My Footprints on the Sands of Time: An Autobiography
Trafford Publishing, 2003 - 540 pages
While Allan Ogot's circuits of influence have been very wide, and while he has participated in conferences and forums around the world, he has never yielded his intellectual and personal anchorage in Kenya - though he has had numerous opportunities to accept distinguished chairs overseas. Extraordinarily, Allan Ogot has sustained his incredible level of service and scholarship through shifting and challenging conditions within Kenya and within Africa, navigating changing economic and political circumstances. His steady hand and persistent commitment to the highest ideals of scholarly engagement and community provide remarkable model for all who are dedicating themselves and will dedicate themselves to Africanist scholarship. This autobiography provides a commentary on the history of Kenya as seen through Allan Ogot's life experiences.
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RETRACING OGOT’S FOOTPRINTS ON THE SANDS OF TIME: TRUTHS OR FALSEHOODS?
BY PROF. FRANCIS OWINO REWOver the last few years there has been an upsurge of biographies and autobiographies in the country. Of the two genres, the latter has raised a lot of interest because, as William Ochieng’ points out in one of his analytical standpoints about them, some autobiographies can be very elusive mirrors of what their authors fear to tell.
In Ogot’s Footprints, I cannot claim to have the wherewithal to measure the amount of truths or falsehoods without undertaking some research into the archives of history or interviewing some of the living who might have lived the events that shape the author’s anecdotes.
By its very nature of quotations of long letters and exchanges in his very glamorous life, Ogot proves that he must have kept notes, letters and diaries all his life. By so doing, the text deviates from an autobiography, as claimed on the title, to a memoir. Readers who are not familiar with this literature might find difficulty in differentiating the two. But a memoir is an anecdotage or a contribution to social history. The text under review slants more towards a record of events witnessed because the events stand out more than the author’s contribution in them.
The character of social history is noted as early as chapter one where the author dwells on the history of the Luo and his country, Gem. The author is more of an observer or a reteller of stories told to him in his childhood. In several chapters in the text, the long quotations of correspondences, speeches delivered at occasions and boardroom reports attest to the social historical account.
The instances when he attempts to be autobiographical, Ogot spews controversial remarks about others. The worst of these is his view of his stepmother:
“… her home background and her upbringing were totally different from that obtained at our home … Instead of serving tea from cups, she instead introduced enamel mugs; instead of eating from expensive plates we had in plenty, using forks and knives whenever we had important guests, she bought cheap enamel plates and dispensed with the burden of using folks and knives. The table cloths disappeared, and she started getting food on the floor. We no longer washed our hands in warm water before eating, nor did we say the grace” (p.27).
Then he continues to account for one incidence of brutal struggle for food – a clear indication of disregard for respect of the stepmother. A boy brought up in a Christian or African tradition would behave differently. In such pages the reader begins to wonder who Ogot’s audience is.
In several instances, Ogot makes outrageous remarks on persons he came into contact with: Charles Njonjo, Bruce McKenzie, Robert Ouko, Isaac Njenga Njoroge, Dr Richard Leakey, to Dr. Njoroge Mungai among others. Among other people about whom he makes lengthy positive remarks are his wife Grace, his confidante Thomas Odhiambo, family friend Tom Mboya and his one time student, William R. Ochieng’.
Thomas Odhiambo was more than a friend, a confidante, a consultant and a fellow intellectual. Right from Maseno school days, it was to Thomas Odhiambo that Ogot turned to for advice in all matters, be they marriage, taking up scholarship or jobs. One wonders how deep this relationship was. While Odhiambo passed on a philanthropist having established an institution in Luoland to his name, Ogot still bestrides the country with a great name without anything tangible to bequeath his society. Having benefited from his forerunners, it is not asking too much to have expected a scholarship award to students of history as a gesture of the appreciation society bestowed upon him.
To Tom Mboya, Ogot’s family was so close that the latter happens to be the last such close person that the departed minister talked to shortly before the assassin’s bullet shattered his life. By coincidence, it is to Ogot that the suspect announces Tom Mboya’s death soon after the gunshots were heard
2 Early Education
3 We Build For the Future I
4 In Thy Keeping
5 Ever the Best
6 We Build For the Future I I
7 Territorial Ambitions
8 A Regional NonGovernmental Organization
9 The Day and the Hour Unknown
10 A Community Technical Col lege
The East African Community 19751977
13 Wars in the Minds of Men
14 The Barracks
15 On the Equator