Ongeri: The elder of Senate who wears many hats

Friday, September 25th, 2020 00:00 |
Prof Sam Kegengo Ongeri.

Emeka-Mayaka Gekara and Robert Ochoro

Born in 1938, Prof Sam Kegengo Ongeri is the oldest member of the Senate.

The Kisii Senator is the chair of the County Public Accounts and Investments Committee that has been grilling governors over audit queries.

In 2022, the surgeon will be 84 years old but he is currently the subject of hot debate in Kisii county where he has been touted to vie for the governorship.

Though he has not publicly declared he will run for the seat that is currently being held by James Ongwae, a second term governor, a group of former civic leaders have been criss-crossing the county rallying support for Ongeri’s candidature.

Gubernatorial ambition

Nyaribari Masaba Member of Parliament Ezekiel Machogu at the weekend expressed anger after a group of politicians asked him to drop his ambitions for the governorship in favour of Ongeri.

Machogu resisted calls for him to stick to his parliamentary seat, which was previously occupied by the senator.

The former provincial administrator said no one had the right to dictate to him which seat he should contest and challenged those pushing him to leave it for the voters to decide.

He said that he had consulted opinion leaders in the county and they had given him the greenlight to vie for the governor’s seat.

“Leaders, including former MP Robert Monda, Daniel Manduku, former Kenya Ports Authority managing director and former Constitution Implementation Commission chairman Charles Nyachae support me,” he claimed.

According to Machogu, Ongeri had not declared his intention to run for the seat.

The senator last month triggered debate on social media when he released a video congratulating young people to market the International Youth Day.

From the statement it was apparent he nurses future political ambitions.

Ongeri, who has consistently fought claims that he was too old for the job, proudly describes himself as “mzee wa kazi”, which loosely means an experienced hand.

“The blended efforts of the old citizens and young people, the wisdom and power,  projections and action is the surest way we can all get to the mountain top,” he said in the video targeting the youth.

Contacted for comment, Prof Ongeri said his long stint in politics was motivated by the need to serve. “What makes me tick are issues facing the people,” said the man who has been in politics for than three decades.

During a meeting at the senator’s home attended by ward representatives from Nyaribari Masaba and Nyaribari Chache constituencies led by John Maroko, leaders said Ongeri was an experienced hand capable of leading the county.

Others said to be interested in the seat include Deputy Governor Joash Maangi, Transport Chief Administrative Secretary Chris Obure, former MPs Manson Nyamweya, Omingo Magara, Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati and Richard Onyonka of Kitutu Chache South.

In 2017, Obure vied for the seat through Jubilee Party and lost to Ongwae.

Away from politics, Ongeri would be a university medical professor or a surgeon having been among the first group of Kenyan medics to separate conjoined twins.

 The senator graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Medicine in 1960 and, subsequently, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from New Delhi, India.

He then proceeded to London University in the UK where he earned a diploma in child health.

He also studied at Edinburgh University, Scotland. He is a member of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP, UK) and holds another diploma in immunology.

He started as a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s School of Medicine before plunging into politics.

He is closely associated with the family of former President the late Daniel arap Moi and at one point served as chairman of Kenya Amateur Athletics Association.

He joined politics, winning the Nyaribari Masaba parliamentary seat during the 1988 elections and served until 1992. He was appointed minister for Technical and Vocational Education.


After losing the 1992 elections, he was appointed Kenya’s Special Representative to UNEP and chairman of the University of Nairobi Council.

He made a comeback to Parliament in 1997 but lost the seat again in 2002 to Dr Hezron Manduku (now late) only to return in 2007.

He would later serve as minister for Education and later Foreign Affairs in President Mwai Kibaki’s government.

It would be remembered that he was among politicians who participated in the Serena peace talks mediated by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.   

Ongeri contested the Kisii Senatorial seat in 2013 but lost to Obure. He was subsequently appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya’s ambassador to UN-Habitat.

In 2017, he made a surprise defection from Jubilee to Raila Odinga’s ODM and won the Kisii Senate seat on an Opposition ticket.

At the Senate, colleagues and presiding officers refer to the staunch Seventh Day Adventist as “The Elder”.  

Committee level

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho recently agreed with Devolution and Inter-Governmental Committee chairman John Kinyua when he introduced Ongeri as his senior despite being a junior at committee level.

Joho narrated how Ongeri helped save his mother’s life.

“I have never been able to thank him enough. Senator and I were once travelling to some foreign country and then my mother fell ill on board four hours after take-off and we had nowhere to turn to. Senator Ongeri quickly came through for us,” said Joho.

He said the senator looked after his mother until they finally landed in Dubai where he sent her to hospital.

“Senator, I have never been able to thank you enough. I always pray for you. I want to confirm your sentiments on the seniority of Senator Ongeri both in public service and at personal level,” Joho told Kinyua.

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