Intrigues of the Ouko family row

Was the row really about illegitimacy, inheritance and family seniority? Theories abound and views differ

In Summary

• The Troon investigation concluded the Minister’s immediate family circumstances were normal, happy and stable

• However, there was a lot of infighting and drama that suggests there was more than meets the eye

President Daniel Moi, Ambassador Denis Afande, PSs Kiplagat, Oyugi and Mbindyo and Minister Robert Ouko during the reception at Kenya Embassy, Washington
President Daniel Moi, Ambassador Denis Afande, PSs Kiplagat, Oyugi and Mbindyo and Minister Robert Ouko during the reception at Kenya Embassy, Washington

The political divisions in Dr Robert Ouko’s constituency also ran through his family.

In the 1988 election campaign, Joab Omino’s supporters spread the story that Dr Ouko had not helped his brother Barrack Mbajah get the government job he wanted.


Some said Mbajah had campaigned for Omino.

Robert Ouko’s wife Christabel told Troon, “In the last elections, which were in 1988, Barrack openly canvassed against my husband during the campaign.”

Barrack Mbajah, however, denied campaigning for Omino.


That there were vitriolic and long-running disputes in the Ouko family is without doubt.

Dorothy Randiak cited the cause of the row between Ouko and Mbajah.

“In 1985, the following happened. Barrack was working as Deputy PC in Nakuru in the Rift Valley Province. From there, he was transferred to Deputy Secretary at the Attorney General’s office. He did not want this move and he blamed it on Robert because he had ambition to become Provincial Commissioner.


Christabel Ouko’s testimony supported Randiak’s story: It has been common knowledge that my husband and his brothers Barrack and Collins were not speaking to each other, and there was a serious situation between them and that conflict existed between them… At the time of my husband disappearing, the conflict still existed.

Barrack Mbajah, however, told Troon that at the time of Dr Ouko’s murder, they “were on good terms and there was no bad feelings” between them.

But even Barrak Mbajah’s wife, Esther, said otherwise: Up until the time of Robert’s death the relationship between Robert and Barrack remained the same, they had not settled their differences.


Dr Ouko’s mother, Susan Seda, was also drawn into the family conflict. This time, it involved one of Dr Ouko’s other brothers, Collins Seda.

“I do remember that in December 1989,” Randiak stated in a witness statement, a photograph was found in my mother’s house. It was a photograph of a family group, including my mother, my father and Collins. The picture of my mother had been cut out of the group.”

According to Dorothy Randiak, her brother Robert said the cutting of the picture had been the work of Collins.

Randiak went on to relate a chilling story.

“Some time last year, before the incident with the photograph, Collins had returned from Nairobi. It was always my mother’s custom to go and greet the members of the family when they return to Nyahera. On this occasion, Collins told mother never to come to his house again, and that if she did, he would cut her up into little pieces.”

Dorothy Randiak, the Ouko’s family physician Dr Jospeh Olouch, family friend Eric Onyango and other witnesses, all told Troon that the row with his brothers greatly disturbed Dr Ouko to the very last night of his life.

On that last evening, Christabel Ouko’s final phone conversation with her husband was about the conflict.

“We then discussed the problem with his brothers. So I talked with my husband about this and he was still unhappy about it all. His last words were, “I’ll try my best to forget about it, but pray for me.”


Even after Robert Ouko’s murder, the cold relationship with Barrack and Collins continued.

Christabel Ouko wrote, Even when my husband was found neither of the brothers came to see me or showed any concern.

At Dr Ouko’s funeral, the family discord continued.

Christabel Ouko: At my husband’s funeral, both brothers attended. Barrack greeted me but we never conversed. Collins never spoke or acknowledged me at all, which is very unusual.”


But could Robert Ouko’s dispute with his brother Barrack have been about more than a failure to help him get the job he wanted? Could it have been over a deeper issue — something serious enough to be a motive for murder?

William Gor told Troon early in his investigation that he should talk to Dorothy Randiak about a conversation she may have had with Ouko the evening before he was murdered. 


Troon told the Public Inquiry, “Mr Gor said the Minister had told Dorothy, 'It was either him or me.' The reference being to Barrack the Minister’s brother. Mr Gor said to me that Barrack lived in Nairobi and there had been bad blood between the Minister and Barrack for many years. Mr Gor said to me the reason for this was that the Minister had been born illegitimate and out of wedlock.”

The implication was that Barrack Mbajah regarded himself as the firstborn son after his parents were married and that, therefore, he should receive his due entitlements under custom. But instead, it was his brother Robert Ouko who benefitted.

Erastus Seda, Dr Ouko’s father, died in March 1986. It raises the question whether the row with Barrack Mbajah started a year before the dispute over Barrack failing to get the promotion he wanted and blaming Dr Robert Ouko for it.

Was the row really about illegitimacy, inheritance and family seniority?

Troon dismissed Gor’s testimony but at the Public Inquiry, he admitted that he did not know Gor had subsequently been interviewed by one of his colleagues, who was not briefed, to follow up on the “It’s either him or me” story.

Nor was Troon sure if Dorothy Randiak had ever been asked if Dr Ouko had said of his brother Barrack “It’s either him or me” the evening before he was murdered.

Mbajah was picked up for questioning by the Kenyan Police on March 28, 1990, but was later released without charge.

Troon dismissed the row between the brothers as not being of any real consequence: “I am satisfied that in reality, this situation was not as bad as it was made out to be and was seized upon by some unscrupulous individuals and amplified out of all proportion in an effort to enhance their own political career.’ 


Troon again relied on his personal judgment in assessing Barrak Mbajah's honesty and integrity as a witness.

“In my dealings with Mbajah, I have found that he is a sincere and, I believe, truthful witness,” Troon wrote in his ‘Final Report’.

But at the Gicheru Public Inquiry, Troon was forced to admit that Mbajah had not been entirely honest with him.

The Inquiry chairman Justice Evans Gicheru asked Troon: “Is your position that there is no truth in what Mbajah told you?”

Troon replied: “It would appear so since there is a conflict here between Barrack and several other persons.”

In late October 1990, a few days before he was to face questioning at the Public Inquiry into Dr Ouko’s murder, Barrack Mbajah fled to the United States, where he was given asylum as a refugee.

Mbajah never faced cross-examination in open court, or at the Public Inquiry, or the Parliamentary Select Committee or the TJRC.


But the row in the wider Ouko-Seda family was not the only domestic concern Dr Ouko had just before his murder. His wife Christabel explained:

“About a month or two ago, we were in Nairobi and had been out to dinner. We had a happy evening. When we got home, my husband said something had been bothering him for some time. He then said that in a moment of weakness, he had had an affair with another woman and there was a child as a result of this. He said he wanted to get it off his chest. I had no previous knowledge of this, this may have been two months ago.”

The ‘other woman’ was Violas Herrine Ogembo.

In May 1983, Herrine Ogembo gave birth to a daughter who Dr Ouko acknowledged was his and made monthly payments to support the child.

Troon acknowledged in his report: It would appear the relationship was close and the Minister would at times either take Miss Ogembo on official visits abroad or arrange her travel to meet him at selected venues. The relationship was apparently open and many of his close friends and colleagues knew of their association.

Troon said Dr Ouko’s brothers and sisters also knew of the relationship.


Shortly before he was murdered, there was evidence Dr Ouko’s relationship with Violet Ogembo may not have been his only ‘moment of weakness’.

Not long after her husband had confessed to his wife about Herrine Ogembo, Mrs Ouko said she received another call.

“Some time after this, I had a telephone call one night when my husband was working late from a woman who asked where my husband was as she was his wife. She said she was his wife. I said I was his wife also and we spoke for a little while and she put the phone down.”

And a week before Dr Ouko went to Washington, Mrs Ouko told Troon she received yet another call, about 6 o’clock one evening.

“The person was a woman. I asked her to repeat the name but she said, 'Never mind, I am the co-wife and I have two children of your husband, tell him to look up his children, I am going to make life very difficult for you!' I said, 'Why don’t you tell him yourself?' She said, 'I don’t see much of him.' She then put the phone down.” 

According to them, Robert Ouko told his wife and his sister Dorothy that he thought his brothers Barrack and Collins were behind the harassing calls.

According to Christabel Ouko, Dr Ouko’s mistress Herrine Ogembo had also received a visit from Barrack Mbajah.

“The lady my husband had the affair with said Barrack had been to see her and had said to her, 'Why don’t you bring the child home because I (me) was a bad person?’”


But did Mrs Ouko have further cause for concern?

Troon discovered that just before he was murdered, Dr Ouko was changing his will and was attempting to buy 153 acres of land bordering his farm in Koru.

Both were being handled by Ouko’s lawyer, George Oraro, whom Ouko had visited the day after his return from Washington to discuss the matter.

Ouko’s mistress Herrine Ogembo told Troon she, too, had heard of Ouko’s plans when she received a phone call from an unknown woman 10 days before the minister disappeared.

"The woman told her," Troon wrote in his investigation notes, "that Ouko was purchasing a farm or a business and wanted to put it in her name, but his wife Christobel did not like it and had visited a witch doctor, asking him to kill Ogembo and her daughter Tracy."

Ogembo said Dr Ouko suspected one of his brothers was behind the harassing phone calls. But Ouko’s sister Dorothy Randiak said he thought the phone calls may have been made by George Oraro’s secretary, Pamela, who was also the daughter of former Kisumu Mayor George Okalo, the principal subject of Dr Ouko’s investigation and report into local corruption.

But Pamela Okalo denied having ever met Dr Ouko, or of speaking to him or his wife Christobel on the telephone.

Troon dismissed the Ouko’s fraught family situation early in his ‘Final Report’: "I have found nothing to indicate that the Minister’s immediate family circumstances were other than normal, happy and stable."

It is surely a debatable point as to how many people would regard such testimony as indicating a ‘normal, happy and stable’ family life, rather than suggesting several potential motives for murder.

Martin Minns produced the documentary 'Murder at Got Alila: Who killed Dr Robert Ouko and why?'