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In the cottage with: Hon. Olago Aluoch – The accident, The island & The marriage

By Yvonne Aoll | Wednesday, Jan 27th 2016 at 09:25
Hon. John Olago with Yvonne Aoll during the interview

Hon. John Olago Aluoch owns an island. Now, this begs the question, what do you own? If you were to shake up all your savings and put them on the table, what could you afford?

While your upper middle class, former high school classmate, brags about having keys to his three-bedroom rental apartment at Daykio Heights, there are people who own islands. And they don’t brag.

I first met Olago in his office at Continental House. This was during the 10th World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference and every left turn from the Kenyatta Avenue/Uhuru Highway roundabout had been cordoned off. Parking was impossible to find. And I was running late. I panicked, because really, none of these were sufficient excuses to be late, and I knew it.

I walked into Hon. Aluoch’s office with apologies, ready to make my request in seconds and prepared to be kicked out in those very seconds. But I had no idea who I was meeting.

Seated behind a heavy desk, in a crisp suit, remotes neatly aligned and the TV tuned to the latest news update, was Olago. Polite, unfazed and possibly wondering who this random lady was that just walked in with apologies in excess.

Hon. Aluoch, who in his younger days yearned to be a catholic priest or a soldier, is the kind of man who acknowledges situations and says: “Oh no, it’s understandable. Such changes on the roads have messed me up as well on numerous occasions. It happens.”

Five minutes into the conversation, and Olago is intriguing me with details of this island he owns, that I had absolutely no idea about, prior to this meeting.

Maboko Island Resort (Camp Tom), is the name of the island. It’s located about one hour’s drive from Kisumu, just off an area called Seme. It’s about five acres large.

Transit to the island from the mainland is via powerboat, and when possible, steered by “Mheshimiwa” himself.

The island has a main block of three self-contained suites, which are furnished with impeccable taste. There’s also a helipad at the centre of the island for those who commute in the most fashionable of ways.

At Maboko, they care about preserving nature: there’s  greenery all round, then the birds, the fish, the hippos…such harmony. The chalets as you’ll notice on the photos, are still under construction as additional sources of accommodation, and with development still on-going, there’s a plan of putting up a swimming pool, kid’s playground and a volleyball pitch.

Upon completion, Hon. Aluoch’s vision, is to have no more than 30 guests at any given time. This is to maintain its serenity. He wants it to be a place where people can go to forget about life for a while.

And it’s here, that Olago and I conversed in detail. I asked him some questions: the accident, what exactly happened? Husband inheritance, how does that work? And an island, really?

Here’s what he had to say…

Kisumu West, what’s the experience been like as the Member of Parliament?

Kisumu West…it was a fairly backward constituency when I got in as the M.P. Infrastructure: roads, schools and health centers were poor. It’s as though it was a forgotten constituency. But so far, I think we’ve picked up. We’ve got the momentum going.

What was your vision when you set to become the M.P?

When I got in, I’d decided that, if I managed to serve two terms, in those ten years, I would help convert Kisumu West into a modern constituency. That was the vision. If I secure a second term, I’m confident that by the end of that term, that vision will be achieved. Then I’ll retire.

Where will you retire?

(Laughs) Right here, where you’re seated. At this very place. Maboko Island will be home for me.

We’ll get back to the island, but first, the accident that injured your face, what happened?

The accident (seeming solemn)… I was travelling from Kisii High Court in 1998, and at Oyugis, two donkeys racing each other crossed the road out of the bush. I was at the back seat, reading and I heard a bang. I didn’t know what happened.

Later on, I was told the driver couldn’t have saved the situation. He crashed into the donkeys, one died, one was injured and the car rolled severally away from the road. The car landed on a tree trunk that had just been cut by a power saw. The trunk, in turn, crashed on the window of the back seat, hitting my face. It broke my jaw and cut my face severely.

What followed?

(I’m told) the driver panicked. He got out of the car and started worrying that he’d killed “Mheshimiwa.” Luckily, the junior advocates who I’d left in court seeing as I was their senior, were passing by the same route. They quickly organized for me to be rushed to the closest hospital. But, (again I’m told), as injured as I was, I managed to regain consciousness for just a few seconds, and instructed: “Take me to Aga Khan, Kisumu!”

“Mheshimiwa, Kisumu is far. You need a hospital as soon as possible!” the junior advocates opposed.

“Aga Khan, Kisumu!” I repeated, before falling unconscious again.

You were on the verge of death, and you still found the strength to command orders?

(Laughs) Well…I suppose…

How long were you at Aga Khan?

I’m told I was unconscious in the ICU for six days. I was then transferred to the Private Wing, and there I stayed for 30 days. About another fortnight after that, I was discharged. But my jaw was still wired. For four and a half months, I could only consume foods and drinks via straws.

Did the accident change your perspective on life?

(Sighs) It did. Mostly, I started looking at disability differently. I’d never really thought of disability much, but after the accident, I thought of how close I got to being disabled. How close I got to being terribly disfigured. Now, my outlook towards disability and disfigurement is much more sympathetic. I have a deeper understanding of disability.

How was it looking at yourself in the mirror?

It was unbearable. Every time I looked in the mirror, my face looked ghastly. I had to undergo three re-constructive surgeries to bring my face to what you’re seeing now.

Did you ever contemplate quitting Law?

Yes. (Pauses) For a while after the accident, I thought I’d never go back to private practice. You need to stand and speak before people when in the legal profession, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that with a disfigured face. But I got the courage to face the world again. To continue doing what I was doing. Passion can pull you through a lot of things.

What are some of the reactions you get, in regards to your face, from people who meet you the first time?

Oh, usually they’ll be introduced to me. They’ll be told I’m an advocate and a Member of Parliament. And then they’ll ask me: “What happened to your face?”

That question irritates me, I must say. I’m usually tempted to ask, in return: “What do you imagine happened to my face?”

They probably don’t mean any harm by asking, but I detest that question. I don’t like talking about the accident. I hardly talk about it actually. It’s very personal and I don’t enjoy indulging in the details.

What’s your word of encouragement to those who are currently disabled from road accidents?

If you’re disabled or disfigured, but you still have cognitive ability, you’re able to think and reason…try and be positive. You must be positive. Pick yourself up and try to live again.

Early last year, you were found unconscious in your home, what happened?

I was having breakfast in the garden while waiting for a friend to join me. That same day, I was also expected to receive the body of the late Fidel Odinga that was being brought in from Nairobi and take over from Professor Nyong’o. I picked up the phone to call Professor and that’s the last thing I remember, picking up the phone…

And then…?

My wife says she found me unconscious. They rushed me to the hospital where I regained consciousness after a few hours. I was later taken to Nairobi for further treatment.

What was the diagnosis?

Fatigue.

Just fatigue?

Yes, fatigue. They tested everything, from my brain, to the heart, liver, kidneys, they didn’t find anything. It was fatigue.

Do you feel like a cat with nine lives?

(Laughs) Well, I thank God for the chances he’s given me. I really do. Many others didn’t get these chances. I think God has been good to me. My first wife died a year before the accident, and then what happened early last year…God has been good to me. I’m grateful.

Speaking of wives, you’re a part of husband inheritance, tell me about it…

(Laughs) Yes, I am. And again, God has been good. It’s not often that a husband loses his wife, and then, by tradition, the late wife’s sister takes over…and it works. It’s not often. Most times it doesn’t work. But we put our efforts into the marriage.

Are you, occasionally, ashamed of the cultural aesthetics of your marriage?

Oh, no, not at all. This happens a lot in the Luo community, people just don’t talk about it. I’m glad I was cordial with my then sister-in-law, the arrangement and traditions have worked very well for us.I think this can only be God.

When one Googles your name, one of the top phrases that comes up is “Olago Aluoch Dead,” does this scare you?

Yes. (Pauses) When I regained consciousness I saw and read all these things online and it crushed me. This goes to show how social media can really be misused. But you move past it. You’ve got to move past some of these things, for your own sanity.

Why were you struck off by the Law Society of Kenya from the Roll of Advocates?

I was struck off by mistake, in a matter that was misunderstood. There was a delay in payment to the lady I was acting for. By the time the brother-in-law (not even the lady herself) filed the complaint, she wasn’t even aware. But it was all cleared up and I was reinstated.

As an advocate and M.P, in your opinion, what would be the ultimate solution to tribalism?

You know, before, I used to think education and sports were the answers. Where children from different tribes go to schools, grow up and learn and play together. But that has clearly never solved it. Now, I’m beginning to think exposure and intermarriages may be the answer. That might just be it.

Retirement and Maboko Island, what’s the plan?

I believe retirement should be a season of enjoying one’s labour. Maboko for me, is where I’ll gather friends and family and we can sit, eat in moderation, drink in moderation and enjoy the view of the lake. The island works because, once my tenure is over, I can pack up and leave the political scene. Relax and enjoy the rest of my life in peace.

Aren’t you relatively young for retirement?

No. I want to serve the people, I do. But I don’t believe in the kind of politics and leadership where one must hold office until the people get sick of you. We should give others a chance to lead. For me, two terms would be sufficient. I’ll do the work and do it well, and then I’ll get off the stage and have someone else take charge.

How much money, does it take, to own an island?

Well…(Laughs) There are people who think I must be really rich, to own what I have…

Yes, sir. I happen to be one of them…

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