Aggrey Otieno Ambala: The Astute Businessman Who Brought Chips to Kenya 

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Aggrey Otieno Ambala: The Astute Businessman Who Brought Chips to Kenya 
Aggrey Otieno Ambala Photocredit/Courtesy

By Prudence Minayo

Aggrey Otieno Ambala was a Kenyan businessman and politician whose business interests spanned various sectors of the economy including real estate and petroleum. As a businessman, he achieved several feats and went on to build an empire worth millions of shillings. His political career, however, was short-lived with speculation rife that he became a politician because of his marriage to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s daughter. It is believed since he was not very popular with the people, the end of his marriage led to the loss of his political seat in Gem. 

Here is his story as told by WoK.

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Chips Business 

The politician was among the Kenyans who benefited from the Tom Mboya Airlifts program. He pursued Economics at the prestigious Howard University before returning to Kenya.

When he returned to the country, he was not only armed with his academic papers but with a business idea that would transform the way Kenyans eat their potatoes. Prior to this, chips was not something most Kenyans were familiar with. They only boiled or roasted their potatoes but Aggrey Otieno introduced something new. He came back to the country with a machine that could chop potatoes into small pieces, called chips. 

He opened an eatery near the Ambassadeur bus stop where people would eat chips. Like every new thing, people were sceptical about trying the mutilated potatoes. Their scepticism changed once they had a taste of these tasty tiny potatoes pieces paired with either tomato sauce or chilli sauce. Within a short time, the place was filled to the brim with people wanting a taste of the new chips, especially on weekends. It also helped that the cinema was across the road and those frequenting it also wanted chips. To complete the menu, the outlet also sold soda, sausages, chicken and fish. 

Other business ventures 

The businessman sold the eatery to new owners who renamed it  ‘Munyiri’s Chips’ and moved to a nearby place, Tusker stage. He partnered with his friend the late Njenga Karume, and they purchased shares at the Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL). They also incorporated a beer distribution company called Narashi Wholesalers and it is through this business that the place acquired the name Tusker.

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As the white people were leaving the country and selling their lands, he bought land in Karen and shares in various blue chip companies. He also ventured into hardware and petroleum business in Kisumu and real estate around Nairobi. 

Political Journey 

With the massive success of his business, Aggrey Otieno decided to take on the world of politics. He vied for the Gem parliamentary seat and went on to dislodge Isaac Omolo Okero. The late retired president Daniel arap Moi made him assistant minister of culture. 

His marriage to Beryl Odinga ended in 1981 with Otieno being accused of wife battery. After the failed 1982 coup, the president ordered for a repeat election. During the 1983 elections, he lost the seat to Horace Owiti Ongili. Ironically, Horace had not only been his best friend but had also been the best man during his wedding with Beryl Odinga. 

Murder charges and death 

Horace was murdered on 27th May 1985. On the fateful day, it was reported that he was attacked by a gang with machetes, and batons. They stabbed him and left his lifeless body in a maize plantation. Nothing was stolen from his home fuelling rumors that he had been murdered.

In the course of investigation, Otieno Ambala became a major suspect. It was alleged that he had withdrawn huge amounts of money in the days leading up to Ongili’s death and had met with some persons of interest. 

He was arrested alongside six other suspects and charged with the murder. He collapsed and died of a heart attack in his cell at Kodiaga prison where he was awaiting his hearing. Later, it was reported that his murder charge was a miscarriage of justice with some alleging that he too was murdered to cover the real mastermind. 

Property Dispute 

The businessman cum politician reportedly left behind wealth currently worth billions. His family spent decades in court fighting over the wealth. Children from his first marriage were pitted against those from his marriage to Beryl Odinga.

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