Tributes from Comrades in arms:
Gitobu Imanyara: ‘Your struggle was not in vain. Your life and modesty; your commitment to the ideal of a free and equal society touched many and gave hope to many more …… this unpretentious and dignified front line foot soldier of our Second and Third Liberations harboured malice to no-one. Oloo’s court address was in the class of the great court room statements of the likes of Nelson Mandela. Of special note is his trial and conviction, and his disagreement with his counsel over mitigation in order to get a non-custodial sentence. He was not prepared to disown or betray his cause and was given the maximum sentence. I recall writing about his audacity and courage of conviction for one so young. He was in his 20s and he would live the rest of his life in the struggle.’
James Karanja Nganga: ‘I first saw OO at the court in 1982. He was poised, confidence unbowed. His defiance was fascinating … He was critical of paid activism which he saw as the polite sister of counter revolution. He said paid activism was sponsored, controlled and managed by counter class interests. He sought activism anchored in the grassroots which was true and pure though poor … He practiced pure, true, activism not motivated by greed for position or money.
Cyprian Nyamwamu: ‘Onyango Oloo had this ability to disagree with you without being disagreeable which is a rare quality these days. He would smile and be laughing when he is telling you that you are a living contradiction. He had a gentle way of exposing the limitations, contradictions of Human Rights NGOs and rights activists, politicians, religious groups, self-declared Communists and revolutionaries, democrats in Kenya and elsewhere without offending anyone. He was a great thinker and I dare say he was a genius….. Oloo was the true meaning of an organic intellectual. He noted that decades of the repressive state had destroyed the base for consolidating forces that would dismantle the Kenyan neo-colonial state and build a revolutionary pro-people state and society. This, he pointed out was the key task of all pro-democracy forces in and out of Kenya-NCA-NCEC included. OO was a true revolutionary - a believer, a teacher and practitioner of the ideals he held dear - which are equality, social justice, human dignity and rights for all. He believed that these ideals were only achievable under a Socialist system that could only be achieved by pursuing a communist road-map. I learnt from Oloo that a revolutionary is someone who loves people so much that s/he is ready to sacrifice his or her own comfort, career, status … even health to ensure that all human beings live in dignity’.
Miguna Miguna: ‘He is the only genuine male feminist I have ever met. He understood power and power dynamics and eschewed faddism. He believed in substantive equality between races, ethnic groups, religions and sexual orientations and was fully committed to the establishment of a classless society. My comrade Onyango Oloo was an unrepentant global citizen in the mould of what Thomas Sankara had called ‘The Upright Man’. He was ideologically radical, pure and committed.
A prolific and dogged debater, writer and activist, he read voraciously and published long essays, poems and commentaries on everything from Marxism, Pan-Africanism and Imperialism to music, world politics, feminism, globalisation and the environment.
“I’m a communist. A Marxist-Leninist,” Oloo continued to proclaim defiantly until he travelled to join our ancestors. He resisted the life of privilege, materialism and conformism because that always meant diluting his principles in exchange for temporal opportunism.
He was ubiquitous on platforms such as Kiseru, Kenyans Online, Kenya Community Abroad and Kenyans in Ontario before he founded the iconic Jukwaa: Kenyan Discussion Platform around the year 2005 as a forum for the Kenya Democracy Project, which he had co-founded with Adongo Ogony. They had also founded a publication they called Haki, an organ of the Kenya Human Rights Organisation.’
Benedict Wachira: ‘Comrade Onyango Oloo was many things, positive and negative just like all of us, but above all, he was a fighter, and a man who stubbornly stood with what he thought was right irrespective of what others thought. Even at a time when he needed solidarity from others, he never lost his sense of dignity.’
Josiah Omotto: ‘The soft - spoken activist, in our discourse, you resisted the temptation to take recourse in the condescending. Ever articulate and immaculate - a persona not given to gramophoning recycled ideas.’
P K Ochieng: ‘Oloo never played to the gallery, he hated sycophants. His inspiration from the South African Communist Party ideologues, their publications and the work of Radio Freedom in Dar es Salaam gave him the inspiration to be what he was.’
Hamba Kahle Comrade Oloo.
Death must not find us thinking that we die
too soon, too soon
our banner draped for you
I would prefer
the banner in the wind
Not bound so tightly
in a scarlet fold
not sodden, sodden
with your people’s tears
but flashing on the pole
we bear aloft
down and beyond this dark, dark lane of rags.
Now, from the mourning vanguard moving on
dear Comrade, I salute you and I say
Death will not find us thinking that we die.
Credit: Martin Carter (1927 – 1997) a Guyanese poet who fought for independence and socialism, and was jailed by the British government for ‘spreading dissension’. He was one of the first West Indian poets to be published outside of the West Indies when Poems of Resistance from British Guiana was published in London in 1954.