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Odera Akang’o: Chief Who Forced Education on Locals, Making Region Produce Highest Number Professors In Kenya  


There is this jest about a place called Gem in Siaya County. When you throw a stone, you do not hit a graduate, but you pelt a professor armed with a sterling PhD. It is a learned land with professors per square kilometre.

This place at the sultry shores of Nam Lolwe. It has produced plenty of polymaths. Just to mention a few, CMG Argwings Kodhek, Oki Ooko Ombaka, B.A Ogot, George Magoha, and many more, hailed from there. 

Now, these are the quality questions we should ask ourselves: What made Gem to churn out many academics? Is the place still producing scholars of great repute? Are there practical lessons we can pick from what happened there in those years of yore?

What can local administrators do in order to leave lasting legacies within their spheres of influence? How can modern-day educationists leave their indelible footprints on the sands of time? 

Paramount Chief called Odera Akang’o

In our classic case, it was one Paramount Chief called Odera Akang’o who placed Gem on the global map. He was a benevolent dictator who reigned in the sunrise of 1900. He is still etched in people’s minds and hearts because he initiated a plethora of projects in that fertile land.

Today, when you visit Yala, a small town along Kisumu-Busia stretch, you will see an academy named after the late chief whose fame wafted far and wide like lake-spirits called Nyawawa. There is Odera Akang’o Campus, a constituent college of Maseno University, which initially was under the parentage and patronage of Moi University. 

It is important to note. When Kenya became a British colony, colonial masters governed denizens through local chiefs. The white men hunted for powerful chiefs hence made them Paramount Chiefs by expanding their spheres of influence.

For instance, we had Chief Mbiu wa Koinange and Chief Karuri wa Gakure among the Gikuyu. That is how also the people of Gem had Odera Akang’o, the great chief who collaborated with the British in those days of humble beginnings.  

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The legacy of Chief Odera Akang’o will spill to eternity because of the pivotal role he played in asserting his legendary leadership to the descendants of Ramogi Ajwang’. He was a deft administrator, spiritual leader, and the tip of the spear that led his people when they wended out to wage war.

The Chief exposed Gem to the outside world. At the front-end of the First World War, Bishop J.J. Willis cordially invited him to attend church consecration at Namirembe Cathedral in Uganda.

It was on that hallowed spot that the great chief learnt a lot. He took note of the proliferation of schools, churches and health centres that had been established by the white man. When he went back to his chiefdom, he infused new things he saw, and in turn, changed the place. 

Value Education and hardwork

The Paramount Chief encouraged his people to value Christianity, hard work and education. He knew how to handle idlers, footloose wonders, malingerers and disorganised sluggards.

Parents who did not take their children to school were arrested, confined in a small cell in Yala, and then taken to the chief baraza. Here, they were flogged in a broad daylight for failing to take their children to school in order to interact with the white man’s magic – formal education.

Autochthonous men and women feared this public humiliation. The chief also met his subjects frequently to educate them on the essence and importance of education. Therefore, at sunrise, Gem became a hub of best brains. 

Education is important. Education is light. Education liberates people. Education attracts a better future. Nelson Mandela is remembered to have said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Malcom X also put it aptly, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” 

Therefore, this is the take away. Other chiefs should emulate this Paramount Chief, and play their part. There are plenty of places in this country where children are denied basic rights to education due to troglodyte tendencies, which are fueled and fanned by utter ignorance, complacency and retrogressive aspects of culture and tradition.

For instance, in these times and climes, there are communities that are still stuck on the ugly past, relegating the position of the girl child, hence denying her the basic right to education.

Early marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), are still rearing their hideous heads here and there. Some of these things are happening, but chiefs in charge are just silent. But what if they borrowed a golden leaf from the late Chief Odera Akang’o? 

The writer was born and brought up in the Gem of Siaya. vochieng.90@gmail.com. 0704420232