Jun 15, 2021

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Meticulous wordsmith Philip Ochieng’s alluring legacy

He was obsessed with disseminating knowledge ranging from the rich classical times to the present day.

That talent apparently ran in the family when his younger brother Robert Otani emerged from Ochieng’s shadow to himself to claim as a sub-editor.

To paraphrase Wole Soyinka, Ochieng would proudly declare that a pengler cannot flog his penglitude. He sometimes called himself Pengele .

He valued talent and was respectful. Ironically, he was a quiet gentleman behind the punchy articles that many remember vividly.

As flawless as his writing was, Ochieng was also a sharp dresser. He wore expensive three-piece suits. The vest was ubiquitous when he was in the office.

The preppy one in him must have been sharpened while living and studying in the United States. He was, of course, one of the beneficiaries of the Airlift from Kenyan students, Thomas Joseph Mboya, aka Tom Mboya, to graduate college in the United States in the 1960s.

Studied at the University of Chicago

By the way, he was on the same plane with Pamela Odede, the future wife of the mercury union. Freedom fighter and top Mzee Jomo Kenyatta cabinet minister Mboya.

Ochieng and Pamela remained friends until she died in January 2009. But as would become characteristic of Ochieng, he never finished his university course and would find his way to East Germany during the Cold War. Ochieng was fluent in German and French.

After joining the UK’s Mirror Group in 1988 as the successor to Ted Graham, an Englishman who was Group Managing Editor of the Kenya Times in partnership with the then ruling party Kanu, there was an exodus of journalists in the direction of Kingsway House with a view of the University of Nairobi and the central police station.

Ochieng got on well with young and old. He felt comfortable with old namesake Philip Wangalwa, a seasoned news editor, as well as a young and extremely talented feature writer, Makena Aritho.

Some of the biggest writing assignments I’ve done for the Daily Nation < / em> were his ideas. I remember a special report on the changing face of downtown Nairobi, where embassies have moved out and our own capital hill has emerged. He edited these articles personally.

Ochieng was a workaholic. After returning to the Nation after a stay overseas, he became Chief Sub-Editor and was later promoted to Associate Editor. Then he became Managing Editor, Daily Nation , before accepting the invitation to Kanu’s own Kenya Times .

Deep sense of humor

He attracted good journalists. Ochieng loved to compete with the nation for well-written and edited stories on hard news and features.

I have never seen a spirited campaign like his longstanding memoir on the defense One-party rule that he wrote for weeks, sometimes starting on the front page and turning into two or three inside pages. Whenever Ochieng thought about something, he did so with unparalleled dedication and finesse.

Ochieng was a football lover who fanatically supported Gor Mahia. But he was full of respect for their arch-rivals AFC (formerly Abaluyia Football Club) Leopards for appreciating the competition between the two giants of Kenyan football.

He would never miss a game from Gor Mahia Nairobi. I remember that one day when he started writing an editorial and left it halfway on his typewriter. I was the production editor at Kenya Times at the time. When I realized we were late, I picked up his typewriter and completed the editorial. When he came back, he read it and thanked me for it.

There was never a time when Ochieng didn’t read or write. In addition to regular columns, he produced well-researched articles on each of his favorite topics.

And he had a deep sense of humor. Before giving up alcohol, Ochieng enjoyed his whiskey and often talked about having two eyes (a double death) that reminded him of his sips with Ugandan writer Okot p’Bitek of the Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol fame. He explained that one eye shouldn’t cry while another is closed. Both had to be open, hence the need for double tots.

I never learned how to drive

Surprisingly, Ochieng was a technophobic. By the time computers got to the Nation Center, he might have been the last convert.

He had this little typewriter with fine soft keys that he appreciated. After the other editors and writers had been trained to work on the computers in the old Atex system, Ochieng kept typing his work and had someone else type it into the computer. But he never looked back when he got started.

In all these years he never learned how to drive a car. He valued his drivers. At the Kenya Times there was a guy named Njenga whose services Ochieng particularly appreciated in those days when he had one for the street and was safely delivered home.

Ochieng was a well-traveled man who often spoke of his exploits overseas. His legacy would be incomplete without mentioning his American daughter, who came to Kenya a few years ago in search of her roots and was reunited with him and the extended family.

Ochieng was first and foremost a true East African who had notable posts as a journalist in Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam.

He ended up in Kampala after denouncing Kenya’s supportive role in the 1976 Entebbe raid in Uganda by dictator Idi Amin.

He was basically outraged by the violation of the territorial integrity of the neighboring country and not by the support of terrorism or aircraft hijackings.

Many remember his statement “Nation of Sheep”, which outraged many. Are you all right, word smith Pengele.