Lawrence George Sagini – A man of peace, a consensus builder

The Minister for Local Government, Mr Lawrence Sagini, kissing Pope Paul VI’s ring at the Entebbe Airport before the Pontif boarded a plane back to Rome on August 25,1969. Mr Sagini was in a Kenyan delegation to Kampala.

Lawrence George Sagini was born at Gesonso, Kisii, on January 1, 1926, the first son of Ndemo Kibagendi and Esther Nyanganyi. His father was the president of the African Tribunal Courts in Kisii. Sagini belonged to the Mwabogonko clan, which traces its roots to Nyakundi, a fearless warrior who confronted the British expeditionary forces.

Sagini was baptised when he was a student at Mangu School. His wife, Mary, says her husband never failed to attend church even when he was ill. He helped construct Ria’Sagini Catholic Chapel named in his honour. He also supported other churches and self-help projects.

In appreciation, the Catholic Church in Kenya selected him, with seven others, to visit the Pope to be honoured with a “knighthood”. Paradoxically, the religious background of Sagini’s family was Seventh Day Adventist. His mother was an SDA deaconess when Sagini joined Mangu, a Catholic school. But she later converted to Catholicism, along with some members of the Ndemo family.

His father valued education and Sagini started primary education in 1934 at Isecha Sector School. His father and five wives would in turns meet Sagini halfway with porridge or food as he walked home from school. Those days, primary school pupils walked long distances to school. In 1937, Sagini joined Kisii Government African School and then proceeded to Kabaa Mangu Holy Ghost College. His schoolmates included Andrew Omanga, Moody Awori, Mwai Kibaki, Tom Mboya, Lawrence Oguda and Chrisantus Ogari.

One of the memorable events of the time was when missionaries discouraged students from using family names. This explains why officially, Sagini did not use his father’s name, Ndemo. After Mangu, Sagini went to Kagumo Teachers’ Training College in Nyeri and, after graduation in 1950, became a teacher, a headmaster and an education officer in Central and South Nyanza.

In 1957, he quit teaching to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and political science at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, United States. He graduated with honours in 1959. Upon his return, Sagini rejoined the teaching profession and taught briefly at Asumbi Teachers College. In 1960, the Government appointed him assistant education officer, a position he held until 1961. He also became a member of the Provincial Council of the University of East Africa.

Sagini married Mary Nyaboke in 1950 and they had six children. Sagini tutored his children and siblings, especially in mathematics. The children did well and are university graduates.  He also educated his brothers Paul Mong’are, Francis Mayieka, Salim Ndemo, Prof. Francis Abuga, Job Kibagendi and Dr Bitange Ndemo, the present Information and Communications Permanent Secretary.  Just before independence, the need to increase constituencies and African representation in the Legislative Council arose. Consequently, Kisii was delinked from South Nyanza and became a separate constituency.

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