’s book.

As to the origin of the group’s name, The Wailers, there’s an interesting twist to this.

Reggae legend Bunny Wailer.PHOTO: Bunny Wailer Museum

Bunny Wailer, another of the original members, contends that the origin of the group’s name The Wailers is a kind of a mystery.

In an interview with Steffens, he contends that the group had initially toyed with names such as the Teenagers or Roosters as their identity.

Then one day as they were rehearsing in a studio, they had the eureka moment, an epiphany of sorts.

‘‘So everybody did call names, you, you, and suggest names, and it’s like a man was there next door or in a bathroom or something, and we just hear a voice that say, “The Wailers.” And every man say: “The Wailers. The Wailers? The Wailers. The Wailers?”

He adds that no one in the group knew or could tell whom strange voice belonged to, as he didn’t show his face.

‘‘Him just say “The Wailers” in a big, strong voice, say “The Wailers.” That sound good, weeping and wailing, ’cause we a weep, ’cause we are in Trench Town there and we a feel the pain. So, “the Wailers” fit,’’ he notes.

A search at the US copyright office for this entry, ‘‘Reggae, origin of the word and incorporation into music’’ to verify Ras Cardo’s claims, yields the following results:

It appears the controversy surrounding the origin of reggae music and the debate around it may not end any time soon and may fester for many years to come.

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