The 35 year old first time MP who took part of Raila Odinga’s larger Langata constituency after beating six opponents in the last general elections.
Kenneth Odhiambo Okoth was born at Kibra’s Kisumu Dogo (little Kisumu) in 1978, the fourth born of six children.
Among his dreams for Kibra are a polytechnic, at least two new high schools, one for girls and a Kibra business firm
Kibra MP Ken Okoth did not vote for the controversial VAT bill and he has no apologies to make over it.
Looking me straight in the eye through his spectacles, he says: “My spectacles are not objects of prestige, but emblems of paucity. I would not be wearing them had I grown up in an opulent background.”
The 35 year old first time MP who took part of Raila Odinga’s larger Langata constituency after beating six opponents in the last general elections adds: “My conscience could not allow me to subject the poor to more hardship via my vote”
Flashing a smile that exposes the gap between his upper teeth, the MP wonders how many of those MPs who voted in favour of the VAT bill used nyangile (kerosene tin lamp) to study during their primary school days.
“Nyangile damaged my eye sight. I would be out of my mind to do anything that would make life harder for people like my mum who sold anything from clothes to paraffin and tomatoes in Kibra to bring up six children”.
“Granted that the price of unga, milk and other select stuff are spared the weight of the bill, other basics like textiles that hide our nudity, shoes, fuel and even mobile phones that are increasingly becoming a necessity will move further from the reach of the majority poor. I feel it as I remember my days at Olympic Primary School in worn out sandak shoes and patched uniform. My sweater had holes in it."
“I first set my eyes on my hero, Raila at Olympic when he visited and addressed us, the pupils. He told us nothing was impossible and gave the example of himself. He had just emerged from years in detention and won the Langata parliamentary seat without the assistance of his famous father. The inspiration kindled a fire in me that burns to this day. When I decided to vie for the Kibra parliamentary seat, I drew confidence from the realization that it was tough, but not impossible."
Kenneth Odhiambo Okoth was born at Kibra’s Kisumu Dogo (little Kisumu) in 1978, the fourth born of six children
His father abandoned the family early in his life, leaving his mother, Angelina to bring them up as a single mum.
'SAVE THE CHILDREN' TO THE RESCUE
“I grew up in Kibra. We lived in a 10 by 10 hovel about 30 metres away from the railway line where the trains’ rumbles that ought to invoke danger were the norm.
As children, we precariously played on the railway line. That was until one day in 1981 when bulldozers came trundling and without any warning, flattened down the hovels, ours included. We were in the cold for a while before we moved to a two-roomed shack. We shared a toilet with five other families. Water was drawn from a communal tap outside."
“After class eight and 613 out of 700 marks in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) I was called to Starehe Boys’ Centre. Marks and background qualified me for a sponsorship that saw Save the Children Fund come to my rescue. I received a four-year full sponsorship."
He grins, adjusts his spectacles and continues: “Figure what would have happened to me if the scholarship did not come along. I would probably have gone into bhang in those formative teenage years. Or I would have joined criminal gangs in the slum. I would probably be dead by now.
“Prior to secondary school, I had not known a three meal diet. Eating from the trash bins was just normal. I seldom went back home, choosing instead to remain at school studying and working.
“It was at Starehe where I used a bed for the first time in my life, graduating from shared mats or mattresses spread on the floor. Oh, what a change it was for me!
“Dr Geoffrey Griffin and the teachers under him impressed upon us the importance of self confidence and determination in life. They told us giving up was not an option and that education was meant to make one self reliant, regardless of the circumstances. Griffin was a great teacher and mentor. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
“I owe it to the spirit instilled at Starehe that I faced life positively after form four when I could not take my place at the University of Nairobi to study law for lack of the mandatory fees on top of the loan from Higher Education Loans Board (HELB).
'CONVERTED CURIOSITY TO A QUESTION'
“Undaunted, I went to The Nation newspapers where I had done voluntary work in the past and they allowed me to sell newspapers. The Goethe Institute had meanwhile allowed me to study German almost for free. In return, I at times doubled up as a watchman at their Maendeleo ya Wanawake House premises.
The future MP occasionally had to walk all the way to Kibra from the city centre when he could not raise enough fare. Many were the times he picked matatus from the city mortuary area after a walk from town to ‘save on fare’. Hard work paid off, and it was not long before he combined newspaper selling with distribution of The East African newspaper to select offices.
“I delivered The East African every Monday in offices along Ngong Road all the way to Karen. One of these offices served Saint Lawrence University in the United States. Was it possible for me to attend this university?
I converted my curiosity into a question one day, and I was given information to apply for a scholarship. My journey to the United States where I studied with a full scholarship and taught for seven years had started.
“I did German and European studies for my Bachelors degree. I went to the school of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Washington DC for Masters in International Relations.
Mr Okoth taught the children of top leaders and diplomats based in Washington DC. “I taught at Polomock School. Among my students were grandchildren to former US Vice President Dick Cheney,” he says proudly.
His teaching stint in Washington DC gave him the perfect opportunity to interact with the cream of American leaders, ambassadors and top figures from all over the world.
He was later to attend universities in Denmark and Austria with opportunities to travel all over Europe.
'PET DREAM OF EDUCATION'
“To realize my pet dream of education for the disadvantaged, I started the children of Kibra Foundation or ‘watoto wa Kibra’ while still in Europe in 2006. My rich connections came in handy and 10 needy top students from Kibra have benefitted from bursary scholarships every year since 2006. Through my connections, I have raised sh17 million per year for scholarships and school amenities in Kibra.
He says the foundation has built computer labs and secured computers for seven schools among them Olympic, his alma mater that has been supplied with 25 computers.
Kibra Academy has 20 computers from the foundation. Others are Ayany Primary School, PCEA Silanga High School, Shadrack Kimalel Primary School, Mashimoni, Lutheran Academy and Redrose school.
Says Okoth: “Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than seeing needy students enjoy the privileges that came my way in spite of my desperate background. 40 students are currently on full scholarships in national and provincial secondary schools.
“The foundation has two students at Kenyatta University. One is going to the United States International University in Nairobi this year. Another one is going to Lafayette College, a private university in Pennsylvania, USA this year where fees is US$60,000 per year. Five girls educated through the foundation are working with Zawadi Foundation of Susan Mboya Kidero. Zawadi is preparing them for universities in the United States of America.
Mr Okoth worked as a program Director at the University of Dar Es Salaam for two and a half years before he resigned to come back home to contest the newly created Kibra parliamentary seat hived off Lang’ata
Among his dreams for Kibra are a polytechnic, at least two new high schools, one for girls and a Kibra business firm into which various corporates can have an input.
He expects to use sh24 million of the sh97 million Kibra CDF fund on bursaries and scholarships in what he terms: “investment on the youth”.