Many Kenyans got to know Prof. Muga K’Olale as the chairman of the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) where he did a sterling job fighting every day for the rights of university lecturers all across the country to have fair working conditions and payment as well as addressing human rights for all Kenyans. It was a natural job for the man who had spent his entire life fighting for human rights in our country.
I met K’Olale way back in 1982 when he was a master’s student at Nairobi University and I was a second-year student in the faculty of commerce and also the Secretary General of the Students Organization of Nairobi University (SONU).
K’Olale was one of the very few postgraduate students who was directly involved in SONU activities at that time fighting Moi who was trying to impose one-party rule. We held many meetings as the Students Representative Council (SRC) under the chairmanship of the late Titus Adungosi who was killed by Moi while serving a 6-year sentence at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.
In one of the meetings just after Moi had announced he was about to declare Kenya a dejure one-party state, the Students Representative Council prepared a petition to be presented to Moi at State House. K’Olale, though not a member of the SRC, was very instrumental in putting that petition together.
I have heard politicians talking about State House being out of bounds. We went there. The SRC picked me as the SG of SONU, David Murathe, and Cornelius Onyango Akello (both SRC members) to take the petition to Moi at State House.
We went to State House on foot. When we reached the gate the security stopped us and asked us what we were doing trying to go to State House. We told them we have a petition for Moi from University students. The security officers grabbed the letter.
Then the Security boss came out of the building where they were. He told us we are the most stupid people he has ever seen to come to State House to provoke the president. We told him that is fine but we need to pass our petition to Moi and tell him to stop any ideas of declaring Kenya a one-party state.
The security boss told us we have a few minutes to vamoose or we will never be seen again. We saw other security cops coming out with guns and we knew we either get lost or we could be separated from our heads. So we took off and left the petition with the security at the State House entrance.
After Moi imposed the one-party rule on Kenyans we had the coup attempt on August 1, 1982. I was arrested two days later after jumping into a bus in front of the Serena Hotel. Dead bodies were still lying on the streets when the Special Branch took me to Turkoman Carpet House which was the SB torture center at the time. Outside, it looked like a business selling carpets but inside it was a torture house.
After that, the SB took me to Muthangari Police station and that is where I met Muga K’Olale, also under arrest. K’Olale was very lively and he had some markers that he was using to write revolutionary slogans on the walls inside the police cell.
“A People United Will Never Be Defeated,” Muga would write everywhere and soon we were joined in the same cell by Rateng’ Oginga Ogego, who loved Muga’s slogans on the walls. I was telling Muga when the cops read the slogans they were going to get really mad with us. Muga told me the cops are already mad at us and nothing is going to change that.
After a week or so at the police cells, the SB came for Rateng’ and took him with them. The next day, the cops at Muthangari came running to our police cell with newspapers. We were wondering what the heck was going on because in police cells you are not even allowed to look at a newspaper and here were the police giving Muga and me newspapers.
In the newspapers was the story of Rateng’ Oginga Ogego being sentenced to five years in jail but that was not the main story. The reason the cops were giving us the papers was what Rateng’ said in court.
Rateng’ instead of begging for mercy from the court when he was allowed to speak told the court that he was very proud to have participated in the coup. Rateng’ told them that the only regret he had was that the coup failed and promised Kenyans that the next one will not fail. Rateng’ also told them that he, Murathe, and myself were in town waiting for the coup to happen and had to run back to campus when the whole thing exploded.
That was a true story because a few of us knew about the coup happening but we had no idea who was involved. Then we got impatient the night the coup was supposed to happen and it was taking too long so we went to town to check what was going on. Big mistake. As soon as we were in town waiting for the coup, everything went up in smoke. It was happening.
The three of us were in David Murathe’s land rover car. Then we realized being in that kind of a car is deadly because we could be blown to pieces. So we abandoned the car in the streets and ran through the tunnel from the main campus to the student’s residence and settled at Rateng’s room in Hall Three which was like a studio, the way he set it up.
That is where we took in the coup as it happened. The media center where all the action was happening was at KBC headquarters which is literally a few yards from campus. We could see the fighting going on there even as we listened to stuff from coup plotters on KBC news.
Rateng’s defiant statement in court really pissed Moi off and he asked his then Chief Prosecutor Benard Chunga to appeal the 5-year jail sentence and ask that the guy be sentenced to 10 years in jail. Chunga appealed and Rateng’s jail time was increased to 10 years imprisonment.
A few days after Rateng’s jail sentence, the cops came rushing again to our cell where K’Olale and I were starving to near death and once again they were very excited. We were wondering what happened this time.
The cop boss decided to talk to Muga K’Olale. He told us that Muga’s wife has just given birth to their first baby. K’Olale was happy about that. They told K’Olale that he is a complete idiot because right at that time he should be with his wife and his kid but he was in jail.
Muga laughed at them. He told them he is in jail to make sure that the kid will live in a free country and have a great life. He told them he was fighting for that kid and he is very proud that his kid will live in a more free and more just country called Kenya.
The cops were stunned. They came to humiliate the guy and they realized they are dealing with a completely different breed. That is who Prof. Muga K’Olale was. I am humbled and very lucky to have known that great Kenyan Patriot.
Yes, comrade, you have left your country better than you found it. That is always our dream as revolutionaries. Fare Thee Well.