My fellow prisoner had sold Uhuru Park to foreigners, former KTB boss Ong'ong'a Achieng'

Dr Achieng’ Ong’ong’a Oneko speaks about his life as former MD ,prisoner and now a lecturer  Photo: George Njunge

Once a teacher, always a teacher aptly describes Dr Achieng’ Ong’ong’a Oneko’s love for chalk and classroom.

Ong’ong’a, born in 1945 as the first born of 11 children of former freedom fighter Ramogi Achieng’ Oneko, is teaching Economics at the Technical University of Kenya (TUK).

He joined the university in 2013 and has since signed a new contract that keeps him there until 2019. But many Kenyans associate the don with his six-and-a half-year stint as the managing director of the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB), and his subsequent incarceration at Nairobi’s Industrial Area Remand Prison where he was inmate number NBA/6038/12.

His case, together with former tourism PS Rebeccah Nabutolah, and tour operator Duncan Muriuki, started in February 2009, but dragged on until September 10, 2011, when the anti-corruption court magistrate Lucy Nyambura jailed them for illegal payments of money to Muriuki’s tour company that coordinated a visit to the Maasai Mara for former President Mwai Kibaki and other top government officials.

The trio were imprisoned for defrauding the government of Sh8.9 million.

But after more than two months in prison, Ong’ong’a and Nabutolah were freed on Sh500,000 cash bail each on November 30, 2011.

The lecturer has memories of that time.

“I had woken up normally and didn’t expect to be jailed. Then as the magistrate read on, I realised things were not going our way. I steeled myself for the moment and it came like a thunderbolt,” he said smiling.

It was tense though as reality dawned on them that they were not returning to their homes and couldn’t ride in their Mercedes cars.

“It was traumatising. I took solace in the fact that my father was jailed for 16 years, and I had been sentenced for only three. I had no choice but to defend the family name by taking it in my stride,” says Ong’ong’a, adding that, “I readied myself for the unfamiliar territory and quickly began reflecting on my life. I had been very active, leading a high standard life, and now I was being sent to confinement for three years, my freedom curtailed.”

Ong’ong’a recalls the short drive from the courtroom to the prison. “Prison inmates were aware of our coming, having watched the high-profile case,” recalls Ong’ong’a, remembering sleeping next to a heavily-built inmate called Clinton, who had been jailed for ‘selling’ Uhuru Park to some foreigners.

Ong’ong’a remembers another inmate who “came to my bed and told me that I have a big name and an even bigger family name, and was willing to sell me a building in town

— from Tom Mboya all the way to River Road, where the 99-year leases have elapsed.”

He revealed that the stories in prison enabled him to sleep, but lessons from his father’s experience as a detainee inspired him.

“My father survived 16 years of detention, and he once told me that when you are confined, you think of yourself first, be selfish. The moment you worry about your family, business and profession, you kill yourself or lose your sanity,” he said.

Teaching and reading also made life bearable for him as he taught History, Geography and Business Management at Industrial Area Remand Academy.

“I was now down from a senior lecturer at Maseno University where I was from 2001 to 2003, to teaching hardcore criminals and street boys,” says the man who also drew inspiration from his late mother, Jedida Okuku Oneko, who was with them during the hard period when his father was in prison.

“My mother taught us to persevere and pray to God. She was a strong woman. He made sure that all the 11 of us got good education. Our family has very educated people, working in big institutions around the world. I am happy my case ended in May this year,” says the don who has no interests in politics, regretting the tribal angle politics take in Kenya.