With two housing estates (Otiende Estates in Lang’ata and Kakamega) named after him, Joseph Daniel Otiende’s last name is known to many Kenyans.
Known to his friends and colleagues as “JD”, he was Kenya’s first Minister for Education. Until his passing in March 2017 at a ripe age of 100, he outlived all the other members of Kenya’s inaugural post-independence cabinet.
Born in 1917, Otiende attended Maseno High School and graduated from Makerere College. He then went on to teach at Alliance High school and throughout his life he was known to be ardent advocate of formal education and scholarship.
His involvement in politics began in 1944 as one of the 32 delegates that formed Kenya African Study Union (KASU). According to historians, KASU was the first formal attempt at forming a national multi-ethnic political organization to fight for Kenya’s independence. Otiende was elected vice-president of the organization in 1946.
KASU camouflaged as an academic organization to avoid scrutiny by the colonial government. It is KASU that gave birth to the more known political organizations, Kenya African Union (KAU) and subsequently Kenya African National Union (KANU).
It was in KAU that Otiende continued his political work including the fight for the release of the Kapenguria six. He chose to join KANU instead of KADU (both were formed in 1960) due to his opposition to Majimboism.
As the Minister for Health and Housing, Otiende is credited with initiating numerous municipality housing projects in major cities and towns to address housing shortages due to large masses of Kenyans migrating to urban areas following independence.
As Education Minister, he laid the groundwork for public education that included desegregating colonial schools to serve all Kenyans.
He lost his parliamentary seat in 1969 mainly due to a wave of bad publicity for his utterances and how (as Health Minister) he handled accusations of negligence in Kenya’s hospitals following the 1968 death of Benjamin Ngaira* at Kenyatta National Hospital.
Prior to losing the seat and his cabinet post, Otiende had served in four different dockets (Education, Health and Housing, Culture and Agriculture) mainly because of his superior skills as an administrator, tough mien and low tolerance for corruption.
Opting to not to run for office again following the parliamentary loss, Otiende led a quiet and modest life at his rural home in Vihiga county until his death earlier this year.
*Benjamin Ngaira was the first African Chairman of the Public Service Commission who was also a member of the prominent Ngaira family hailing from Western Kenya. His father, Joseph Ngaira, had been one of the early leaders of the Quaker movement in East Africa which still has a large following in Western Kenya.
Read More about JD Otiende:
Joseph Daniel Otiende (Makers of Kenya’s History) by Peter Wanyande. Jan 1, 1999. Google Books snippet