Ken Ouko: He was a dashing millionaire, when fellow lecturers hawked eggs

Campus girls swooned over him, the ones from Central Kenya were mesmerized by his fluency in Kikuyu

The Dapper Don: Ken Ouko, the renowned sociologist, was often mistaken as son of Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Robert Ouko. He didn’t mind it. Ken looked the same over 20 years.

By Undercover Reporter

He had a soft spot for campus girls. They more than loved him back. And it wasn’t just because he used their hand lotions while cracking jokes during Introduction to Sociology.

Ken Ouko, the eminent sociologist, died at 56 in Nairobi on August 1, from complications of ‘Miss Rona.’ Damaged lungs, the doctors said.

A dapper dresser, he did not have the absent-minded look peculiar to university lecturers: No shaggy hair parted at the centre, just a clean shaved dome. No matted, academic beards, no blazers with missing buttons. He was rarely in neck ties, just open shirts, gold chain dangling, matching bracelet. No bifocals, please.  His dark smooth face-that looked the same over 20 years- had dilating eyes which made campus girls swoon. They didn’t care he was married to Grace Ouko, the mother of his four children: Cheryl, Melisa, Ken Ouko Jr and Pelamu.

The ones from Central Kenya were mesmerized by his fluency in Kikuyu. These campus girls made a beeline to his office on the Gandhi Wing to check on assignments, term papers, missing marks. But on one wall-at least way back in 1997-were photos of Ken Ouko’s collection of assorted S-Class Mercedes Benzes, a fetching beauty leaning on wine red bonnet.

He loved them expensive, polished to a glossy finish. Ken had upgraded from a pimped up Volkswagen whose Kenwood music system was the value of another car!

From being a tenant of Prof Wangari Mathai in South B, Ken bought a house- without mortgage

 Kenyans then, were smarting from the effects of the Goldenberg Scandal in which the northwards of Sh60 billion was lost on export of fictitious diamonds and gold. The impact of a ruined economy saw lecturers hawking eggs, milk, bananas, nduma and ngwaci from the boot of their weather beaten jalopies at the University of Nairobi’s parking lot-where Ken, young and hippy, paraded his German machines.

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From being a tenant of the late Prof Wangari Mathai in South B, Ken had also bought his own house- without mortgage. To his students, he not only made Medical Sociology fun by teaching without notes, he also allowed ‘Mwakenya’ during exams. But to their dismay most later realized they did not need it. Ken”s exams required critical thinking and practical applications and the reason he scribbled stuff like ‘kuna nuru gizani’ when they failed.

Ken Ouko was also in the money, loaded like a gun: One female student bought him Sh60 bottled water, he paid her Sh3000. Girls loved that besides his brilliance, cubicles of wit, humour, infectious laugh, the many treats at the Carnivore- where he was a reveler during Rhumba Nights.  And Oh! there was the class of 45 Ken took for breakfast at The Norfolk Hotel, just across the road from the Main Campus.

 Ken Ouko made Kenyans understand why women are easily swayed by pastors and witch doctors

Class dismissed: Ken Ouko sent a Whatsapp message to his students saying, ‘just in case I don’t make it, I pray I shall still live forever in your mind and spirit.’

There were other things going on for him. He had the intellectual rigour to break down complex societal happenings into simplified sociological explanations. Like why majority of criminals in Kenyan prisons were from large, poor families. Ken argued that it is common for kids from such families to horde, hide or steal food from fellow siblings. As accountants, they often stole money as “fear of childhood hunger never left them no matter how rich they became.”

 Ken Ouko gave sociology utility value. He made Kenyans understand  women are easily swayed by pastors and witch doctors from their innate predilection to seek higher authority in matters beyond them.

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 There were other experienced sociologists, but he became the face, the to-go-to expert. He was thus always in the dailies, as a guest in television shows. Journalists loved his soundbites, they gave media reports vim and verve, depth and dimension. Most called him Dr Ken Ouko. But he was still pursuing his PhD: The Nuptial Habits of Kenyan spouses & How they influence The stability of Marriage.”   

 In fact, he was always being mistaken for one thing or the other. In February 1991,  Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Robert Ouko was shot, his body set on fire on the hills of Got Alila, Kisumu County. That was also the year Ken had joined the University as a tutorial fellow.

To Ken, then a strong Adventist, campus was akin to Sodom and Gomorrah

Sociology 101: Ken Ouko was a common guest in television shows from where he broke down complex societal issues to the masses.

At the time,  men and women shared hostels. To the then strong Adventist, campus was akin to Sodom and Gomorrah, forcing Ken to rent in Milimani- a house so tiny it had no space for a pet cat.

Living in Milimani only accentuated mistaken identities: Ken Ouko, many thought, was related to Dr Robert Ouko. But alas! he was the son of Mzee Calo Ouko, one-time Councillor in Homabay County, but who had graduated top of his B.A. class, the record still stands. Just ask Prof Enos Njeru-he who collectively labelled his students “cassava cultivators.” Danida, the Danish international agency, funded his Masters degree.

 It is not clear how Ken Ouko, who enjoyed the mistaken identity, used it. But in 1992, Kenya held its first multiparty elections. President Daniel arap Moi feared  losing to the Opposition. Also fearing lose of status quo were children of prominent political families. To help Moi win, they founded one of Africa’s most formidable political campaign machineries-Youth for Kanu ’92 or YK’92-fashioned after the youth wing of UK’s Labour Party.

Ruto trousered so much loot, he once opened the boot of his and began sobbing at the sight of the crisp Sh500 notes

YK ’92 was awash with hundreds of millions bankrolled by state agencies and other backers of President Daniel arap Moi. It became a wave, a movement, a lifestyle.

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Members were drawn from politics, business, legal circles and the academia. Entry was via invitation only and included President Moi’s children; Gideon, Jonathan and June Moi.  Others were chair, Cyrus Jirongo, now facing financial ruin, and Deputy President William Ruto, then mtu wa mkono, taking notes during meetings.

Ruto trousered so much loot printing campaign T-shirts, he once parked his car outside Cameo Cinema in Nairobi, opened the boot and began sobbing at the sight of the crisp Sh500 notes nicknamed the ‘Jirongo. ’

From the worried look of doctors towards the the ICU, Ken Ouko could judge coming out alive was 50-50

Sons of fortune: Gideon Moi (above) and some of his siblings were part of Youth for Kanu ’92 whose membership was by invitation only. Also in this mix, was Ken Ouko.

Also in the YK ’92 gravy train which sought young, beardless and educated professionals, was Ken Ouko-as Organizing Secretary.

 He used his ‘Jirongos’ to buy  apartments and assorted Benzes which later puzzled fellow lecturers then going through an out-of-money experience in 1990s Kenya.

Despite many consultancies including at the Presidency, Ken Ouko worked at the University of Nairobi all his life- which ended at the Aga Khan University Hospital. From worried, withered looks of doctors who wheeled him to the ICU, Ken Ouko could make quick judgment of the chances ahead. In a Whatsapp group text message to his students he wrote: ‘Just in case I don’t make it, I pray I shall still live forever in your mind and spirit.’

Ken Ouko was born in August and buried on August 7 in Kamuma, Nyandiwa Village, Homa Bay County.

7 Replies to “Ken Ouko: He was a dashing millionaire, when fellow lecturers hawked eggs

  1. Ken was My lecturer, UoN will never get anyone else like Ken. He taught with passion, He cared for his students. Even in these difficult Rona times, He wrote his students a Love letter titled ” Corona Teaching” He has been chatting students on whatsapp groups how he misses them and he missed school in general. Ken never missed classes unless on very emergency basis which he always communicated prior.
    Ken was very humble and humorous. Whoever has gone through Ken’s hand will testify that Ken was the best Lecturer UoN ever had. Students rarely failed his main exams. Incase you failed his CAT, he would always give you a redo one before exams. I remember i scored a 14/30 in his first cat and it was so humorous because he wrote for me’ Haha, where did you learn this from? Who taught this? Me? No way.
    Ken was just special. From the bottom of my heart, I am saddened by Ken’s death. His memories will live on. Fare thee well Ken. You are one person I would like to meet in Heaven so that you could tell us your Juicy stories.

  2. Wow! I feel like I missed so much by him not being my lecturer but from the testimonies out here….Such a great soul he was. So much to emulate from him. May he rest in eternal peace

    1. Ken was such a beautiful soul. Emphatic and loving. May his soul rest in peace until we meet again in eternity .

  3. Ken Ouko was simply the best. I attended his class once and immediately got hooked. Never again did I have to choose political science or sociology class. From deviant behaviour to sociology of the family, Ken never lectured but taught and trained with passion. He is one person who allowed us to use our notebooks in the exam room. Yes, use your notebooks in an exam room. But Alas! the questions required critical thinking. May your soul rest in peace Ken.

  4. This is,an inspirational initiative, we appreciate it. We need more issues on innovations for young people, especially in Africa today

    1. Great piece here. Makes me miss Ken Ouko more. The writer to this piece is a great one. Gives us a challenge to celebrate Ken.
      Ken introduced me to sociology. Later taught terrorism and counter terrorism. Ken was a great soul. We have to celebrate this.

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