Joseph Daniel Otiende Kenyas first Education Minister, in a pale shadow of himself
Written by John Kabaka
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Joseph Daniel Otiende first Kenyan Education minister after independence at his home in Kegoye village in Vihiga. [Photos/ John Kabaka / West Fm]
Donning a black coat, a black pair of trousers tightly held high waist by a sisal string; he can easily pass for a peasant farmer reeling under the shackles of poverty.
This is Joseph Daniel Otiende, popularly known as a man who boasts of seeing Kenya made to the extend he could write the country’s history, but today he reflects a pale shadow of himself.
At 94, the Makerere graduant is still an avid educationist, nothing in his appearance gives you an idea about the authority he wielded while he served in various senior capacities as minister for agriculture, transport and communication, health and East African Affairs.
Otiende Estate in Nairobi was named in his honour.
J.D Otiende, as he came to be popularly known, has seen and done a lot that would fill the pages of the history of Kenya.
Born to pastor Daniel Okello, he joined Kegoye Intermediate School in his neighbourhood for his elementary education before sitting for the Certificate of Intermediary Education at Maseno Mission School in 1929.
Otiende recalls that his admission number at Alliance was 113 and that he first wore shoes when he joined the school a year later.
Still in control of his memories, Otiende recalls the torn patched up shorts both he and his countryman who later became his cabinet colleague, the late James Gichuru, wore when they together joined the prestigious Makerere University in Uganda the year 1934.
He says his passion for medicine was deflated by the conservative nature of his parents who associated doctors with murderers forcing him to take teaching instead at the then prestigious university.
On graduation, Otiende was posted to Kaimosi Mission School in Hamisi District as a senior teacher, a position he held for two years before being transferred to Alliance High School, which was known as Alliance Mission School back then, in the same capacity.
Some of his students for the eight years at Alliance included the late Moses Mudavadi, father of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Local Government Musalia Mudavadi. He brags of helping the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga enrol for adult classes while at Alliance, Otiende says he published a newspaper Africa Leader in 1944 followed by a book on Abaluhyawes people in 1945 while at Alliance.
He points the 'Omulundu' tree (below) he treasure so much he says some years back, elephants could rest here and the tree as well is a habitat for birds during some seasons in the world. , behind his home.
Otiende who still lives by W.B Yeats’ maxim that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of fire did not see good and bad things without having a share of sufferings occasioned by the Government then.
Otiende was appointed to head development projects in Western region where he initiated over 20 projects, including the Maragoli Post Office, Lunyerere water project and Bukhungu stadium as he considered switching to politics.
Otiende then used his clout in the region to mobilize youths in Western Province to join the Mau Mau movement and also joined ranks with other freedom fighters in pressurizing for the exit of the colonial Government.
Together with Tom Mboya, he became an outspoken trade unionist who advocated for fairness in the labour industry.
He says he retreated to his rural home on October 20 1952 when a State of Emergency was declared by the colonial governor Sir Evelyn Baring, and the famous Kapenguria six (Kenyatta, Achieng Oneko, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia, Kungu Karumba and Fred Kubai) were, subsequently, arrested.
It was here that he hid confidential documents of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, which were being sought by the colonial authorities. His home was also a safe haven for freedom fighters.
While in Kegoye, he continued to advocate for the release of the captured independence heroes through letters to the authorities.
The aerial view of the Otiende Estate in Kakamega.It is one of the estate that big people in the town reside.
His turn came in 1955 when he was placed under house arrest by the colonialists for his troubles.
A strong sense of hope that Kenyan will one day become independent helped him fight the temptation of committing suicide for the six years he was under house arrest.
When Kenya African National Union (KANU) was formed in 1960, its General Secretary, James Gichuru, facilitated his release through negotiations with the colonial authorities.
He was appointed Kenyan’s representative at the World Health Organization exposing him to the world. “I’ve never seen more wonderful things than the Giza Pyramids in Egypt or the ancient wonders of Greece,” he avers.
When Kenyatta and the other five where released from prison at the Kapenguria Prison, he joined them in a series of meetings to strategise for the forthcoming elections.
During the 1963 elections, he successfully vied for the parliamentary seat to represent the larger Western Region which comprised of Maseno, parts of Nandi Hills and Western Province.
His good development record as a regional representative for western landed him a cabinet post controlling the education docket.
Otiende later served in other ministries, including Agriculture, housing, culture and East African Affairs until 1969 when parliament was dissolved and lost the seat at the subsequent elections.
His appointment to the United Nations Environmental programme (UNDP) as the country’s representative offered solace for his nose-diving political star.
He was relieved of his duties in December 1978, barely two months after the death of the founding father of the Nation, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Otiende blames his subsequent woes to the retired president Moi’s regime whom he accuses of failing to recognize his contribution to the nation.
Otiende enjoys spending time in his library when he is not meeting visitors at his humble abode unlike other former dignitaries who cherish living in the past.
Still going strong, Otiende strolls to Mbale market to meet friends and acquaint himself with current affairs during his free time. Being the patron of the Luhya Elders’ Council, Otiende often attends council meetings in different parts of the province.
Looking back on his life Mzee Otiende thanks God for allowing him to sire eight daughters who works in various parts of the world whom he says are supportive “They are very supportive.” He stresses.
However, his voice quivers when he recalls the death of his four sons. As he points to a graveyard in his compound, he is struck with awe and in a soft voice he says, “I lost a wealthy son who lies there.”
Otiende contends that eating the right foods and avoiding excess fats has contributed to his longevity.
His diet of traditional foods consists of sweet potatoes, traditional vegetables such as amaranthus, black nightshade, okra and spider weed or livogoi, lisutsa, murele and tsisaga respectively. His ugali is prepared from millet flour.
Despite the fact that he owns dairy cows, he drinks black tea to avoid fats from milk.