By Prudence Minayo
Kenyans enjoy multiple party democracy and are not afraid to criticise the powers that be thanks to the sacrifices made by the likes of James Orengo. Social media users bash the government of the day and walk scot free. This would have been treasonable during the ex-president Daniel arap Moi era.
James Orengo is a seasoned lawyer and one of the longest serving member of parliament. Many call him a walking constitution. The Siaya senator name will be penned down in history books as the senior counsel who led a team of lawyers in the petition against the 2017 general elections that saw Uhuru. For the very first time in Africa, the high court declared President Uhuru Kenyatta victory as null and void. He is without doubt one of the best lawyers in Kenya has ever produced.
James Aggrey Bob Orengo was born in 1951.
Primary – Ambira Primary School between 1958-1964
Secondary – Alliance High School between 1965-1970
University – University of Nairobi between 1971-1974 graduated with Bachelor of Lawa LL.B
The senator is married to Betty Kaari Murungi, a seasoned lawyer with over 27 years experience. She serves on the board of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands. Apart from this, she has been a consultant and legal advisor to rights and democracy on gender-related crimes at the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) since 1998.
James is blessed with six children: Zeni Orengo, Bob Orengo, Josephine Orengo, Lavender Orengo, Steven Orengo and Michael Orengo.
The seasoned politician gained interest in activism while still a student at Alliance High School. In 1971, he joined the University of Nairobi and was elected student union president while in second year. He led the first ever student strike during the 1973/1974 academic year which led to the suspension of all the students in the department of architecture. This was in protest against the mistreatment the student underwent in the hands of the Europeans who led and dominated the profession. They termed this as racism and caused the whole university to strike. The institution was closed and upon re-opening the entire students body was expelled. This did not sit well with most of the students and they started a campaign against this high handedness saying if the student body is not accepted back no one will return, hence, there will be no university. Finally, the university relented and they all went back.
The senior counsel first stint as a politician was when he was elected the member of parliament for Ugenya under the KANU party. However, this was short-lived as he was accused of being one of the people involved in the botched 1982 coup. After a careless remark by the late Oletipis who alluded that they’ll deal with him like they dealt with JM Kariuki, he had to flee the country. This was not an easy time for the politician as he had just lost his mother. A day after his mother’s burial, he ran to Tanzania for refuge via Uganda.
Deal Between Kenya and Tanzania
Unfortunately, a deal was organized between Tanzanian leadership and the Kenyan government, and all those who were hiding in the country were surrendered back to Kenya. They were put in lorry and began one of the toughest journeys of their lives. The police had their boots planted on their faces as they lay down on the ground being told the hand of the government is long enough, meaning no one can escape it.
Incarcerated At Kamiti Prison
They came back to Kenya and were sent to Kamiti Maximum Prison where he shared a cell with Ouko. After a while, they were taken to Naivasha Maximum Prison and kept in solitary confinement. They were only given 30 minutes outside to take care of their needs, bathe and enjoy a bit of sunshine, but everyone at different times. When the interrogations started, they were tortured. Cold water would be poured in the cells (ankle deep) and sand kept beneath the cell doors to ensure the water does not seep out. They would then be thrown in naked until they were ready to talk. 9 months later, the then young James Orengo was released from prison. (Sourced from his interview with KTN’s untold story segment)
In 1992, he was among the leaders that led protests against the single party rule. They fought for multi-party to be allowed in Kenya in a push that would see many lose their lives. It went on to be termed Kenya’s second liberation. They formed the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), a formidable party that almost overthrew the KANU party in the 1992 elections. Under the party, he was elected the member of parliament for Ugenya constituency and was re-elected again for the same position in 1997.
Vied for presidency
In 2002, he vied for presidency but failed and came in the fourth position.
In 2008, he was sworn in as the minister for lands in the new coalition government.
In 2013, he became the first senator of Siaya county under the New constitution.
In 2017, he was re-elected as the senator once again. The same year, the Cord coalition under the leadership of Raila Odinga contested the presidential elections. James Orengo was head of the legal team and won the petition leading to a repeat of the election.
One of the most memorable statements made by the Siaya senator was during the debate on the Election Laws (Amendment) Act 2016 at the Senate. The day was on January 5, 2017 when Orengo took to the floor of the house and reminded his fellow senators from the ruling party not to abuse their powers. He said:
“Sometimes revolutions eat their own children… governments eat their own people. This government is going to punish you more than they will punish me, I am telling you. In another one year you’ll be crying in my office to come and represent you.”
This statement has come to haunt the Jubilee leaders, especially those leaning towards the deputy president William Ruto. The DP point men including Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo-Marakwet) were kicked out of key positions.
Differs With Raila On BBI
The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has faced resistance from the senior counsel who feels that the document if implemented will entrench inequality. He also said people are displeased with the distribution of the 70 new constituencies.
The former Ugenya MP is the son of Apolo Stefano Olunga Orengo and Josfina Atieno Olunga Orengo.