Friday, August 13, 2004

Who is Adongo Ogony?

A Profile of a Veteran Kenyan Anti-Imperialist Activist

By his comrade and friend, Onyango Oloo

Do you know who this person is?

I mean the guy in the picture below:

No, that is NOT Adongo Ogony.

That is in fact, "Dr" Remy Ongala, the legendary singer and bandleader of Orchestra Super Matimila of Tanzania.

Here is a "CV" of Remy Ongala

One of the best selling albums in Super Matimila's history was

Songs of the Poor Man

that was issued in the late 1980s around the time Remy did a successful international tour as part of the WOMAD festival. I remember seeing him perform at the Euclid Theatre, just west of Bathurst and College in Toronto sometime in 1990, if I am not mistaken.

Among the highlights of that classic release is Kipenda Roho,a humurous song that educates people about HIV/AIDS while poking fun gently at sexual and religious hypocrisy.

Visit This Link to learn More About Remy and Orch.Matimila

One of my friends is a very big fan of Remy Ongala.

We both used to follow and attend Remy's concerts when we were exiled in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania between 1987 and 1988.

That friend is none other than Adongo Ogony.

And this is his story....

Militant Student Activism; Secret Police Snooping; Abortive Coup Excitement; Carpet House Interrogation; Industrial Area Remand Home and More Tales of Struggle…..

ADONGO OGONY has paid his dues. And then some.

Even though he is still in his early forties, Adongo has been part and parcel of the Kenyan anti-imperialist movement for almost twenty five years- which means he has been a militant political activist for more than half of his life.

During that period Adongo became a radical student activist and leader (he was Secretary General of SONU at the University of Nairobi and editor of Sauti ya Kamkunji in the early 1980s)as well as a cadre of one of the clandestine offshoots of the December Twelve Movement.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce degree as an accountant, Adongo took up an appointment as a lecturer at the Mombasa Polytechnic while exploring options to proceed to the London School of Economics for his Masters.

This was not to be.

He was among the hundreds of democratic and patriotic Kenyans swept in the massive crackdown against alleged members of the Mwakenya movement in 1986. After undergoing torture at the infamous Nyayo House, Adongo was railroaded to Kamiti prison after yet another kangaroo trial. After that stint in jail, he found himself on the run again and literally fled across the border into neighbouring Tanzania in late 1987 when it was clear that the Special Branch were anxious to pick him up again.

In Dar es Salaam he quickly reunited with other Kenyan exiles like the late Kaara wa Macharia, the late Githirwa wa Muhoro, Onyango Oloo, the late Gicheya wa Mungai, Omondi Kabir, Mwandawiro Mghanga and several others who formed the nucleus first of the Me Katilili Revolutionary Movement, and later on merged with the Zimbabwe based Kenya Anti-Imperialist Front (whose leading lights were Micere Mugo and Shadrack Gutto) to form UWAKE, one of the many underground socialist oriented formations( together with Mwakenya, Umoja, MDK, HDK, KRM, KPF, FERA etc) that spearheaded the fight against the Moi tyranny and agitated for multi-party democracy long before the Matibas and Rubias made it sexy.

Adongo Ogony was among about a dozen Kenyan exiles airlifted to Canada when the United Nations High Commission for Refugees could no longer guarantee their safety in Tanzania (a country which in any case had signed a non-aggression security pact with Kenya that specifically stated that neither country would provide asylum or sanctuary to political fugitives fleeing persecution or prosecution from either state).

He was among the refugees profiled in the well-known NFB documentary on Canadian immigration called Who Gets In?(1989)

By July 1989, Adongo Ogony, Onyango Oloo and others helped to found the Kenya Human Rights Organization in Canada and Adongo was pivotal in making this organization one of the main visible expressions of the opposition by Kenyans in Canada of the atrocities perpetrated by the KANU dictatorship in Nairobi.

On November 9, 1989 for example, Adongo was among a group of Kenyans

who picketed the Kenya High Commission on 415 Laurier East Drive in Ottawa to protest the discriminatory special laws and provisions that the Kenya government was imposing on Kenyans who are ethnic Somalis and to agitate for political reforms. One of the deep ironies of contemporary Kenyan history is that the present High Commissioner was arrested together with Adongo and hundreds of other students (the diplomat was first jailed for 6 years and was later on added 4 more years because a fascist magistrate arbitrarily decided that the accused had not exhibited sufficient remorse!)

In February 1990 Adongo Ogony and I were part of a much larger group of Toronto area Kenyans from diverse ethnic, religious, regional and political affiliations who traveled in a long convey to picket at the same location, this time airing and vocalizing our anger

at the wanton and brutal killing of the then Foreign Minister Robert Ouko.

Adongo Ogony has remained a dedicated human rights activist, community development worker, public speaker and writer with connections to progressives from the Eritrean (where his partner is from) Sri Lankan, Colombian, Indigenous, Filipino, Salvadoran, Trini, Jamaican, South African, Sudanese, Nigerian and many other communities.

He is currently one of the two Co-Conveners, along with Farid Omar of the Kenya Democracy Project. He is also on the board of trustees for the Nairobi-based Mulika Communications-a grassroots based activist Kenyan media organization that has produced breakthrough documentaries on the Nyayo House survivors; was one of the first to go behind bars and film women prisoners at Langata Prison and has some very captivating video footage from the giddy days of NARC’s 2002 election campaign.

He is a familiar name in Kenyan cyberspace forums like Mambo Gani and Mashada where he contributes regular critical perspectives on contemporary Kenyan politics. His op-ed pieces have been carried by the Kenya Times, the Standard and the Daily Nation and he has done literally hundreds of interviews with both the mainstream and alternative print and electronic Canadian media.

Adongo is not only a survivor of Nyayo House.

He not only lived to tell his story.

Adongo Ogony was among the group of former political prisoners and detainees who put out this seminal publication below

As you can see from the acknowledgements:

And you can see him listed among the many, many, many Kenyan patriots who passed through those dark water-logged dungeons in the middle of downtown Nairobi:

In March 2003, Adongo Ogony had a very extensive conversation with Onyango Oloo in the course of which he essentially told his life story- growing up poor in Bondo; attending Kakamega High School in Western Province; opting for Commerce after initially wanting to study law at Nairobi University; how a hot water crisis on campus catapulted him into steaming cauldron of student leadership; how he became Secretary General of SONU; how University of Nairobi students acted as the only effective organized opposition in Kenya in 1982 in opposing the promulgation of the dejure one party state regime; the protests, rallies; clandestine leaflet and pamphleteering; how students got caught up in the melee of the abortive coup attempt; how brutal askaris tried to “comb” his hair using an iron nail; how is thrown down a flight of stairs by an enraged Special Branch officer; his recruitment into a Marxist underground organization; his arrest in Mombasa in 1986; his ordeal at Nyayo House; his second stint in jail; his flight into exile and many other things that he had hitherto not spoken publicly about.

It is a very moving and heart rendering revelation and is living testimony of the resilience and mettle that many surviving veterans of the Kenyan underground are made of.

I am convinced that anyone who listens to this interview even half way through will look at Adongo Ogony very differently.

Often names like Adongo Ogony are names for idle hecklers to throw dirt at; they provide a release to the vindictive mean spirited gossips who populate certain Kenyan online forums.

Those of us who do know the real, living and breathing Adongo Ogonys of this world are often genuinely bewildered at the vile vendettas that are sustained by cowards who do not have the courage to face people and tell them directly the lies and slurs that they keep pouring from under their beds, safe in their anonymous cyber bunkers.

To any of them reading this, I say shame on you!

Here is the interview with Adongo Ogony
And down below is the latest contribution from Adongo’s humorous, incisive and ever productive pen:

Are Our MPs For Real?
By Adongo Ogony

I was stunned absolutely when some NAK MPs including our learned friend Prof. Kivutha Kibwana angrily claimed they voted for the new Constitutional Review Act, passed in parliament on Thursday August 5, 2004 without knowing what they were voting for. I mean we know these guys are being bribed when it comes to important votes but I didn’t know they are being bribed with achwaka (chang’aa) so that they can leave their brains outside before getting into the National Assembly. This is embarrassing. With all due respect to our wajumbe it looks to me like we have a bunch of whackos and morons making the laws of the land at the most critical time in our history as a nation. It is frightening to say the very least.

Seriously, Prof. Kibwana is a renowned legal scholar and before he became a Kibaki sycophant was a well-respected human rights activist. Is he serious they were duped? Did Raila cover their ears with wax during the debate in the house? Please spare us the drama and the silliness. It is not funny.

During the debate on the floor of the National Assembly, Prof. Kibwana proudly reminded his colleagues about his legal profession. “Some of us are lawyers” Kibwana is reported to have said as he contributed to the debate. I have read the verbatim report of the debate in the Daily Nation (August 10, 2004) and I am sure anybody can read it from the Hansard. In the verbatim report, William Ruto Somei clearly read the amendment requiring 65% approval of all changes in the Bomas draft unless they are by unanimous consensus. Not a single MP raised any concerns. Did Raila bewitch them into silence? Instead the MPs spent a lot of the ten minutes debating about the time line for the new constitution and then went into praising each other for “putting the interests of the nation first”.

The MPs were in a praise frenzy. It started with Kosgey talking how they (MPs) have let Kenyans down in the past. He was greeted with applause. Then it was Angwenyi thanking his phony consensus team of Koech and company. He too got a round of applause. Not to be left out was Ms. Mbarire who also congratulated the house to yet another round of applause. Finally Raila and Murungi had the last applause as they both thanked the house for the reconciliatory mood. How in hell can these same MPs now say they had no clue what they were doing? Give us a break.

On the other hand this could be true. There is a funny cartoon in East African Standard August 10, 2004 showing MPs lining outside parliament with someone giving out money. One MP arriving at the scene asks his friend already on the line “what is the debate in the house today” His friend replies, “I don’t know, but it must be important. There is a lot of money” May be this stuff is actually happening. MPs are voting when they are exactly clueless what it is they are voting for. Someone told me most of MPs yelling and screaming about the draft constitution have not even bothered to read it. Now I believe that is probably the case.

Now let put things in perspective. When the MPs hiked their pay to become the millionaires they now are, they told us they needed the money so that nobody can corrupt them. I found the argument offensive because basically the MPs were telling Kenyans we have to bribe them otherwise someone else will. Now that we know they are lining up to receive money can we get a figure on how much more we need to pay them to stop them from this money for votes scheme. How much more did we have to pay them so that they can at least listen to amendments and read the bills before they pass them? Let’s get a ballpark figure to work with.

The interesting thing about the new review act is that it has brought everybody from the woodworks. Koigi has already ordered President Kibaki not to sign the bill. Koigi’s objection is not because he is opposed to parliament butchering the Bomas draft, but rather that parliament needs to have more power to be able to really mutilate the draft to suit Koigi’s interests which we all know by now. Koigi is raving mad about the 65% clause, which he sees as another Raila ploy. Poor Raila he has to put up with all the lunacy whenever NAK finds itself in trouble, most of which are of their own creation.

Then we have the NCEC and our good friends Kepta Ombati, Rev. Njoya and company who also oppose the new Review Act but for a completely different reason from Koigi. They too want Kibaki to kill the Review bill. Their position is that parliament has no business at all changing the draft. I agree with them. In fact given the recent of revelations of high corruption in parliament, something which even a cabinet minister Martha Karua has confirmed, Kenyans should ask themselves if these are the people to give us a new constitution, our parliament is a house of disgrace and greed. May be we should negotiate with the MPs in terms of how much money we can pay them to terminate our five year contract with them and hold fresh elections.

The tricky part with the NCEC and the Njoya team is that they are also vehemently opposed to the Bomas Draft and as of now have actually failed to come up with any workable mechanism to change the Bomas Draft. The irony is that when Rev. Njoya showed up at Bomas with the so-called Ufangamano Draft it looked very much like the failed Sulumeti consensus draft maintaining presidential monarchy which is ruining our country as we speak. My question to my NCEC colleagues is what exactly your proposals for amending the draft are and secondly do people in the NCEC endorse that heinous Ufangamano draft because frankly it scares me?

My fear is if we do not allow parliament to at least tinker with the draft while at the same time we have no credible alternative to change the draft we are basically asking the government to keep messing the country with the present rotten constitution.

I find it rather strange that the NCEC or at least Rev. Njoya and most of our friends in the civil society did not seem to be bothered with the dubious consensus team of Mr. Koech and company. My humble advice to our comrades in the civil society is that I think we are going to have to be consistent and rather specific in what we want from the constitution. We all don’t have to agree but let’s put all the cards on the table.

The civil society has allowed politicians to hijack the constitutional agenda either through the conspiracy of silence or jumping on the political band wagons or even worse by falling into the tribal trap. The level of tribalism within the civil society groups is quite frankly frightening.

The fact that some of the hitherto regal voices in the struggle for a people driven constitution like our friend Prof. Kibwana have become shameless advocates of allowing parliament to butcher the Bomas draft have brought serious question marks on the credibility of the civil society. Kenyans are rightfully seeing people from the civil society as opportunists who complain against injustice, but as soon as they join the powers that be become the worst and most reckless sycophants. The civil society including the religious groups that have for a long time been considered as the conscience of the nation have exposed their selfish agendas and it will be a long time before Kenyans can really take us seriously. It is a burden we have to carry even though some of us did not participate in the crimes. I believe we are all guilty one way or the other so there is no need for the blame game but we should seriously critique the role the civil society groups have played in the constitutional fiasco in the country today.

Now about the 65% requirement and the hue and cry for Kibaki to intervene. Personally I had at one time supported the idea of parliament changing the draft in an article I wrote when things were hot during Bomas III. My suggestion was that we should agree on a threshold of 70% of members needed to change the draft. I was actually hoping that this could be amicably agreed upon between the delegates at NCC including the MPs.

My reasoning then which I believe could also apply to the 65% requirement was that first, all the 222 MPs were delegates at Bomas. In fact parliamentarians made the largest single group among the delegates. The MPs were a third of the delegates. If they were united in what they wanted they would have gotten everything they agreed on.

Also by being delegates it means the MPs had fully participated in all the discussions and votes at the committees and at the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) plenary. From the foregoing it is obvious that if there is still something in the draft the MPs do not like then it must be because they failed to persuade the Bomas delegates to accept their point of view. In other words allowing the MPs to change the draft is giving them a second chance. It is called double dipping. It is for this reason that I felt and still do that if the MPs have to change the draft it has to be something where there is unanimity or a very high threshold. I agree with Ruto that a high threshold for MPs to change the draft serves the purpose of maintaining the integrity of the draft. The integrity of the MPs is another story altogether.

By the way now that the corruption and double dipping of MPs is public knowledge, there is something that really stunned me for the few days I attended the Bomas conference last year. It turned out that most MPs particularly the NAK/DP crew did not attend the discussions but strangely every Friday they would all so up to collect the hefty allowances and drive out of town to go to the villages and start insulting the delegates and begging Kibaki to shut down Bomas and hand over the work to “experts”. How many MPs including cabinet ministers returned their allowances because they were not participating at Bomas? May be we should check that with PLO Lumumba, the CKRC secretary. These people are leeches for sure. Shame on them.

Anyhow the second reason I was willing to compromise and give parliament an opportunity to change the draft is the possibility that may be there is something just completely outrageous in the draft that escaped everybody’s attention. I thought it would be silly to have no mechanism at all to correct such a mistake.

Yes I think we in the civil society should consider the possibility of letting parliament change the draft. My sense is we should do that by increasing the threshold from 65% to 70%. Of course we know the constitutional conmen and women want the threshold lowered so they can write their own constitution. The bottom line for me is the views Kenyans gave the CKRC must be the basis of our new constitution. That is what will define our new constitution not anybody’s wild fantasy or imagination. The trouble is how do get there and stop the painful marathon of constitution making in our country.

How about Bomas IV? Not bad considering the alternatives. Bomas IV could work. In the past I suggested we hold Bomas IV with a strict three-week time limit and with no drama and trickery and resolve the so-called contentious issues amicably and take the Draft to the referendum. At least we will carry our brains to the plenary hall and make sure we know what we are doing. The same cannot be said about the MPs and their parliament. Think about it.

Here are some other links to writings by Adongo Ogony:

Pickpockets on the Rampage

Mr President Give the Nation a Break!

Rambo in Kisumu

The Police State Won’t Last

Time to Reshuffle Kibaki

No Politics Please, We are Kenyans

Legalize Abortion Now


KochFM said...

we need a full length documentary on Kenyan contemporary struggles. I have watched Walking Shadows by Githuku of Mulika(he has done a brilliant job) but what we need now is for all the people who were actually involved in Mwakenya, December 12, UWAKE and all other progressive movements to give their side of the story. While there might be concerns about intimidation from the powers that be I think we can start with people in the diaspora whose security will not be threatned in Kenya.

As a film maker in Australia(part of the growing AussieKenyan generation) I think we need to celebrate our history. It is noteworthy that in other countries once the movements re-grouped(and not prone to prosecution), the first then they did was used was to make their cause known!

I would be keen on developing this kind of documentary, and hope that you can point me to the right people.

Perth Western Australia.

Anonymous said...

fascinating and I thought you and your friend might like these: