Monthly Archives: October 2014

Kisumu artist who drew his way into President Uhuru Kenyatta’s heart

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When Spanish painter Pablo Picasso said there are painters who with the help of their art and their intelligence transform a yellow spot into sun, he could as well have had Collins Omondi Okello in mind.

Armed with the right pencils, this 25-year-old artist and comedian drew a portrait of President Uhuru Kenyatta in his combat regalia. Jaduong’, as he is famously called in Kisumu, worked on the portrait for more than eight hours. And it was all worth it because the masterpiece that he produced would have given Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa artist, a run for his money.

“Some people are claiming that I used photoshop or a computer application to draw a sketch of the President. Well, if that app is downloaded in my hand, it is true but I am inspired by doubting Thomases, who exalt my work discreetly,” says Jaduong’.

Finer details

Okello has been trending in social media for the past three days after he captured the hearts of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenyans thanks to his stroke of genius.

Having spent ore than eight hours to capture the finer details, Okello is living proof being a genius in whatever field is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, Okello’s masterpiece on the right speaks for itself.

He captured every detail so well, it’s almost too good to be true. Okello started exhibiting this rare talent at an early age when he was a pupil at Arya Primary school. Like the way, a journalist carries a pen and a note book everywhere, Okello always carries a pencil and a paper.

With these, he would capture the wonderful moments he experienced.

His latest portrait of the President earned him praise from Kenyans on social media and from State House Digital Director Dennis Itumbi, who expressed interest in the portrait.

And just when he thought it could not get any better, he received a call from President Kenyatta. He started sweating and his heart was racing. He became instantly tongue-tied.

He could not hide his excitement as he told this writer about the phone call. He says this humbling experience marked the climax as his star showed no signs of going off any time soon.

“Kijana nimependezwa na kazi yako (Young man I like your work),” President Kenyatta told him.

While most would seize the opportunity and negotiate for the best price possible, Okello did the unthinkable. He gave President Kenyatta the portrait as a gift as the head of State celebrated his 53rd birthday.

Okello may be basking in glory right now but he is not done just yet. He is now working on a portrait of veteran journalist Jeff Koinange.

Every long journey starts with a single step, or so the old Chinese adage goes. Okello commercialised his talent when he was only eight years old when he sold a drawing for Sh20.

At Arya Primary, his talent was detected in the most unusual way.

Okello narrates how pupils used to be ordered to take an afternoon nap and he would stay up drawing the teacher who would be too busy marking classwork. The teacher may not have noticed him but it was not long before the class monitor did and Okello was in trouble.

Musical instruments

“The class monitor reported me to the teacher for making noise with a pencil,” said Okello then burst into laughter. The teacher summoned him to the staffroom and Okello thought he would be punished. Instead, the teacher directed him to a colleague who teaches Art and Craft called George Bunde.

Mr Bunde trained him and Okello soon became a darling to many teachers. He would draw maps on charts, paintings and musical instruments to aid teachers during lessons.

All was going according to the script until the Government scrapped Art and Craft from the curriculum. His talent development stalled as a result. He would later rediscover himself when he joined Kisumu Boys High School in 2004. Here, he took Art and Design but concentrated too much on the theoretical part of it.

Okello said this was because the school lacked a developed art system that would nurture his talent. He however benefited art teachers who pointed him in the right direction so that he could turn his talent into a career.

“They advised us on how to benefit commercially from arts besides doing well academically,” said Okello who attained an A- (minus) in Art and Design and a mean grade of A- (minus) in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams in 2007.

His art project comprising a painting and pottery topped in the entire Kisumu District and he later sold it for only Sh300. But to him this was a lot of money.

Okello suffered another setback when he joined Jomo Kenyatta University for Agricultural Technology (JKUAT). His parents convinced him to pursue a degree in Commerce with the promise of a better future.

He regrets giving in to his parents demands, saying that was the worst mistake he ever made. He says he took up the course to please his parents and the society who believe that careers such as medicine, engineering and law are lucrative. When Okello’s interest in art grew, his father George supported him financially.

“Collins has made the family and the village of Karachuonyo Kanyipir very proud,” said George.

Doors opened

After graduating, his breakthrough came when a friend, also an artist referred a client to him. After doing two portraits and selling each for Sh500, his doors opened and the orders kept coming his way.

Okello markets his products through social media using his three accounts, Collins Think-tank Okello (Jaduong’), How A Luo Would Have Said It and Jaduong Art works.

Source: standard

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15 Things All Dads of Daughters Should Know

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“I feel sorry for you when they become teenagers.” “Dude, you’re surrounded by women.” “What did you do to deserve that?”

Being a dad of four daughters (we also have one son), I hear stuff like this almost daily. And honestly, I’m the one who feels sorry for people who think this way.

Having daughters is one of the greatest joys I could imagine. We have a saying at our house that goes like this: “I love you more today than I did yesterday.” Raising girls is a privilege, not a burden.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I have learned 15 things about raising girls these last 11 years.

1. She wants to be loved. More than she wants the stuff you can buy her or the things you can teach her, she wants you to love her. No one else on earth can assume your role as daddy. Your daughter will let you down, make huge mistakes, and maybe even turn her back to you for a season, but don’t ever let her doubt your love for her. Look her in the eye and tell her you love her. Lots.

2. You have an influence on her future partner. Scary thought, but the kind of man you are to her will have a direct impact on who she chooses to marry someday. For years our third daughter would beg me to marry her when she grew up. I had to explain that I was already married to her amazing mother. If you’re doing it right, she’ll want to marry someone like you one day.

3. Listen to her music. When my girls are in my car, you’ll be able to catch us rocking out to the following Pandora stations: Taylor Swift, One Direction, Cody Simpson, Kidz Bop Radio, Katy Perry, you get the point. Not stations I’d listen to on my own—with one exception: I love Taylor Swift—but when it lights them up, it lights me up.

4. She’s watching how you treat her mom. If you take one thing out of this entire list, make it this. One of the best things you can do for your daughter is to love her mom. It’s easy to be child-centered, running from one kid activity to another. But fight for your marriage and make it a priority. The seasons of life when I lose focus on dating Brooke (my wife) are also the seasons when our children have more issues. I don’t think that’s coincidental. Love your wife, make time to date her, take her on trips, and show your kids that she is a bigger priority than they are.

5. Don’t shrink back as she grows up. Our oldest is almost 11, so we haven’t hit the dreaded teenage years, but I say bring them on. Dads who are further down the road than I am regret not being more emotionally engaged with their teenage daughters. It will be awkward for all of us, but I’m leaning right into it. Periods, boyfriends, shaving armpits, Snapchat, whatever it is. My girls won’t know any different than their dad being every bit as engaged when they’re 15 as he was when they were 5. Don’t disappear when their emotions and bodies start changing.

6. Teach her how to do a real push-up. I won’t be mistaken for Billy Blanks, but we take health and wellness seriously at our house. My girls aren’t wimps. They know how to do real push-ups. They play sports hard. They think “throwing like a girl” is a compliment, not an insult. They bring it. And more than the physical toughness, we’re raising mentally tough girls, just like their momma. In a world where femininity gets assigned far too often to princess dresses and fairy tales, my girls are tough as nails.

7. Make memories. A friend once told me that my job is to be the chief memory maker of the house. It’s morbid, but I have 50 to 60 years left on this earth, tops. That’s not a ton of time, so I’m going to go hard and create as many memories with my girls as I possibly can. We celebrate big things like a 10-year-old trip, but we also take the little things seriously. Family movie nights on Friday nights. Big-breakfast Saturdays. Hikes after church. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but it does have to be intentional. Fill up your daughter’s emotional journal with memories of being with her dad.

8. Teach her that it’s not about her. Something amazing happens when we realize that the universe doesn’t spin around us. We’re not modeling it perfectly for our girls, but we’re trying to show them that life is best lived when we give ourselves away. To serve others. To go last. To not always have to be right.

9. Show up to her events. As dads of young daughters, most of us are building careers at the same time. So it’s not possible every single time, but make the effort to get to her stuff. Even if it’s not your favorite activity. I hate the commercial of the dad at the daughter’s dance recital who is watching a football game on his phone. I love a good football game as much as the next guy, but clap as hard for your daughter’s recital as you would on your couch watching sports.

10. Proximity doesn’t equal presence. I’m guilty of forgetting this often. The simple fact that you’re there doesn’t mean you’re really there. Especially in an era of constant information and entertainment. Turn your phone off when you get home from work. Or at least put it in another room. Your daughter couldn’t care less about your Twitter feed, your emails, your fantasy football team, or your group texts. She cares about spending time with you. Playing with you. Being with you.

11. Do her hair and nails. Brooke does this 99 times out of 100, but I make it a point to tell all my girls that Daddy can make a killer ponytail. And I can paint their nails like a champ. Heck, they’ve painted mine on many occasions as well. Show her that a man can be gentle.

12. Date her. I wish I could say I do this consistently, but even once every few months is better than not at all. Dating your daughter is critical to showing her how a man should treat a woman. Call me old school, but on my dates with my girls, I open the doors, pay the bills, look them in the eye, and make them feel like a million bucks. This doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. A walk around the block. A short bike ride. A trip to the ice cream store. Doesn’t have to be fancy, but again, it must be intentional.

13. Her heart is more beautiful than her appearance. Guess what, dad? It’s your job to tell your daughter, and then remind her a million times, that what’s on the inside of her is what will make her go far in life. The heart is how we talk about it at our house, but it can be her character, her self-worth, her core. Raising girls in this sensual world isn’t easy, but they don’t have to settle for the belief that to be pretty means you must fit into a size zero or show almost every piece of your skin when you walk into a room.

14. Don’t blink. Kenny Chesney was right. She calls you daddy. Enjoy that role— it flies by.

15. Will you forgive me? I forget 1 to 14 more than I would like to admit. I’m doing my best. You are too. But when I blow it, when I hurt her feelings, and when my intentions were better than my actions, I’m learning to ask her for forgiveness. Not a simple apology, but a sincere plea for forgiveness. Model being a dad who gets down on her level and admits that you don’t have it all together. She’ll forgive you for that.

Dads, your role is a precious one. Love your daughters well.

This story originally appeared on the Huffington Post, courtesy of Justin Ricklefs.

Source: Redbook

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US-Based Businessman David Karangu Takes Ice Bucket Challenge, Donates Sh1 Million to Beyond Zero Campaign

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An Atlanta-based Kenyan businessman took the Ice Bucket challenge Friday and donated Sh1 million to the Beyond Zero Campaign which is spearheaded by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta.

Mr David Karangu, the CEO of Ivory Chevy Auto Sales Company, also nominated two other Kenyan businessmen to take the challenge.

“I challenge my friends Chris Kirubi and James Mwangi of Equity Bank to drench themselves in ice cold water and, even more importantly, donate to this worthy cause,” he told t Nation.co.ke outside his Atlanta home.

And in response to our enquiry later in the day, the office of the First lady wrote an email to the Nation confirming receipt of the money.

“The donation is greatly appreciated,” read part of the massage.

Some of Kenyan personalities who have taken up the challenge so far include NTV’s news anchor Larry Madowo and Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore.

Others are former presidential candidate, Peter Kenneth, journalists Kalekye Mumo, Fareed Kimani and Jeff Koinange.

Askthegirls and the Nailab Team have also stood up to be counted.

MATERNAL AND CHILD HEALTH

Beyond Zero Foundation was formed in January 2014 with the aim of complementing the government’s efforts of reducing maternal and child mortality.

It is part of the initiatives outlined in Mrs Kenyatta’s strategic framework towards HIV control, promotion of maternal, new born and child health in Kenya.

Mr Karangu also appealed to other Kenyans residing outside the country to “consider taking the challenge.”

The businessman, who was recently hosted for breakfast by President Uhuru Kenyatta during his visit to New York, also serves as the honorary Chairman of Kenya Diaspora Advisory Council – Georgia Chapter.

The Ice Bucket challenge encourages nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and then nominating others to do the same.

A common stipulation is that nominated participants have 24 hours to comply or forfeit it by way of a charitable financial donation.

Although its origins are unclear, the challenge has become popular around the world and has helped raise billions worldwide in support of multiple causes, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and cancer research.

Internationally, former US President George W Bush is perhaps among the most famous personalities to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

– By BMJ Muriithi, Nation.co.ke

 

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Ex-Banker Trades Cushy Bank of America Job for the Family Business in Kenya

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For six years Adarsh Shah worked at Bank of America in Philadelphia. But although he had a good job and had climbed the ladder to become a vice president, a short visit to Kenya a few years ago prompted him to quit his secure job and relocate to Nairobi.

“I came back to Kenya for a summer, and as I walked through Nairobi saw signs of opportunity everywhere. I was very happy in the US, but felt the upside potential in Kenya was a lot more. Here I can be a big fish in a small pond and make a more meaningful impact in people’s lives,” he recalls.

Breathing new life into the family business

Instead of starting his own business, Shah (who grew up in Kenya) joined his father’s furniture company. For more than two decades Designwear, started by his father, was known for quality office furniture.

When Shah joined the business, he decided to leverage the company’s strengths in logistics, sourcing, importation and project execution. New divisions were introduced focusing on road construction, solar street lighting and distribution of health supplies and equipment.

“We are well known for being able to execute large projects in excess of US$10m. When we looked at our strengths we saw the opportunity to leverage them and expand into other impactful areas such as infrastructure and health,” explains Shah.

Designwear has since done a number of road construction and lighting projects, and handles healthcare equipment needs for a suite of clients. The company has also maintained its office furniture division. “Office furniture has always been our forte and we have a good reputation in the market,” he says.

Professionally challenging

The 31-year-old, a graduate of Wharton business school, says adapting to social life in Kenya after a decade in the US was easy. However, the professional side was more challenging.

“I had switched from a bank that employs 200,000 people with everyone having a specialised role, into a small organisation where I had to know everything.”

Designwear introduced new technologies in both solar street lighting and road construction, which simultaneously lowered costs and improved the customer experience. However, it was a challenge to gain acceptance, and competition was stiff. In solar energy, he adds, there are many naysayers opposed to new technologies due to previous unpleasant experiences with poorly-engineered products.

“As a result we had to slow our market entry,” he says. “I also had to understand the Kenyan consumer mindset which is different to the US. People here focus a lot on value. It took me a while to realise the importance of that.”

Overly optimistic

In the early days, Shah says one mistake he made was being overly optimistic and not anticipating these challenges. “We overestimated the speed at which we would be able to get jobs, and along the way had to scale back. There were also practical considerations as clients took time to get funding. This process took years not months, but acceptance of our unique products is finally taking off.”

Other challenges were customers tending to choose cheaper short-term solutions as opposed to a more pricey long-term option. But despite setbacks, Shah says he remains optimistic and energised, confident growth prospects in the region are good.

“The emergence of an educated middle class with increasingly sophisticated demands means Kenya remains a fertile ground for opportunity,” he believes. “And from a humanitarian point of view it’s important to see our population get lifted out of poverty. Simultaneously it increases the robustness of our internal market. Our governments must continue to focus on policies which grow the middle class, supporting education, reducing corruption, and empowering women to become wealth creators.”

Bank of America lessons

Shah notes the skills acquired at Bank of America have helped his entrepreneurial journey. Professionalism is one key thing he mastered. At the bank, Shah and his team helped manage a loan portfolio of $180bn, and produced “hundreds of pages of documents full of numbers”, with no room for error.

“Even though I don’t produce reports anymore, in whatever we do I expect our work to be 100% perfect. I do not tolerate mediocrity, not from our staff, not from our products, and not from myself. It takes years of training to have that mindset.”

Learning opportunities at the bank were vast, thanks to a team of highly competent managers and peers. For one year he was posted to India to build a new team.

“It was like a start-up culture there. For three weeks I did not even have a computer but eventually I built a whole new highly-functional team. That experience alone taught me a lot about management and expansion.”

Shah advises aspiring entrepreneurs to have more than just a big dream. “The crunch is in being trustworthy, working hard, and having grit.”

– How We Made it in Africa

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The Deadly Business of Gangs at Centre of Urban Land Grabbing

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The flowing royal blue robe and a hand-held wooden cross that indicated allegiance to the Legio Maria sect lent the towering figure of Jared Odek Ochoko (popularly known as Ochok) a whiff of piety whenever he made his characteristic fleeting public appearances in Nairobi’s Eastlands.

But despite his distinctive religious attire, Ochok’s stock-in-trade was something less reverent. To some, he was a passionate land dealer and real estate investor who was occasionally forced to be a little aggressive to navigate Nairobi’s urban jungle.

To others, he was a ruthless land grabber who commanded a gang that invaded and sold private property with impunity in a practice referred to in Sheng as mradi (project). But in between were those who considered him to be something of a benevolent villain, a modern-day Robin Hood who took over idle land and sold it at affordable prices to those who would not in normal circumstances have been able to afford it.

He seemed to give orders with the fewest possible words to groups of young men who often hung around him as though the mere blinking of his penetrating eyes, the flicking of his fingers or the limp waving of his hand was communication enough. He was the “president” or “patron” of a “self-help group” that operated mainly on Kangundo Road and his word was law, especially in Obama and Chokaa estates which he is credited with having established.

Ochok never shook hands in greeting, preferring to clap. Some say this was in line with his Legio Maria beliefs, others say it was to reinforce his mysterious image.

 

Despite his reputation in parts of Nairobi, Ochok was notoriously media-shy. Now, he will never get the chance to speak for himself after his life was violently cut short in a gangland-style shooting three weeks ago on Manyanja Road near Umoja.

LEFT TO SPECULATION

Instead, his story is left to speculation, urban myth and accounts from those who knew him well. One of them is Mr John Otieno*, an associate who describes the life of the man who will be buried today in Kakwajuok village, Kendu Bay, in almost messianic terms.

“He was my saviour,” says Mr Otieno, “How else would you describe what he did for me?”

A few years ago, Mr Otieno was a lanky school dropout who believed that travelling to Nairobi from his dirt-poor village in Nyanza would be his passport to prosperity.

When he arrived to live with a relative, his best efforts at fitting in with the urban sense of style was a faded T-shirt, a pair of worn jeans and battered flip-flops.

“Look at me now. I own a house in Nairobi, and on a good week I can make as much as Sh20,000,” he says.

With few academic qualifications or professional skills, Mr Otieno, like thousands of youths in his circumstances, found it hard to secure a job. That was when a relative told him of a risky, but lucrative job in Njiru.

“I joined a group of young men to provide security at a quarry. We were armed with machetes and iron bars, but our leader had a pistol. Our brief was to prevent anybody from taking over the place. Lorries would drive in and out throughout the day and sometimes at night, carrying building stones and kokoto (ballast). Sometimes I was paid as much as Sh5,000 a day. I was told the owner of the quarry was a man from Kendu Bay, but I never met him,” says Mr Otieno.

When he eventually met Ochok, the mysterious quarry owner from Gendia in Homa Bay County, it was in a violent setting. Mr Otieno was among tens of armed youths – perhaps 200 or 300 – who had been called to fight off a rival group that was trying to take over a vast piece of land on Kangundo Road.

OUTNUMBERED

According to Mr Otieno, there was no violence during the standoff, but the rival group, which he thinks may have been the Mungiki, left after realising it was outnumbered.

Mr Otieno was, over the years, to be involved in similar confrontations and would occasionally interact with the “president”.

“He gave me and other youths pieces of land and encouraged us to build houses. All I had to pay was an ‘administration’ fee to the office. It took me a long time, but I eventually completed my house,” he says.

Otieno adds matter-of-factly: “I was ready to die for this man who changed my life. I know many people who can say the same thing. How can anybody say he was a bad man?”

It is this conflicting image of Ochok that emerges from multiple interviews with his close associates — many of who have gone into hiding and do not want their identities revealed — land owners, the police and local leaders.

He was said to be the darling of the police, having assisted many of them to acquire land. At least four senior officers built modern houses on plots issued by Ochok within the Chokaa area and Mihang’o Ward. Other beneficiaries are politicians, both serving and retired.

“After a youth was arrested, he would make a phone call to the police, and the suspect would be released immediately,” said a land agent in Ruai.

That Ochok, a polygamous father of nine, was an influential land dealer with hundreds of youths under his command is not in doubt.

According to police sources, he was among the kingpins of vicious land-grabbing gangs – some fashioning themselves as “self-help” groups – in Nairobi’s Eastlands that invade private property, sub-divide it and sell it off. Those who buy the land are given “share certificates” to prove ownership as the sellers seek to change the records at the Land ministry and City Hall.

In areas such as Njiru, some grabbers turn the land into quarries, which are reclaimed years later and sold off.

Sources say the cartel involves the police, officials from the Nairobi County Government and the Land ministry who provide protection, insider information and documents.

“They mostly target land whose owners have not paid rates for many years. Sometimes they manufacture a dispute that even goes to court and continue to sell the land even as the case drags on,” says a land broker familiar with the dealings of the groups.

Recent investigations identified Kasarani and Embakasi East constituencies as the worst affected with Njiru, Ruai, Mihang’o, Kayole Central and Matopeni/Spring Valley wards the most prone to such invasions that have taken on an ethnic angle. Gangs in Nairobi are not new, but what worries the authorities is that they are becoming more daring and ruthless––and nobody seems to be stopping them.

Nairobi County Commissioner Njoroge Ndirangu, who also chairs the security committee, said in a recent interview that the invaders demonstrated the “highest level of impunity”, and the government had listed at least 50 pieces of land that had recently been lost to the cartels and 100 that had long-running disputes.

“The invasions have posed one of the greatest security challenges in the county. Apart from private land, the gangs target power wayleaves, road reserves and any undeveloped land,” said Mr Ndirangu, who admits the situation is complicated because most of the land had been sold to third parties.

Local leaders who oppose the grabbers and the genuine land owners are usually threatened by the gangs, and some are said to have been killed.
Mr Francis Ngugi, who in a previous interview said he could not access his land near Njiru trading centre that had been sub-divided by a gang, says he was once beaten and left for dead when he attempted to access the property.

“I can’t go there. There have been several attempts on my life,” he said.

The 800-member Njiru Ageria Land Buying Society also claims its 180 acres of land have been turned into a building stone quarry by gangs, and no amount of litigation has helped. The police are said to be receiving “protection money”.

“Some people colluded with City Hall officials and manufactured documents to kick off a dispute. Our members were to get a plot each, and they are still waiting,” said a member of the society.

Not even land belonging to the late tycoon Gerishon Kirima in Mihang’o Ward has been spared with the family saying they have been threatened with death if they dare attempt to evict those occupying the plots.

To show how ruthless the gangs are, on August 23, they set alight machinery belonging to a construction company after the firm attempted to access a disputed 30-acre plot of land in Mihang’o.

“The police and some chiefs have been furnished with details of the invaders, but the problem is that they get money every week,” Kasarani MP John Njoroge said in an earlier interview. Ironically, associates of Ochok suspect some senior Nairobi politicians and government officials used rogue policemen to execute Ochok.

“We know they also want to kill those who were close to him, that is why we have gone into hiding,” he says.

That police took their time to respond and the confidence exhibited by the gunmen, who were armed with a pistol and AK-47 rifles, has raised suspicions that the authorities knew of the attack.

DENIED INVOLVEMENT

Since his death, four other land dealers have been shot dead in Nairobi in almost similar circumstances. Police have denied any involvement in the killings.

Those who were close to Ochok paint a portrait of a man who was living in constant fear of his life. A confidant says Ochok would not stay in one place for more than 10 minutes, changed cars two or three times whenever he was being driven around, and at some point stopped using mobile phones, apparently to avoid being tracked.

“Sometimes when he feared his security was compromised, he would move to a Legio Maria church in Got Alila (Kisumu County) for a few weeks until things cooled down,” says a source close to him.

His associates say he was a millionaire who had invested in real estate, quarrying, the transport sector and at a gold mine in Migori. With police investigations ongoing, there are indications that the “self-help” group he left behind is looking for a new leader to fill the “patron’s” big shoes.

*John Otieno is not the real name of Ochok’s associate who spoke to the Sunday Nation

– Nation.co.ke

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