It was during Peter Castro Oloo Aringo’s tenure as Minister for Education that the 8-4-4 system of education was introduced. Additionally, the Kenya Science Teachers’ College was expanded and the Kenya Technical Trainers’ College (KTTC) was launched to address the needs of the new technical education system.
It was also Aringo who presented bills in Parliament that were enacted into law to make Moi, Maseno and Egerton universities into public institutions. In addition, a deliberate policy was approved by the Government and promoted to start institutes of technology through fund raising in the eight provinces, namely Nairobi, Rift Valley, Western, Nyanza, Central, Eastern, North Eastern and Coast.
Besides the Education docket, Aringo also headed various other ministries during his 15-year stint in the Cabinet under President Daniel arap Moi and represented the people of Alego-Usonga Constituency. Moi’s confidence in Aringo led to his first Cabinet appointment as Minister for Information and Broadcasting before he was moved to Environment, Labour, Education and finally, the Ministry of Employment.
Aringo is an alumnus of Mbaga Primary School and St Mary’s School, Yala, where he also taught briefly after graduating with a diploma from Siriba College in Kakamega District (now Kakamega County). He graduated from the University of Nairobi with a first class bachelor’s degree in history, economics and politics in 1969. He later won a Commonwealth scholarship to study for a master’s degree in international comparative education at Toronto University in Canada.
After graduating in 1972, Aringo returned home for a holiday as he waited to start his doctorate programme, but was bitten by the bug of politics as the country was in the grip of elections fever in 1974. He used his networks in the teaching fraternity to launch his political career. Through former colleagues and the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Siaya Branch Chairman, Ambrose Adongo (who later became the KNUT Executive Secretary), and his father, Mzee Barnabas Aringo, who was Board Chairman of Mbaga Catholic Church in the constituency, he had a good platform from which to present himself to the electorate.
His first attempt at vying for the seat in Siaya District was a huge success. Under the slogan, “Alego-Usonga needs enlightened leadership”, he romped home with a whopping 12,980 votes against the 2,900 that his closest rival, Dr Zachary Nyamodi, garnered. His candidature received a big boost when he was endorsed by the former Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, whose Kenya People’s Union party had been proscribed while he was in detention.
“Jaramogi threw his weight behind me when I went to get his blessings. He told me, ‘I know you and your father as upright people and I have also married from your (Kakan) clan. I want you to follow in your father’s footsteps’,” recalled Aringo.
During his first term in the august House, he moved two bills. The first was to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission; this was shot down by the Executive but revived in 1998 and Parliament passed it. The second was to create a Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) to make the Legislature autonomous by having its own budget and its own funds drawn directly from the Consolidated Fund. This was also shot down by MPs but more than two decades later, in 2002, Aringo resurrected the bill and successfully moved it.
It was during his third term as the Alego-Usonga MP that President Moi made him an assistant minister before appointing him a full Minister. Trying to explain how he made it to the Cabinet, Aringo is quoted as saying, “I don’t know why Moi did it. Earlier, he had called me and my wife, Edidis, to visit him at his Kabarak home. He told my wife that he would like to work with me, but that he did not like my beard or my middle name, Castro!”
On their return to Nairobi, the MP decided to shave his beard. Two weeks later he heard his name announced on radio during the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) lunchtime news bulletin – he had been appointed Assistant Minister for Education with immediate effect. The next day, Aringo and his wife drove in their Isuzu pick-up to Moi’s Kabarak home through the Nakuru District office of the powerful Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner, Hezekiah Oyugi, to thank the President for honouring him with the appointment.
During an evening meeting over a sumptuous dinner, Moi said to Aringo: “As you can see, I have already filled my Cabinet with ministers. But if you behave, I will consider including you in my Cabinet in the near future.” It was a promise Moi kept. Three days later, he was sworn in as Jonathan N’geno’s assistant in the Ministry of Higher Education. When he reported to his new Jogoo House office, he was given a secretary, an official car (a Ford Cortina) and a driver. In addition to his KES 8,000 for his work as an MP, he was paid a salary of KES 25,000. Among his other allowances and benefits was a spacious Government house in the upmarket Loresho Estate – a world apart from his rented house in Westlands. The next day he was in Parliament, sitting on the front bench and bearing the responsibility of answering questions from backbenchers on behalf of his boss and the Government.
Reflecting on that time, Aringo said, “It was not easy to switch from the back bench as a vocal MP to the front bench and be an effective Government spokesman on matters of higher education. By then I had signed the Official Secrets Act and pledged my loyalty to President Moi.” As for his work, he hit the ground running. “I have no regrets; I had a good time as Assistant Minister for Higher Education.”
Six months later, just as Moi had hinted, Aringo again heard his name on the KBC radio news bulletin – he had been appointed Minister for Information and Broadcasting in a Cabinet reshuffle. The following week, he was summoned to State House Nairobi, where he was sworn in. During a meeting attended by the Vice President and other Cabinet colleagues, Moi told him: “I want you to support me and my government, and to give KANU a better image in Nyanza.”
But barely 12 months into the appointment, Aringo ran into problems. He attributed this to the then Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, who was not amused by his policy to start vernacular radio stations under KBC across the country. He was moved in a Cabinet reshuffle to the Ministry of Environment. The irony was that the hitherto Minister for Information was having lunch with his colleagues in Parliament but was unaware of the news of his transfer until it was broadcast to the world!
His legacy in Environment was the creation of the National Environment Management Authority within a year of his transfer and after he prepared a policy paper to the Cabinet and a draft bill to Parliament for better management of the environment. By then, despite Kenya hosting the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, the government had no policy guidelines on environmental matters.
Trouble would crop up again following the 1982 attempted coup by a number of Kenya Air Force soldiers. Aringo was accused of celebrating the short-lived attempt to overthrow the government. Moi fired him two weeks later – through a KBC radio announcement. The minister was in his office working when he learnt of his fate. He packed his personal possessions and left for his rural home and constituency in his pick-up, christened, Weg Piny (the people’s car). That evening, five people came to his Loresho residence and repossessed the official car and flag. He was ordered to vacate the Government house within a week.
“I was the only Minister to be sacked. Someone had told Moi that I was seen performing a Luo traditional mock fight, which is a sign of celebration. That was untrue,” he said.
Later, in snap elections, Aringo retained his seat by another landslide thanks to sympathy votes. He garnered 24,000 against his nearest rival’s 9,000. Back in the august House as a backbencher once again, he embarked on his reforms agenda for the Legislature. He believed it was because of this that Moi re-appointed him to the Cabinet, this time as Minister for Labour.
“Moi summoned me to his Kabarak home and said, ‘I know, after my investigations, that you were not involved in the so-called celebrations. I want you to continue with your work as a Cabinet Minister.’”
He worked in the Labour docket for one year before going back to the Ministry of Education, which he headed for seven years straight. One of his biggest challenges was the implementation of the 8-4-4 system, which had its foundation set by Professor Douglas Odhiambo, the Vice Chancellor of Moi University, and his team. But the students were not getting the envisioned practical education. The Kenya Science Teachers’ College could not produce enough science teachers, so the Minister proposed the creation of KTTC to produce more teachers to specialise in technical courses.
“As a former teacher, President Moi had a passion for education. He gave me his full support because I was always honest with him. I reported to the Cabinet that we had to achieve the aims of the 8-4-4 system. I also convinced him that we needed to split the ministry into two – technical and formal education – to make 8-4-4 a success,” he said.
The idea to start regional institutes of technology was mooted and implemented, and saw the likes of Dedan Kimathi, Rift Valley, Coast, Western and Ramogi technical institutes established around the country.
His tenure as Minister for Education was, however, cut short in 1990 by the re-entry of Njonjo as an elected MP for Kikuyu Constituency and Minister for Constitutional Affairs, after he resigned as Attorney General.
“In my war with Njonjo, Moi replaced me with William Omamo, who was so excited to hear the 1pm KBC news bulletin that he rushed to take over while I was still seated in my office!” Aringo recalled with amusement.
He was moved to the low-key Ministry of Employment but he decided not to report and instead kept his distance for close to a year in protest. His removal from Education was shortly after his friend and colleague, Dr Robert Ouko, had been kidnapped from his rural home in Kisumu District and killed. That was one of the darkest periods in Aringo’s working life.
“I spent most of my time in my constituency thereafter. I was a rebel in the Government, and the media nicknamed me ‘Rogue Minister’. I believed that people high up in Government were involved (in Ouko’s death) and I personally told Moi that it was not possible that a Minister for Foreign Affairs could be killed without involvement of the Government.”
Aringo was the only Cabinet Minister to record a statement with Inspector John Troon of the Scotland Yard Crime Unit, who came to Kenya to investigate Ouko’s death. He stated that he believed his colleague had been eliminated in a conspiracy involving senior Government officials
The Minister also strongly felt that his continued stay as KANU Chairman was untenable as his efforts to strengthen the ruling party were being frustrated from within. He had held the top party position for five years (1986 to 1991) and resigned at State House Nairobi at 4pm, before his sacking was announced on KBC at 8pm.
Aringo returned to the National Assembly as a backbencher after he was re-elected two more times. He used his academic and political experience to call the presidency to account through legislation and an oversight role. He also joined an Opposition party, FORD-Kenya, led by Odinga, and broke all ties with his former boss.
Aringo is known to have once referred to the President as “the prince of peace” during a public event. Neither Moi’s critics nor the clergy were amused. However, what he would like to be remembered for are parliamentary reforms that saw the creation of PSC, and the creation of a Budget Office and a Budget Committee to interrogate and approve the national budget before it is read, debated and approved by Parliament.
His colleagues unanimously elected him as the first vice chairman of PSC. In addition, during sessions of the National Constitution of Kenya Review Commission, dubbed the Bomas Conference (2003-2004), Aringo successfully moved the Affirmative Action Motion to recognise the sovereignty of the people in the Constitution “to dismantle the powers of the imperial presidency”; and a controversial one on impeaching the presidency, both of which were captured in the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
His parting shot, after serving as a commissioner with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission for six years, was: “A politician grows to be a statesman. A politician looks to the next elections, but a statesman looks to the horizon to see the long-term impact of policies on the society and communities, and this is what I have transformed myself into. You don’t have to be the President to be a statesman. That is the problem we have in Africa – a deficit of leadership.”
As he stares into his sunset years at 77, the ‘Rogue Minister’, who is a consultant on budget processes and rules of procedure for 11 parliaments in Africa, says he is happy that the Constitution has recognised and empowered citizens to seek redress in court to challenge actions by the President, his deputy, ministers and other top Government officials as they so wish and by right.