Exemplary tales of gangsters who turned their lives around
“Baghdad boys” were synonymous with violence that engulfed the residents of Kisumu Town in the early 90s.
A mere mention of the name would send chills down the spines of the Lakeside City residents.
The dreaded gang had its main base in Kisumu’s Kondele area.
It was established at the peak of the clamour for multi-party politics and consisted of 17 muscled men, who maimed and tortured those opposed to the ideals of their key leaders, led by the late doyen of opposition politics Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
With crude weapons, they mercilessly descended on anyone opposed to the purported progressive changes.
Among the crew members were Gwada Ogot, Joseph Oyolo, Odindo Sikeo, Okoth Otura, and John Nyambok.
Several members of the prescribed Kenya Air-force who had participated in the aborted 1982 coup were also part of the gang.
Former Air Force soldier Captain Lumumba Owade, former aide to Opposition chief Raila Odinga, headed the command in Nairobi whose headquarters was at the main Ford offices.
Audi Ogada (pictured), 51, also a leader of the gang, says their sole mandate was to protect the political leaders led by Jaramogi, who were fighting the then President Daniel arap Moi’s regime.
“We were ready to die just to ensure Jaramogi and other leaders were safe,” he said.
Late Jaramogi’s team included James Orengo, now Siaya Senator, the late George Anyona, Martin Shikuku and trade unionist Denis Akumu.
Others were Raila, the late Masinde Muliro, and former Kabete MP Paul Muite. Ogada said: “You know Moi had ordered the police not to allow any political rally to take place.
Therefore, as a group we had to cause chaos, fight with the forces that included the police, youth for Kanu 92 and any other security agency to ensure that the rallies took place”.
He added “We also used Jaramogi’s connection with Russia and Libya to spread propaganda that we were trained there in order to create fear among people.”
During their operations, Ogada admits they would carry crude weapons even though he denies harming anyone.
“Yes, we carried all sorts of crude weapons for protection during our operations, though I cannot comment further on how we used them,” he explained.
He added: “You see, it was a real struggle to free the country from dictatorship.
Some of our members had been arrested, detained in police cells, some remanded in prisons. We did this because of the suffering they went through as some died,”
But today the group has since reformed and transformed into a peace lobby group. Ogada and some of his colleagues have opened a new chapter in their lives, and are well-known peace crusaders.
In 2003, members of the gang transformed into Baghdad for Peace (BAFOPE) through the assistance of the National Council of Churches of Kenya and Catholic for Justice , Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
“The church approached us to dissolve the group and transform it into something better,” Ogada told the People Daily.
Joseph Oyolo alias Jojo, has also transformed into a peace crusader.
At the peak of the 2007 post-election skirmishes in Kondele, Oyolo led a team of youths in preaching peace in the area. “We decided to change tact by not using weapons to fight but rather engage in meaningful ventures,” he says.
Their mission is to engage youth and former members in meaningful activities.