Uniquely abled girl scales heights despite disability

Thursday, January 7th, 2021 00:00 |
Charity Bright, a Grade Two pupil at Kisumu’s Joyland Special School for Persons Living with Disabilities, takes notes with her toes during a lesson yesterday. Photo/PD/Viola Kosome

Listening to Otieno J M Wakake speaking is like reading a book about the Indian man who cycled more than 4,000 kilometres from India to Sweden. Their journey though happening many decades apart, bears all similarities of men driven by a strong conviction and a determination to conquer where others dare not.

 In 1977, before the invention of internet and mobile phones, PK Mahanandia left New Delhi on a bicycle for Gothenburg in Sweden in search of a Swedish girl he had met earlier. He was an artist who specialised in drawing people’s portraits in the streets of India.

 On August 26, 2021, Wakake left Malindi in the Coastal region of Kenya on a charity ride christened “Ride with Wakake” with a target destination being Durban in South Africa, a journey of over 4,000 kilometres across four African countries. He could be the first documented Kenyan to ride a bicycle solo for such a long distance not as an adventurer, but for charity.

Grand entry

I sat with him at a Gaborone Hotel where he was re-energising his quadriceps and hamstrings. He still had about 689 kilometers to Durban in South Africa. He looked tired, but focused. The previous day he had undergone a massage sponsored by friends in the Botswana Cyclist Association.

It was his grand entry into Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana on Sunday October 24, 2021 that bore the hallmarks of a person who was scoring a first among even seasoned cyclists. 

Under police escort, Botswana cyclists, well-wishers and the Kenyans, who had heard about an African brother who had peddled a bicycle from Kenya via Tanzania, Zambia and now into Botswana met him 20 kilometres from the city. Among the riders were Botswana cyclists, individuals who had hired or borrowed bicycles and even children who rode their mini bikes in the well-coordinated safe ride on Botswana A1 highway. Those who could not ride slowly drove their cars behind the riders on a motorcade that stretched over a kilometre. It was like an entry of a king into a palace.

Wakake’s biography paints a picture of a person who can wake up from sleep and inform everyone that he wishes to ride his bicycle to heaven. Nothing stands on his way. He started long distance rides by peddling from Kisumu to Malindi where he is based just for fun. “That is when I realised that, given enough time, the right support and gear, peddling across borders should not be difficult,” says wakake who was born 45 years ago in Luo Nyanza. 

As a bachelor, he comes out as a risk taker or one who has nothing to lose. Yet, listening to him speak about why he rides every year to celebrate his birthday and to create awareness on issues affecting the less fortunate in our society and the importance of education,  you realise that the man is not  a loner and has more to live for.

For instance, his Kenyan South Africa trip is a charity ride aimed at raising about Sh 1.3 million meant to brighten the future of over 18 orphaned and under privileged children majority of them coming from informal settlements in Kenya.

“The charity ride has leveraged on my cycling to help highlight the plight of young children disadvantaged by lack of funds and living in informal settlements” says Wakake noting that this particular ride is aimed at taping into extra ordinary fetes to extend the call to action on matters of quality education in Africa.

 A cultural conservator, Wakake is also an accomplished musician and an expert on percussions, a field he has explored both as a performer and an instructor. He has performed with famous artistes in Kenya and abroad among them, Artur Dutkiewicz a leading jazz pianist from Poland as well as Eric Wainaina  at the JK Kennedy centre in Washington DC to mention but a few.

 Yet it is his charity ride across borders that threatens to break barriers and create an Across African bicycles riders phenomenon if speeches at his reception in Gaborone are anything to go by. Kenyan high Commissioner to Botswana Mohammed Shidiye hailed Wakake as a role model. 

 Mmetla Masire, the Olkavango Diamonds Company Managing Director, praised Wakake as a legend. Masire who is also the President of Botswana Cyclists Association urged cyclists in Africa to unite and explore their potential noting that though cycling is a sport, it can be utilised as a movement for the benefit of the underprivileged in our society.

According to Wakake, the trip has rekindled his faith in humanity. He was hosted by people, supported by strangers in many ways than he had fathomed.  Along the way, he met regular people who warned him of dangers ahead if he didn’t heed their advice. In Tanzania, Maasai herders coerced him into asking for a lift from truck drivers across Mikumi Game Park to save him from wild animals even as he insisted he could make it. 

 In Botswana at Nata area, two women told him to wait until day break before embarking on his trip to Botswana’s second city of Francistown, warning him that elephants are many on the road early in the morning even as he insisted that his phone torch could light his way. 

 Twice, truck and bus drivers almost tossed him into ravines. The scars on his hands, knees and shoulders are a testimony of the rough times bicycle riders have on our roads. His bicycle almost gave in several times, but trust Africans with their ingenuity, at every town or city, there was a bike repair man who offered to modify something even where spare parts for his bike were not available.


 Wakake who documented his journey using his phone was all the way connected with fans some who came to his aid when he needed them most. In Tanzania supporters realised he did not have the right gear for the journey. Tents and other necessities were sent via bus to his next destination..

In order to ride comfortably, he created a routine. “I made sure I averaged 150 kilometers per day, but that could change depending on circumstances such as safety of where to pitch his tent among other factors,” says Wakake. 

Whenever he felt tired, he rested and in the process had time to mentor school children in Zambia as well as hold several interviews with media. In Botswana he was invited to North Side Primary school where he encouraged young ones to focus on their education and also to support the less fortunate in the society.

Wakake will be starting his final part of the ride, that is, from Botswana to South Africa on November 15 this year. 

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