9 November 2012

Kenya: Tribute to Shem Onyango Kwega


In one week, three murders took place in Kisumu. First was the murder of a medical researcher with the American Centre for Disease Control, followed shortly by shooting in broad daylight of my long time friend, aircraft engineer Shem Onyango Kwega.

While the city was still mourning the deaths of the two, another prominent businessman was killed at Mambo Leo in the outskirts of Kisumu!

The police cannot dismiss these murders as pure robbery with no political connections. If they are serious in enforcing the law, they will need to see the connection by looking at the frequency, timing and location.

Odhiambo was murdered in his house in Tom Mboya estate, a few days before Shem. Shem had his petrol business next to Tom Mboya estate.

The third murder took place at Mambo Leo which is just down the road past Kondele. All these three people were men of means. Those who killed Shem stole Sh1.3 million in cash which he was going to deposit at the bank.

This trend is strange to the lakeside city whose share of crimes have generally been of a petty nature. Murdering people in cold blood is the kind of violence which is foreign to Kisumu. That is why it shouldn't take the police long to get those responsible.

Those campaigning for governor, senator, MP and representatives in Nyanza region should make security of residents their top priority especially as criminals have claimed one of ODM's prominent leaders in the county.

At a personal level, I have fond memories of Shem whom I first met nearly four decades ago. At that time, we were just coming out of the university but Shem and his fellow airmen were already established socialites of Nairobi city.

In his company were the late Joash Onyango Oyugi and Abil Okello Jua Cool, the three of them being what were then called flight engineers of the East African Airways and later to be absorbed into the Kenya Airways when the East African Community collapsed.

One other thing-- they were all graduates of the then prestigious East African School of Aviation in Soroti, Uganda, and other reputable aviation schools in the UK and USA.

They used to hang out with three equally flamboyant pilots- the late Steve Rapuoda, Joe Opere and Jim Ouma who all went on to become chief pilots of Kenya Airways in the 1990s.

There was something about this group--they were young, freshly graduated professionals who were all bachelors but had tonnes of cash to spare.

They were the most sought after by members of the opposite sex and yet they did not let the money and popularity go to their heads. They retained their humility and generosity.

Soon after the breakup of the East African Community, Shem took an early retirement and set up base in Kisumu. Instead of being an airman, he took to ground transport with zeal and soon, the sleek Kwega buses were plying Nairobi Kisumu highway with gusto. The bad roads and expensive spare parts for his fleet of buses soon ended his transport business.

Shem was to settle in the oil business at his Kwega petrol station where he set up a mini auto garage that he personally supervised. The more settled he became in Kisumu, the more involved he became with the local politics.

For the last 20 years--since the advent of multi-party politics--he has contested every election for the Kisumu West seat. And in as much as the people of Kisumu loved him, he always found himself in the wrong party especially during the Moi regime. Being a long time Kanu representative in Kisumu, he lost every election to Ford Kenya, Narc and ODM.

At the time of his death, he was in the race to an elective post in Kenya's Parliament after trouncing all his rivals during the ODM party elections to become the Kisumu East ODM chairman.

As Shem is being laid to rest, those of us who knew him will dearly miss his humour and humility as we wait for the police to find and punish his killers.

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