*By Concerned Comrade John Gwambo*
Born in 1951, the 69 year old veteran Kenyan politician James Bob Aggrey Orengo is currently the longest serving Member of Parliament in Kenya having been elected as the Ugenya MP in the then by-election in 1980. He attended Ambira Primary School in Ugenya before joining Alliance High School in 1965 and finally The University of Nairobi in 1971 to pursue law. While at the university he was elected President of the student union in his second year, this saw him lead the first ever students strike in the university during the 1973-1974 academic year which followed the discontinuation of the entire final year students of the Architecture department. Basically, he led a student coup to wrest the prestigious architectural department from the firm grip of Asians and the European students.
After leaving the university in 1975, James Orengo culminated into a radical political activist and intellectual who took center-stage in Kenya’s push for a proper democratic dispensation – second liberation as its proponents call it, back in the 80s and early 90s during the agitation for multiparty democracy.
Together with fellow young turks, they coalesced around the aging Jaramogi Oginga Odinga – deity of Kenyan opposition politics, who pushed for an alternative leadership after falling out with his independence struggle comrade and Kenyan first President Jomo Kenyatta. In 1982, during the aborted coup, Orengo was among those in the government’s radar, for working in cohorts with the coup plotters.
For fear of being executed, he decided to seek asylum in Tanzania through Uganda but this did not last for long as the governments of the two nations struck a deal that saw the fugitives of the both countries exchanged. Orengo found himself home, for the first time without freedom. He describes his journey from Tanzania to Kenya as a treacherous one with an experience he would never wish even on his worst enemy.
After nine months in detention, at Naivasha Maximum Prison in the water logged cells, he again tasted freedom but by this time round he had lost his parliamentary seat having missed eight consecutive sittings in parliament.
Orengo captured his parliamentary seat back in 1992, in the first multiparty elections through Ford Kenya Party. When Raila’s father died in 1994,after failing to clinch the 1992 presidential election, a split emerged between Orengo and Raila that saw the two buddies partying ways.
During the burial of Odinga senior, and in the presence of the then sitting President Daniel Arap Moi, Orengo, a representative of youthful radicals read a hard hitting speech Woe Unto You targeted at the dictatorial head of state. There were rumors of Orengo’s impending arrest after the funeral. Consensus was then building that the fiery lawyer should inherit the senior Odinga’s political constituency, given that he had been nick-named the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s first born political son.
By all this time there was a shared feeling that the younger Odinga – Raila either lacked the ideological ground and clarity to inherit his father’s constituency or that his intellectual firepower was not up to par with the kind of leader the people desired. But in the end Raila’s charisma, scheming and ability for mass mobilization out-shined everyone else, making him the closest opposition leader that nearly captured the presidential seat.
Orengo unsuccessfully contested the presidential seat in 2002 under the banner of the Social Democratic Party but came distanced third, after literally protesting Raila’s unilateral endorsement of Mwai Kibaki who won the vote and turned against Raila leading to the bloody 2007 post-election violence.
Since then Orengo has travelled with Raila in a long journey of turbulent tribulation struggle, therefore becoming the latter’s dependable protégé. It is Orengo the senior counsel who together with the then Kenya Attorney General Amos Wako drafted the coalition government deal that saw Raila become Prime Minister while Mwai Kibaki remained president after the disputed 2007 presidential election results.
The senior respected lawyer was the head of a team of litigants who successfully argued for the nullification of the August 8th 2017 presidential election by Kenya’s Supreme Court.
The team argued that Odinga’s victory had been stolen by the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta in collaboration with the corrupted electoral commission whose head of technology Chris Musando was found gruesomely murdered a week before elections. It also became clearer that as the co-conspirators of Odinga’s mock swearing in at Uhuru Park on 30th January 2018 were being cracked down by security officers, they never pounced on Orengo because the state was aware of his stature within the opposition ranks – possibly being Odinga’s number two in terms of struggle credentials. It was the same logic that such a high profile arrest might have resulted in massive public unrest by opposition supporters across the country – that made the state shelve any intention of arresting and charging Odinga with treason.
James Orengo is the current Siaya senator serving his second term. He has been on record stating that he has ambitions to become the next Siaya Governor, a move that many pundits believe will mess him big time based on his poor development track record compared to his legislative role.
Orengo is famous for a statement he made on the floor of the house during the debate on security laws, about the revolution eating its own people and in future the government punishing those who supported it more than those who were opposed to it in the past. It has come to pass therefore earning him the name ‘prophet’.
But what leaves most of his supporters and those who believe in the course he has been fighting for tongue-tied is the recent development when he demanded Senator Murkomen to apologize on the floor of the house having told off President Kenyatta to stop lying and allocate the Senate oversight funds. According to Orengo, this was blackmail on the Presidency. But this is what he has been doing all along since he was elected which begs the phrase ‘as things change they remain the same’.
Authored by Concerned Komrade (John Gwambo). Also by me, Titus Adungosi, The Unsung Hero. Click here to read it.
A writer who reflects, re-members and re-envisions the political society with the aim of interrogating the past, the present, to fashion the future.
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