Orwa Ojode – Ardent defender of sirkal

In Kenya, Cabinet positions cannot be said to carry equal weight – or that they are one and the same. Each portfolio has its own influence and clout, and this perhaps explains why appointments to certain Cabinet positions have been a scramble. Of note are ministries of finance, internal security, health, energy and power and education which traditionally are held by the president’s men, as it were.

Implicitly, getting one of these plum positions is a seal of confidence by the government. Often, the President must balance between competence and loyalty. And it’s against this backdrop that the relationship between Joshua Orwa Ojode and Mwai Kibaki may can be viewed. By the time he perished in an aircrash on June 10, 2012, Ojode (then 53 years old) was President Mwai Kibaki’s assistant minister for provincial administration and internal security.

His boss, Cabinet Minister George Saitoti, had before this new role, served as Kenya’s vice president for 13 years. The then Samburu West MP Simon Lesirma was also an assistant minister in the same this Ministry while the permanent secretary was Francis Kimemia.

Ojode predicted the demise of the Independence political party following President Moi’s move to bypass presidential hopefuls including longest serving Vice PresidentGeorge Saitoti for the then greenhorn Uhuru Kenyatta as the party’s flag bearer in the December 2002 elections

It was Kibaki’s belief that the duo (Ojode and Saitoti) was the most competent to handle this sensitive docket, that is in charge of securing the entire breadth of the country. This portfolio is the equivalent of Homeland security, in other jurisdictions. Some of the organs within this Ministry include the National Police Service and the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Ojode, popularly known as Sirkal – corruption of the word serikali (Swahili for government), owing to his strong, unrelenting support for the Grand Coalition Government headed by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga – was a workaholic. At one time he told Parliament, while responding to questions placed to him as assistant minister, that he never was a “busy bee or busybody at any time”.

Sirkal was not only active in the ministries he served; he was very alive as a backbencher. When occasion demanded, he tabled motions and questions; one such was an attempt similar to riding on a lion – he tried to persuade fellow MPs to establish a Select Committee to probe the Anglo Leasing scandal in which Kenya lost billions of shillings in fictitious supplies. “The mandate of the committee would be to investigate the origin of the Anglo Leasing company, identify the persons involved and trace the public funds looted through it”.

Sometime in September 2002, barely three months to the General Election, a leading daily newspaper carried a report with the headline, ‘Kanu warned of anarchy’. This story surprised political pundits because it was coming from a fresh member of the ruling party and a newcomer.  The warning shot on the likely disintegration of the oldest ruling political outfit was fired by an apparently hitherto harmless Ndhiwa MP Joshua Orwa Ojode.

This was vintage Ojode – never shying from controversy as long as he was speaking out his mind. In this particular case, Ojode predicted the  demise of the Independence political party following President Moi’s move to bypass presidential hopefuls including longest-serving Vice President George Saitoti for the then greenhorn Uhuru Kenyatta as the party’s flag bearer the December 2002 elections. “Ojode asked KANU officials in the Uhuru-for-President project to focus beyond the elections instead of over-investing in their campaigns,” reported the Daily Nation, in reference to candidate Uhuru Kenyatta .

Of course a rebellion against Moi was building up but Ojode couldn’t keep what was then treated as a secret within a faction of the then ruling coalition of Kanu and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Not long after, the uprising erupted and which led to the formation of National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) that eventually sent Kanu packing during the December 2002 General Election.

Ojode entered parliament on a seat vacated by Tom Obondo, a defector from FORD-Kenya to KANU. At the time, defections to KANU were fashionable following the re-introduction of multi-party politics. The then Kanu bought off MPs in a spirited bid to weaken the Opposition in the new competitive politics.

A chronicle of a few documented statements and responses against government critics in and outside the legislature impressed Ojode’s friends and foes in equal measure.  This explains the confidence President Kibaki had in him.

Indeed, few political leaders were equal to the task assigned by the authority, records show but Ojode was an exception – hence the nick name Sirkal.  He was   a performer and delivered assignments within the timelines, according to legislative  records on questions and  motions  directed  at  the  ministries of Interior, Foreign, Education  and Lands  respectively where  he  served diligently in a junior capacity.

Ojode’s role in coalition politics in Kenya is markedly But it is noteworthy that to note Ojode’s role in coalition politics in Kenya. After his election in 1994, the new MP started criticizing some issues and matters that he felt, were getting in between politics and development in his native Luoland.  At a funeral in Rongo, he advocated for cooperation between Opposition and Kanu – which would later see a handshake between LDP’s Raila Odinga and Kanu’s President Moi.

At first, critics attacked Ojode over this proposal which, they felt, was tantamount to selling off the Luo community to the ruling Kanu. In Luo Nyanza, Kanu was an anathema.

President Mwai Kibaki saw a rare quality in Ojode and singled out the lanky politician out of a coalition of rebels for promotion to a full minister in a reconstituted cabinet cobbled out  of the ashes of a  fallout  between Raila and the President (Kibaki)  in  the  National Rainbow  Coalition (NARC).  Raila and a crew fleet of other ministers and MPs opposed a new draft of the constitution then fronted by Kibaki.

Kibaki dropped all dissenters and reappointed a new Cabinet; Ojode was among the new team despite the fact that he had been among the heap that opposed the draft in the just concluded ensueing Referendum. In appointing Ojode, President Kibaki hoped to bag two important political nuggets – loyalty to the party boss (Raila) and loyalty to the presidency.

It is instructive to note that the 2005 defeat of the government in a Referendum for a new constitution incensed Kibaki whose survival appeared to have been thrown into doubt with a hostile legislature and divided and potentially hostile Cabinet. He moved fast to forestall a crisis. He dissolved the Cabinet and prorogued parliament to avert the prospect of an impeachment owing to a divided Cabinet and Parliament.

Kibaki appointed Orwa Ojode as Minister for Environment while dropping his regional kingpin, Raila, hitherto Minister for Roads, Public Works and Housing. But in solidarity with Raila and d other members of the LDP brigade, Ojode turned down the offer.  “The ministry given to me will not assist my community.  It is a mere department. Why should I take  a ministry  which  is  not useful  to my people. Look at 11 critical ministries.  All of them have gone to one region. Appointing Ojode as a minister is hoodwinking Luos that that they have a ministry. The president  has to  go back  to the  drawing board because  one area  is  considered  more than others tribalism has eaten into his cabinet”, said Ojode.

Some analysts have claimed that Ojode was intent on at taking up the job but was dissuaded by powerful political players within the Luo community. Oburu warned Ojode against being selfish by assuming the Cabinet seat.

Years later, in 2008, Ojode was reappointed to the government but as assistant to the then George Saitoti, the Minister for Internal Security. In hindsight, this duo had a working chemistry amongst them – they worked and delivered as a unit. Again, this attests to Kibaki’s knack to cobble a “working” team, a unified system that works in tandem.

Ojode, as it were, was among the first-line defenders of the Kibaki government. Even when questions were raised about human right abuses at the hands of the police, he would stand his ground and defend his appointing authority. The police have never been partisan on the line of duty, he once said in response to criticism on how police  handle  crowds. Although he once admitted that the recruitment of the police was flawed and would be revised.

At the time of his appointment as Saitoti’s assistant, the country was suffering the aftermath of the the 2007—2008 post-election violence (PEV). The government was on the high alert to ensure the country remained peaceful and united in the face of diverse ethnic communities. Ojode’s Ministry was forced to deploy more police officers in Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Kericho, Nakuru, Naivasha and parts of Nairobi ahead of the ruling on the crimes against humanity  suspects at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The  Hague, Netherlands.

Kenya has been a victim of bloody terrorist attacks by the murderous Al Shabaab militia fighting the Somalia government. It was Ojode’s and Saitoti’s responsibility to reassure Kenyans of their safety against the backdrop of this threat. Under Saitoti and Ojode’s watch, Kenya embarked on disrupting the Al Shabaab through operation Linda Nchi.

On October 24, 2011, Kenya deployed its troops in Somalia, to counter the Al Shabaab militants. It was Ojode who let Parliament know about Kenya’s incursion into Somalia, much to the chagrin of some MPs who felt that Parliament should have been consulted before the deployment. Yet, in hindsight, seeking parliamentary approval for the deployment would have opened a Pandora’s Box, as some MPs – especially those from northern Kenya – have been openly opposed to the deployment.

Months later, Ojode likened Al-Shabaab to a snake with its tail in Somalia and head in Eastleigh.

At the time of Saitoti’s and Ojode’s deaths, international news syndicate Reuters described Saitoti as “anti-Shabaab Minister”. It stated, thus “Saitoti was one of the most outspoken government politicians on the threat from Somali militants, often visiting scenes of al Shabaab’s attacks and vowing to crush the group”.

Loss of files and records in government departments and the judiciary seems to be a normal occurrence. In particular, the Lands department officials in collusion with wealthy and politically-connected people are reportedly notorious for facilitating the disappearance of files from the Ministry of Lands’ offices. The government was  not  going to  tolerate  loss or  misplacement  of  files in the  Lands  Office, the  tough talking  Ojode  warned  and  promised the sacking and prosecution of staff found  culpable.

Without naming names, Ojode revealed that some political leaders colluded with the ministry staff to hide files in the Lands department. The culprits would not only be prosecuted but prosecuted, Ojode emphasized. In a separate parliamentary question, Ojode said that squatters on the East African Tanning and Extract Company land were resettled by the government after the land was sold.

The Kibaki government had been accused of all manner of corrupt deals. Consequently, some countries slapped a ban on individual leaders on account of graft.  On the ban of a cabinet minister’s entry into Britain on account of  corruption, Ojode said the action was  against an  individual  not the state. Little could be done to reverse the decision of a sovereign power as that would couldn’t be involved in the UK travel ban of Dr Chris Murungaru, who had previously served as Internal Security Minister.

Dr Murungari Murungaru had been mentioned as a person of interest in the multi-billion shillings Anglo Leasing scandal in which Kenya lost billions of shillings in fraudulent security tenders.

The letter from the Home Office banning the minister was emphatic that he  had no right  of appeal  against the decision,  which had been arrived at on after “most serious careful consideration”. The signatory to the letter, Mr. Ray Kyle, had personally directed that Dr Murungaru be excluded  from the  United  Kingdom  on the grounds  that  his  presence  would  not  be  conducive  to the public good.

Thirteen years ago, the country tasted the dose of violent civil strife fanned by irresponsible utterances by politicians. The bloody and fatal post election violence was the product of insults and careless talk by political leaders. It took the intervention of the international community to quell the near disintegration of the nation let alone the lives lost, property destroyed and people displaced.

It was Ojode who let Parliament know about Kenya’s incursion into Somalia, much to the chagrin of some MPs who felt that Parliament should have been consulted before the deployment

The result of the inflammatory utterances was the PEV that claimed about 1500 lives, the displacement of hundreds of thousands others and widespread destruction of property.  One of those who came out to denounce the destruction was Ojode, who claimed that Kenya was home to hypocrites who preached peace in public but hate in their tribal cocoons.

It was a general belief that the International Criminal Court based at the Hague Netherlands would impose sentences that were to deter a recurrence of crimes against humanity like those witnessed in the post-election violence. The Justice Philip Waki Post Election Violence inquiry recommended that parliament should establish a tribunal to try those  who bore  the greatest responsibility.

Ojode was among the lawmakers who supported the setting up of a local tribunal to try the 2007 post-election violence suspects. He said care must be taken to ensure that implementation of the Justice Philip Waki report does not tear the country apart. However, he was in agreement that the manner the report was handled had the potential to split parties. Different views expressed by the Orange Democratic  Movement (ODM) leader  indicated  maturity and  democracy within the  party, Ojode said.

President Kibaki and  Prime  Minister, Raila  lobbied  their  respective  parties  to  implement  the report  but  the  majority  ignored their  pleas preferring  trials of the  suspects  at International Criminal Court (ICC).  The envelope containing  the  names  who bore   greatest  responsibility  in the 2007 post election violence  was   handed  over to the  Chief mediator, former  UN  Secretary General, Koffi Annan  who passed it on to  the ( ICC)  at the  Hague, Netherlands. The names of six included political figures, civil servants were for the first time revealed.  Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were among the six who faced abortive trials for crimes against humanity.

Instructively, Ojode, although seen as a powerful assistant minister, was initially reluctant taking up the job. According to some political analysts, the new assistant minister felt he deserved a full Cabinet position. He may have been disenchanted with the appointment of some politicians (among them Dalmas Otieno) who reluctantly joined ODM yet were rewarded with full Cabinet positions.

This perhaps explains why, during the last days before the aircrash, he appeared to catapult towards Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) rather than his own Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which had appointed him to the ministerial position. in the arrangement of things in the Grand Coalition Cabinet, Kibaki had picked members from his PNU while Raila selected from ODM. Ojode was an ODM legislator.

As stated earlier in this report, Oode was one of the fiercest defenders of the government.

The Ndhiwa parliamentarian was a performer like no other predecessor. He met his death on the line of duty for his constituents. Ojode was to host his boss, Saitoti, at a fundraising for worship places in Ndhiwa   constituency. He would die in a helicopter accident on his way to Ndhiwa. Saitoti also perished in the same crash.

Six people (including two bodyguards and two pilots) died in the Police helicopter crash that happened in Ngong, on its way to Ndhiwa.

Condolence messages to the Ojode family spoke volumes about the American graduate in Environmental studies. ‘”Ojode will be remembered for his focused approach  while undertaking  his duties  with  great zeal  and determination  as an assistant minister and member of parliament for Ndhiwa”,  President Mwai  Kibaki  said  in a message.

In a full page paid advertisement in a national newspaper, the  then Education minister Mutula Kilonzo said: “I  was touched by the  sudden death  of Saitoti and Ojode who were instrumental  in the  introduction of  free primary  and secondary education programmes in the  country”.    Both Saitoti and Ojode served in the Education ministry.

Others who sent messages of condolence included the then Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Kibaki’s predecessor Daniel arap Moi.

Raila said, thus “This is a terrible tragedy that has struck our country this morning. Nobody knows exactly the cause of this accident. That is why experts will carry out investigations … We will do everything possible to ensure we find we find out the cause of this accident, but for now it is just an accident”.

At the time of death Ojode was basking in unmatched popularity, celebrating 18 years of un-interrupted parliamentary representation of Ndhiwa Constituency. This in an area once represented by former Permanent Representative  to the  United  Nations, Odero Jowi and   Vice President in the  post-independence  regional  government Mathew Otieno Ogingo

Some analysts believe that had he lived, he would be among the most powerful Luo leaders about. During his last days, he had charting his own path outside the mainstream politics revolving around Raila Odinga.


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