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Study and Leisure in the 60s & 70s
How I Escaped a Massacre in 1969
A local TV channel recently aired an old reel of the spat between Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga at ‘Russia’ Hospital in Kisumu and it brought to me fresh memories of an eventful and tragic 1969. Among the events that remain etched in my mind include the July assassination of politician and unionist Tom Mboya and the August visit of Pope Pius to Uganda (first modern Pope to visit Africa). That year closed out with the violent event that played out in Kisumu on October 25, 1969. I was then a Form 1 student in a catholic seminary in Kakamega which I had joined in Standard 6 two years earlier. The seminary was run by Mill Hill Fathers (mostly Irish). When ‘Bobby’ Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 the Rector, Father Kevin O’Rourke, declared a day of mourning stating that “the Irish fathers were so downcast they could not make it to class”. Even though the Kennedy brothers were second generation American, Irish Catholics back home and in every corner of the world regarded them as first cousins. The Kennedys trace their roots to Middle Ages Ireland and Scotland but their great grandfather Patrick left Ireland a pauper and went to Boston where his sons and grandsons were to create a massive political and business empire in the USA. This achievement raised the profile of Irish Catholic Americans to a new level, where previously they were frowned upon by upper class Presbyterian and Episcopalian ‘Brahmins’. The death of Tom Mboya also hit our Irish teachers rather hard as there was a very close link between Tom Mboya and the Kennedys and by extension to every Irish living in Kenya. The famous ‘airlifts’ that benefited B. Obama Sr., G. Saitoti, W. Maathai, J. Kamotho etc, as well as the establishment of what was called the Peace Corps, a part of USAID the agency that channels massive aid to Africa were attributed largely to a meeting Tom Mboya had with J F Kennedy in 1959. Jomo Kenyatta opened Pan African Paper Mills at Broderick Falls below Chetambe Hills on October 24. Speaking on KBC he expressed his frustration at not being able to pronounce the name Broderick and asked the crowd if there was a local name. The Bungoma political class of the day choose a Bukusu name ‘Webuye’ over what should have been a Tachoni name. The Tachoni are related to the Sabaot-Sebei of Mt Elgon. But due to pre and post colonial pressure from their Luhya neighbours they have succumbed to the incorrect position that somehow they belong to a (nonexistent) clan of the Bukusu.
After opening Pan Paper Jomo spent the night at State Lodge Kakamega. The next day, a Saturday, he proceeded to Kisumu. It had been arranged a day earlier that a Boys Scout contingent from the seminary would be ferried to Kisumu for crowd control. Luckily for us the lorry that was to take us to Kisumu could not leave the Kakamega DCs Office due to a mechanical breakdown. The most we did was clap for Mzee as he zipped by at high speed on the stretch of straight road abuting the gate into the seminary at Mukumu
And so I lived to tell this story.
I left St Peter’s Seminary after Form II and proceeded to Butula High in Marachi, Busia. There I learned indirectly from a son of late Paramount Chief Ongoma who was an officer of rank during the chaos at Kisumu that indeed the scene was violent and we would be most likely dead if we had made it to ‘Russia’ Hospital for that crowd control assignment.