Samuel Losuron Poghisio – A deep desire to defend his people drove him to politics

As the Minister for Information, Assistant Minister for Education and a Member of Parliament, Samuel Losuron Poghisio set himself apart as an avid debater and regular commentator on topical issues. As one of the most visible national leaders from the Pokot community, he was among the fortunate few who, in the 1960s and 1970s, managed to escape a vicious cycle of poverty to go to school.

Poghisio was born on 25 November 1958 in Kacheliba, West Pokot, which was then a Kenyan territory being administered from Uganda following a colonial directive by the British government that at the time controlled both Kenya and Uganda. The Karamoja and Pokot were put under one jurisdiction in the hope that either community would swallow the other culturally and solve the persistent cattle rustling and inter-ethnic conflicts. This experiment failed and is believed to have contributed to the marginalisation of the Pokot community, which for years after was plagued by poverty, disease and lack of education, made worse by cattle raids and inter-ethnic violence.

Poghisio started school when the Pokot were still under Ugandan administration. In 1970, the region was handed back to Kenya under the supervision of Simeon Nyachae, who was the Provincial Commissioner of Rift Valley. Poghisio was fortunate enough to have an educated father who had worked as a nurse/dresser in the first hospital in Uganda and later as an assistant chief. He ensured that his children went to school.

Poghisio later went to Makerere University in Uganda from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. He started teaching at Chewoyet Secondary School and resigned in 1985 to pursue a Master’s degree in Communication at Daystar University. By 1987, only he and District Commissioner Augustine Lomada could be counted as graduates from Kacheliba, according to an interview with the Sunday Standard in March 2017.

Between 1982 and 1984, the government carried out ‘Operation Nyundo’, which was a crackdown on the ngoroko (as a group of armed Pokots were known at the time). The military was deployed and what followed were allegations of human rights abuses that became part of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report. According to press reports, the operation left many people maimed or dead. Having witnessed the effects of the operation, and the silence from the international community, Poghisio resolved to stand up for his people. This, coupled with the desire to help them get access education, is what spurred him to join politics. His slogan for he 1987 elections was Kalamu Mrefu (the long pen).

By then he was working for one of the fiercest critics of President Daniel arap Moi’s government, the outspoken Anglican Church of Kenya Bishop Alexander Muge, who headed the Eldoret Diocese. Poghisio managed projects run by the Anglican Church in West Pokot. He was also a close associate of Francis Lotodo, the Kapenguria MP who had been accused of leading the Pokot Liberation Organisation (a dodgy accusation according to Poghisio, who said it was a creation of the government to justify Operation Nyundo).

Running against him in the parliamentary elections was a man who had stood as best man at his wedding just months earlier, Peter Nang’ole. According to Poghisio, Nang’ole was bankrolled by KANU, the ruling party, and given a brand new Land Rover as well as the backing of the Provincial Administration, then a powerful organ of the government. In the party primaries, which were conducted using the mlolongo (queue voting) system, Nang’ole won but failed to garner the 70 per cent required for one to be declared the outright winner. This called for a repeat election as per party regulations.

Poghisio won the repeat elections but it was Nang’ole’s name that was gazetted as the area MP. It took the intervention of the Speaker of Parliament, Moses Keino, to correct the ‘mistake’. However, Poghisio’s victory was short-lived. On 14 July 1988, the KANU National Executive Council expelled him and Lotodo from the party and, with a stroke of the pen, they lost their parliamentary seats.

Poghisio didn’t waste any time. He took a sabbatical from politics and went to the United States of America to study for a PhD at the Lincoln University in Illinois. When he returned four years later, KANU approached him to contest in the 1992 multiparty elections but he declined, choosing instead to teach at Daystar University.

He re-entered the political scene in the 1997 elections, once again running against his old foe Nang’ole and beating him by a landslide (80 per cent). Over the next five years, he would serve in a parliamentary commission and as Assistant Minister for Education after Lotodo, a fellow Pokot who was by then Minister for Energy, died in office.

In 2002, he won the Kacheliba seat again on a KANU ticket, but with the former ruling party now consigned to the Opposition, he served as the Shadow Minister for Planning and Economic Development. Professor Anyang’ Nyong’o worked in the corresponding role in the main government. In 2007, he joined Kalonzo Musyoka’s Orange Democratic Movement Kenya party. And when Musyoka joined the coalition government as the Vice President, Poghisio was appointed Minister for Information.

It was in the Ministry of Information that he left an indelible mark by the sheer volume of work he did in efforts to modernise Kenya’s ICT apparatus, digitise government records, launch the Media Council of Kenya and initiate the Kenya Year Book among other projects.

Poghisio is also credited with the Communication Act 2008, which streamlined the communication sector in a time of rapid technological growth that necessitated amending the law to capture the new realities in broadcasting and ICT needs.

In 2013, having represented the Kacheliba constituents for 15 years, he decided to expand his horizons by vying for the West Pokot seat as a member of the United Republican Party, against Professor John Lonyangapuo of KANU. By then he was deeply involved in the presidential election and hardly campaigned for himself on the ground, making it easy for Lonyangapuo to win the election. In 2017, he joined hands with Lonyangapuo, this time going for the West Pokot County Senate seat while Lonyangapuo vied for the governorship. Both ran successful campaigns and won.

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