[i,S.I.S note: reposting this obituary from Philo Ikonya with big love, respekt and humility, in honour of the legacy of yet another warrior in the struggle for Afrikan liberation……]
His serene face of concern, always brightened with a smile, was his signature. His words were always that he could give more. I am going to talk about how he always moved for us, always made greater space.
Something is not going right. Someone has been arrested or some people have been arrested in Nairobi. Or, there is a moment to stand up against corruption and be heard. You blow the whistle. Some people drop everything and turn up.
Odipo arrives early. He does not mind whether he is in front or behind the others, Odipo is there. He is not the kind of person who pushes for space for his body. But you can see his mind is focused. He moves it away for you to sit comfortably. He does not move his mind from you and the topic. I can see him move for me and others in a sitting at Kikwetu Restaurant, for a cup of tea that we need badly. I can see him always shifting for someone else to be happy. Odipo listened deeply and looked broadly. Odipo thought carefully through things. He saw himself as a link within a chain that must not break.
I have to share something deeper with you. Odipo has gone and left us but already he has proved that he has seen we are his living body. I mean it. And that means he is our spirit. I say this because after much anguish, the happy man I heard sing in my dream. He says, ‘I have seen my body.’ I cannot hide that from you. He has seen how you moved as Wabunge as a people, human rights defenders and others.
Odipo had seen and spoken about how important it was for all of us to be connected. I know that many amazing heroes of the Kenyan struggle have a history of remaining backstage, remaining the ones who do not get the accolades and wards and I feel pain. I also see signs that this will not always be so. I know it.
When Odipo was arrested with me, he immediately started taking care of me. He moved for me. He told the police off.
On 9 September 2009, just a year and two months and nine days ago, Odipo arrived early outside the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission office. He found Kingwa Kamencu, Khainga O’kwemba and Philo Ikonya outside the offices holding up a poem. We were waiting to read it to the anti-corruption board for we wanted to support them in their bid for Ringera to leave office. The president had tried to hold on to Ringera and Ringera was overstaying his welcome and not working against corruption in a convincing manner. We know the history.
Facing the offices, we had not looked behind us but when we did, there was a policeman, walkie-talkie in the air, striding down the street, the cars having been parked behind our backs. I said to Odipo, ‘Let’s go!’. We did not want to be arrested. Odipo told me, ‘Yes, Philo you are right.’ I heard the policeman say ‘those two’, and he was looking at us. We walked up quietly on the side of former CID headquarters and left the scene. We walked towards Heron Court Hotel and went past. We then came back and noticing a small police van driving slowly near Heron, we hid in some flats higher up the street. We knew the office and we chatted up the secretary nervously. We did not have phones on us and really we had no reason to seriously believe the police were waylaying us for almost half an hour. We left the flats and police cars moved out of the parking fast, and in minutes we were arrested.
I was grabbed first with the words, ‘Get into this car!’ I told them they could arrest me, not beat me and only if there was a woman cop and that he could not touch me. Odipo supported me and asked why they were arresting us.
We also said that if Mr Mugwai – who had beaten me up in February – was in the car, we could not get in.
We were in the vehicle that turned out to be as dark as night, especially since we had come from the light of a bright day. We were told to stay in the middle of the vehicle holding the bar on top. It was uncomfortable. As our pupils dilated and I began to see, I realised the vehicle was filled with helmeted riot police. It was just as well I had not made a dash for the hotel. It had crossed my mind but I had looked at the arresting officer’s own club, unaware that the vehicle was filled with a team.
I could not see Odipo. Suddenly as in the arrest moments someone loses some perspectives; I asked where Odipo was. He answered me he was there in the front of the back part of the van. I realised I still could not see well except for the dark shiny helmets – no faces. He consoled me. He had moved his body right up – and at once we realised this intimidation was too much. We tried to sit down, not realising that there was a person everywhere we could sit, and they threw us up from the bottoms – ‘Simama!’, they shouted. We sang. Odipo started off the tune. It was of the Kenyan national anthem. But the words were ours:
‘Eeh Mungu nguvu yetu,
Ilete Baraka kwetu
Haki yetu iwe ngao na mlinzi.’
The policemen started to taunt us. They asked me if I get a million shillings for wearing a sack. I told them they had done their job – to arrest – and that they could now keep quiet. Odipo went on: We sang three lines and changed to another tune. We sang to ourselves to stand firm and not be shaken.
‘Eeee iyayaya ya weeee!
Philo wetu, weewee,
Simama simama simama imara!’
Odipo was roughed up. He gave up his body whilst his mind looked at me. At Kilimani police station, he told the policemen and the inmates to respect me. He was coughing badly. He got sick. He kept on looking out for me.
I was very surprised by that dream I had the other day. But why should I have been? Odipo always gave up his body for the spirit to grow. I feel he should have lived, but he tells me he wants one body and that he has seen his body. Odipo has not died so that we might be weaker. He has died so that we become stronger.
I feel very challenged. One, it is hard to share dreams in public. It is so easy to be ridiculed when you speak about dreams. But two, they must be shared if they are about us. I draw a lesson: We must continue to dream on and work together. We must heal the divisions that are brought to us.
I know that later that day, I realised Kenya was not so divided, including in civil society in 2007 especially, by chance. We have people who watch us all the time. They work even when they do not arrest us. Today, they will tell you who am I to speak dreams when I am so far away; yesterday they said, do you not see who gets all the attention and even awards, those big guys who speak on TV.
In 2007, they spread to Kenyans that some tribes were this and others that. A village woman spoke to me about communism in a political competitor and her age and all that showed me that this was pure government propaganda. Have you stopped to wonder how even the churches came to be so divided? There is an intelligence that does not like our unity. We have a choice to make. Odipo tells me to insist on the issue of solidarity and not just to say pretty things about dreams. Can we do this together bearing in mind that solidarity is not about uniformity? We must learn to see the wedges, the knives that they run between us and hold on together for real change! I note that Odipo’s great friends had no ethnic code; they were just Kenyans. Let us keep a real Kenya in focus. Let us know our enemies. They know us.
I will not sing a dirge to you
Son of Ramogi,
And of Kenya.
On Mt. Kenya,
Son of Afrika.
My dirge is challenged-
to sing victory
To a child of truth.
To a man of strength,
To a man of commitment.
I come bearing not flowers picked along the road,
But words you spoke and sang.
I come bearing pain too.
Mama Odipo is crying still
The whole clan in tears but blessed.
I want her healing to be Change in Kenya.
I have not come late Comrade,
I come to say you are calling.
You are calling us for greater
Freedom and growth.
I come to say you debated
democracy and rights,
Even on an empty stomach,
in the cells and hospital bed.
I come to say you cared for us.
I come to say your friends were Kenyans,
not tribe. I say too you made my spirit grow.
I feel pain, I do. But you urge me on.
You tell me you have seen your body.
That your body is ours.
I salute you.
Beyond the grave you still challenge us.
Peacefully and with searching glance,
You urge us stand as one!
Bless your tenderly loved ones,
Bless your loved Kenya.
Bless us with growth.
Tell ancestor Ramogi,
And Kenya on Mt. Kenya,
we still stand.
Go well Odipo.