A great history of our polygamists, warrior queens, chiefs and big Men

Wednesday was the second anniversary of the death of Ancentus Ogwella Akuku, who was better known as Akuku Danger.

A Wikipedia entrance repeats the popular story that Akuku was nicknamed “Danger” because “women were very attracted by his handsome looks”. He died on October 3, 2010, aged 94.

The Wikipedia post says Akuku Danger married his first wife in 1939 and became a polygamist at the age of 22.

In his life, Akuku married over 100 wives, divorced 85 on grounds of infidelity, and sired 160 children. He outlived 12 of his wives, marrying the last one in 1992. Also, that there were so many children in his family that Akuku established two primary schools solely to educate his brood, as well as a church for his growing family to attend. I hadn’t heard those details before.

There are no longer men like Akuku Danger in Kenya, or elsewhere in Africa or the world, for that matter.

The times have changed so much that in some parts of the world, if you portray yourself as a model citizen and are a leading member of your church, then it is discovered you have a secret mistress, you will have to resign your job, move away from the neighbourhood, or even emigrate in shame.

There were many remarkable men (rarely women) in those days. One of the few exceptions in East Africa was in western Uganda, where the legendary Queen Nyabingi Kaigirwa led the Nyakishenyi revolt against British colonialism.

Drink whisky

More popularly known as the “Nyabingi Revolt”, it was over 10 years before it was crushed. It is a little known fact, but the Nyabingi revolution partly inspired the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica.

They adopted Queen Nyabingi as their spirit of revolution.

That was the age of new things; of change, and the various struggles to adapt gave us memorable characters. One of my friend’s grandfather’s was among the first “natives” allowed to buy and drink whisky by the colonialists (you needed a licence to buy modern drinks in colonial Africa those days).

The story goes that he would give his most prized visitors half a tot each. Because of that, his bottle of whisky lasted about 10 years!

The grandfather of another friend, a powerful chief, was among the first Ugandans to own a motorcycle. However, he thought it beneath his stature to ride. Therefore he had a rider.

However, he wanted all his subjects to see him sitting on his motorcycle, so he got the rider to ride low with his head on the handle bars, so that all and sundry could see him in his full majesty without obstruction.

Africa’s powerful post-independence leaders were very avuncular and old school in disciplining people.

It is rumoured that Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta and Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda would sometimes cane errant ministers and public servants on their bottoms. In the case of Banda, the junior ministers allegedly spoke to him while kneeling.

The aberration

These stern and humiliating ways, to be sure, persisted into current times. Chad’s strongman President Idriss Deby, for example, still slaps his ministers.

It seems the pressures of those times required extraordinary responses. Akuku Danger was the aberration that grew from the evolving idea that a man should only marry if he had the means to look after his family. Before that, the village looked after the children.

Men like Kenyatta and Banda, for all their faults, had the difficult task of building new independent states and managing levels of expectations that later leaders cannot even begin to imagine.

Impatience, and a refusal to suffer fools gladly, was the only way they could succeed.

In Uganda, Milton Obote tends to be vilified these days. However, in the short eight years between October 1962 and January 1971 when he was overthrown by Gen Idi Amin, he built more classrooms, hospitals and dispensaries, and opened more roads than all the Uganda presidents of the last 40 years combined!

My two friends’ grandfathers were grappling with new notions of private property, and what today we call “celebrity status”.

These men changed their world because they did something wonderfully old-fashioned — they never missed the morning roll call. Obote, for one, was always in his office at 7.30am without fail.

cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com & twitter@cobbo3

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