Seth Odongo, also known as Dikembe Disembe, has made it his mission to be a champion for the underdog. He is not shy in expressing his opinions on topical issues, which has created animus between him and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC). In 2014, NCIC took him to court for an alleged hate speech crime, which the Milimani Court in Nairobi ultimately dismissed.
Because of his experience with this type of persecution, Seth is now driven by a deep desire to be a voice for the little guy struggling to make ends meet in a country with no shortage of resources.
African Warrior Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Seth Odongo and discuss his background, political views, and future aspirations.
- What is your name?: I was born Seth Odongo, but I picked up the sobriquet Dikembe Disembe growing up.
- How was life growing up?: I grew up in south western Kenya in an average rural family. We emigrated to Migori town because my parents wanted the best education for us. Migori had better facilities and incentives than our rural Homa Bay home area. My father was a mechanic (in the traditional sense of the word), and my mother was a teacher. Though my father is now engaged in small scale subsistence farming, my mother still teaches.
- Which school did you attend and what were the challenges then?: I attended Kanga High School. Back then it was a provincial level school, but now it’s a national school and a centre of excellence. I then proceeded to Moi University to study Communications (Bsc.). Save for the same challenges which face every boy growing up in a humble rural family, there was nothing so over-burdening.
- What inspired your young life?: Growing up in Luo-Nyanza you hear a lot of the struggles and shots and misses. You naturally, in fact sub-consciously, become part of those struggles, resulting in exclusion because you are ‘opposition supporters.’
- How was life as university student leader? Moi University students’ politics is fairly issue-based, so during my time the great issue of the day was accelerated intake of new students otherwise known as double intake, which I opposed vehemently as a student leader. This was a project of then Higher Education Minister, William Ruto, now our Deputy President. It wasn’t well thought out. It was like the module II disaster which student leaders of the ’90s opposed. My opposition to accelerated intake was that universities had no bed capacity to absorb the thousands of additional students who were being admitted, many of them as parallel students. While the government directed universities to admit these students, some like Moi University were very poorly equipped to handle the large numbers. In the end, students lived as far as two kilometres away from lecture halls with no transportation. At night, these students became easy target of muggers and rapists. The system was also not aligned to the country’s financial calendar, so students who depended on higher education loans board (HELB) loans often missed out. Being a student leader also had its good tidings. I got to represent the university in national student forum including a national ‘prayer’ breakfast presided by former President Mwai Kibaki and then PM Raila Odinga. Moi also sent me abroad – to the USA – for a student exchange programme.
- What is your ideology?: Somewhere in the book of Philippians 4:8, it says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things”. That’s philosophy. I always believe in the true, the noble, the right, the pure, the lovely, the admirable and the praiseworthy until reason and, or conscience, due to new knowledge, or information, proves otherwise.
- Do you think Kenyan politics are ideology-based?: I doubt it. However, I believe Kenyan politics can be based on the rule of law, so that winners treat losers fairly, and these losers are not defined by their ethnicities and regions but merely by their political party persuasion.
- Would you criticize a wrong committed by the party you support? Yes, I do that often.
- What ails Kenya- corruption or poverty? Corruption creates poverty, then poverty embeds itself on corruption. I mean, a corrupt person amasses, then uses identity politics to get ready supporters, many poor, whom he shares with part of the loot, after which they (the poor) own and accept both the corrupt man (or woman) and his/her sin. There is also the other corruption: tribal exclusion. Once you’ve got a favour purely because of your ethnicity, you begin to accept and defend ethnicity as necessary for the advancement of your in-group at the expense of the other. The final form of corruption, in my view, is corporte corruption. This is a form of corruption which masks itself as ‘entrepreneurship’. The correct term, ideally, should be tenderpreneurship. Today, there are ‘colleges’ in Nairobi and ‘trainings’ where people go to learn how to ‘win’ government tenders. Basically, you collude with governmental officials to inflate tenders, then you get it, give to whomever made you get it his ‘cut’, and you remain with yours. Often, you do nothing; you offer no service. That’s how the NYS scam and Youth Fund scam came about.
- What do you think about President Uhuru Kenyatta?: Good man, bad president. You know, beyond the photo ops and PR, which he has revolutionised, what else is spectacular about his time in office? You will say he has put Kenya on the global stage. Well, I don’t remember Kenya ever leaving the global stage. You will say President Obama and the Pope were here. Well, Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko hosted ”Rumble in the Jungle”, where is Zaire now? In fact, his ‘achievements’ at the global stage have everything to do with the ever-lingering legitimacy issues around his ascension to power. Jubilee has this fear of ‘being forgotten’ on the international stage so they constantly have to remind the world they are around. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka recently referred to it as ‘the crisis of insecure incumbents’. On the national stage, people’s efficacy to determine their own destinies have been extinguished. In Kenya today, hard work doesn’t count. They now say you only need to ‘work smart’; which is another way of saying you need to ‘know people’. Again that’s how the NYS scam happened.
- You have attended an exchange program in America. What opened your eyes? The fulfilling experience of a ‘working system’. If systems can work here in Kenya, even if it’s just 70%, this country can be ‘first world’ in our lifetime.
- What do you think about the education system in Kenya?: Education in Kenya no longer pays much. Now it only gives rise to what Karl Marx refers to in Das Kapita as ‘reserve army’ of the unemployed. The unemployment and underemployment crisis in Kenya is a direct consequence of an education system that no longer translates into a good professional career. The sad thing is that those who need to straighten things up no longer care. After college, with a degree and a loan, you are told to apply for another loan and ‘start a business’. So if you did economics or say, actuarial science, or Kiswahili or Math or Mechanical Engineering with the hope of joining some great profession, well, your goose has already been cooked. It is the neo-liberal tragedy of ‘financialized’ economies.
- What are the three major platforms you would campaign on if you contested for presidency?: I haven’t really thought about ‘presidency’.
- Do you think social media can help a party get more supporters? I think people in Kenya make their political decisions during campaigns. It goes back to the question of ideology. Political consciousness in Kenya is ‘identity based’ to a large extent, and the identity is often ethnic more than anything else. If people would support parties and politicians based on their proven support for, say professions rather than the trivia of ethnicity, maybe social media would be of great use. This is not to say social media doesn’t count. It does.
- What do you think defined 2017 polls?: Jubilee panicked, so the 2017 election was not going to be free and fair. The elites surrounding Uhuru, just as those who surrounded Kibaki, had more to lose if Uhuru lost than Uhuru himself. With Eurobond added to the mix, Uhuru leaving power was going to be a ticket for many of his goose- steppers, to long imprisonment terms for economic crimes. Rarely do elites who plunder nations, especially in Africa, let power go to potential disruptive forces.
- Greatest living Kenyan politician: Of course, Raila Odinga.
By Mukurima X Muriuki