Stephen Oluoch Ondiek joined the Cabinet as Minister for Manpower Development in 2001 when most Nyanza leaders had abandoned KANU and President Daniel arap Moi to join the Opposition. Nyanza, and specifically Luo-Nyanza, chose to have nothing to do with Moi and his KANU regime after the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in 1992. Their leader of choice was Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who in 1992 was a presidential candidate on a Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD)-Kenya ticket.
Ironically, the soft-spoken head of the Legio Maria Church of Africa was encouraged to enter elective politics by Oginga in 1983 at a time when KANU was being popularised as “baba na mama” (father and mother) and was the only legal political party in the country.
Ondiek effectively used his church position to woo voters and successfully ran for the Ugenya parliamentary seat against his brother-in-law James Orengo. The cleric was a backbencher for several years before Moi named him Public Works assistant minister.
He was re-elected in the 1988 General Election — the infamous mlolongo (queue voting) exercise — but Orengo bounced back in 1992 following the reintroduction of multipartism.
Until his death in 2011, Ondiek did not return to Parliament as an elected leader. Orengo remained Ugenya MP from 1992 to 2013 when he opted to contest the Siaya senatorial seat.
Ondiek briefly held the post of Siaya KANU branch Chairman. That party position had been held by William Odongo Omamo until his defection to the Raila Odinga-led National Development Party (NDP) in 1997.
Ondiek’s name became nationally known during his short tenure as minister as he responded to questions from MPs in Parliament on behalf of his ministry and of his absent Cabinet colleagues. The parliamentary Standing Orders of the day reserved one hour after Question Time on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for ministers to respond to matters raised by backbenchers.
His most enduring legacy remains in the education field. He had a passion for education and invested in both primary and secondary schools in Nairobi, Kisii and in his home area, Siaya.
Some of his constituents, however, accused him of misusing his office as the patron of the Ugenya Constituency Development Fund to favour schools he was associated with during the allocation of fees to needy students.
In November 2002 tragedy struck. As his children were driving back to Nairobi, they were involved in an accident only hours after helping their father win the party nomination. Three of them died.