Society

Ogongo: PC whose soft skills impressed Moi

ogongo

Zachary Ogongo, a former provincial administrator, died on January 3 in Athi River aged 65. ILLUSTRATION | STANSLAUS MANTHI |

Summary

Zachary Ogongo (1950-2015)

  • Zachary Ogongo, a former provincial administrator, died on January 3 in Athi River.
  • He rose from the position of a District Officer, which duties he performed well, became a PC and retired from the civil service as a permanent secretary.
  • As an administrator, Mr Ogongo, who later tried his hand in politics, was known for his people skills, making him stand out as an astute negotiator.
  • Mr Ogongo will be buried Friday. He was 65.

When the colonial and post-Independence governments in Kenya opted for a Provincial Administration as their preferred way of decentralising services, there was hope for efficiency and satisfaction.

Instead, Kenyans got more than they had anticipated. The Provincial Administration became synonymous with excesses as rogue power brokers took it for their playground to propagate corruption, extra-judicial killings and even rig elections, among other dirty jobs.

Despite the ugly face of the Provincial Administration, one man stood out. Zachary Ogongo inspired sobriety and arbitration during his long service as an administrator even as he rose through the ranks from a District Officer (DO) to Provincial Commissioner (PC).

His soft skills won him a special place in retired President Daniel Moi’s regime who relied on him to handle regions perceived as hotspots.

Mr Ogongo, who died on January 3, served as Rift Valley PC during the infamous land clashes in the 1990s and was also Moi’s point man in then Central Province at the height of agitation for multiparty politics.

During his term as Rift Valley PC, the administrator did the unthinkable when he contradicted his own boss – Mr Moi – and tactfully apologised for government inaction in quelling tribal clashes in Molo area.

Ndingi clash

In April of 1992, Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki had clashed with the Rift Valley Provincial Administration after he said that unidentified lorries and helicopters were ferrying unknown people into Rikia Forest in Molo.

The cleric questioned why local people had been denied access to the same forest while a civic leader regularly visited the forest late in the evenings.

But Mr Ogongo and the Nakuru District police boss denied the allegations, saying the helicopter Bishop Ndingi was referring to had carried provincial security committee members on a mission to “assess destruction in the forests”.

The administrator accused the bishop of lying and summoned him to the provincial headquarters in Nakuru town to give the information to the local security committee.

The spat drew the attention of 21 other bishops countrywide who rallied behind their colleague, saying he spoke the truth. The bishops, under the Kenya Episcopal Conference, asked Mr Ogongo to apologise to Bishop Ndingi and the entire Catholic Church.

But Mr Moi defended the PC and criticised the bishops for asking Mr Ogongo to apologise to Bishop Ndingi.

He accused the Church of being sympathetic to the two major opposition political parties – Ford Kenya and Ford Asili. The President said the bishops should not hold the government to ransom and force it to admit guilt.

Faced with the danger of escalating tension in the area, Mr Ogongo deployed his soft skills and apologised to Bishop Ndingi days later.

The administrator’s arbitration skills were also put to use when Internal Security minister George Saitoti in 2009 appointed him chairman of a task force to draw up a disputed border between then Tigania and Tharaka districts.

A decades-old dispute had resulted in deaths, destruction of property and stalling of development projects.

Mr Ogongo also served as a permanent secretary in the ministries of Local Government, Lands and Health until his retirement in November 2005. It was, however, not all rosy for the soft-spoken administrator especially in politics, which he joined upon retirement from public service.

He had a near brush with death when hooligans violently confronted him in 2007 during unsuccessful campaigns for the Kitutu Masaba parliamentary seat.

The ODM Kenya parliamentary candidate and close ally of former vice president Stephen Kalonzo and his supporters were campaigning at Riamoni area, the home turf of his Ford People rival, Mwancha Okioma, when he was attacked by youths singing songs in praise of the opponent.

They blocked Mr Ogongo’s convoy and accused him of trespassing. He escaped by seeking refuge in one of his supporters’ house.

During the fracas, several of his supporters were injured and taken to Riakworo health centre where they were treated and discharged. Mr Ogongo remained hidden in the house for four hours before Keroka police boss Thomas Sunguti came to his rescue.

He also unsuccessfully contested for the governor’s seat in Nyamira in the 2013 General Election on an Orange Democratic Movement ticket.

He passed on in Athi River aged 65. Mr Ogongo, who will be buried Friday, is survived by a wife Agnes Moraa, seven children and three grandchildren.