An undated photo of Jonathan Ogwang' Fwaga. Fwaga disappeared from his home in 1979. (Right) Fwaga's 48-year-old daughter, Ms Rose Atieno Ogwang.

| Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

Gone without a trace: A daughter's painful search for father 

In November 1979, Mr Jonathan Ogwang Fwaga left his home in Alungo village, Seme, Kisumu County, in the early hours of the morning with nothing.

He had woken his eldest son, Joshua Otieno, looked him in the eye and uttered just two words in the native Luo language, "An awuok", which loosely translates as "I am gone". He has not been seen since.

No one has his original date of birth, and the only existing photograph of him is a black and white one taken when he was a young man.

For Fwaga's 48-year-old daughter, Ms Rose Atieno Ogwang, the last image she has of her father is of him wearing a black coat. She was five years old at the time. 

Rose Atieno, daughter of Jonathan Ogwang' Fwaga, holds an old photograph of Fwaga at their home in Seme, Kisumu on July 11, 2023.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

The country was holding a general election in the era of the de facto one-party state under the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) party.

Daniel arap Moi was the only presidential candidate and he was automatically elected.

Atieno has seen four presidents — Moi and Mwai Kibaki, who are now deceased, former President Uhuru Kenyatta and the current William Ruto — but has not seen her father for the 44 years since he left home.

The Nation traced the village where Fwaga was last seen. It is surrounded by huge rocks synonymous with the area that is home to the famous pilgrimage site Kit Mikayi in Seme sub-county.

According to Atieno, the village has changed and now consists only of maize farms surrounding a single house belonging to her younger brother. In Luo culture, the last-born son does not go off to start his own farm like his other siblings, but is left to look after the home.

Wilkista Owila Odie

Atieno takes us to two graves about 10 metres from the house; one for her elder sister and the other for her mother, Wilkista Owila Odie. 

Rose Atieno shows the family graveyard during an interview at their home in Seme, Kisumu.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

She points to the spot where their house used to stand, now covered by bushes and some maize stalks left over from the last season’s harvest.

Atieno, along with some relatives and friends of her father, then sits with us and tells us how the lack of parental love and a father figure has caused her pain and other challenges in life.

"It has been a hard journey for me. I only remember my father waking up my brother. I could only see his black coat as he left at dawn in 1979. I cannot remember what else he said to my brother, who was also young at the time, before he disappeared into the darkness," says Atieno.

Fwaga was a trained teacher and also helped at a clinic owned by one of his brothers in Oyani, Migori County.

He taught at Nyawara Secondary School and Alwala Primary School before he went missing. Atieno's mother, Wilkista, died in 1990.

According to Atieno, Wilkista could no longer stay at the matrimonial home, and moved with the other children to her maternal home in Uyoma.

"She could no longer bear it and decided to move, only to be brought back in a coffin because it is tradition to be buried where you were married. I went to live with my aunt Azenath Owang in Kisii while my other siblings were scattered around the country with other relatives," says Atieno.

Has been lonely

Since her mother's death, she says, she has been lonely.

She has decided that her in-laws will pay her bride price, which is usually paid to the parents, to her aunt.

Atieno has also faced challenges in locating plots of land left for her brothers to farm. Because of her father’s absence, people in the village encroached on more than five plots, and sold them to outsiders.

"A lot of things would not be happening if my father were here today. He would really help to resolve these land disputes we are having," says Atieno.

In the 80s and 90s, searching for a missing person was not easy because of the lack of sophisticated tracking technology available today.

This made the search for Fwaga even more difficult. In those days, people could only hope that a person would come back when they wanted to.

Fwaga's nephew and close friend, Jotham Ouko, last saw him in 1977 in Oyani, Migori County, where he was helping out at the clinic. 

They were very close and his disappearance affected him deeply. He was also teaching at a neighbouring school in Oyani at the time. 

Jotham Ouko, a close friend and nephew of Jonathan Ogwang' Fwaga during an interview.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

When he disappeared, rumours were rife, with some saying his uncle had gone to Uganda, Tanzania or Uyoma, while others said he had thrown himself into the river.

"I also heard that he left at dawn and never said where he was going. There were reports that he had some problems at home because he did not have a job at the time," says Ouko.

There was a glimmer of hope in the early 2000s when reports surfaced that Fwaga had been spotted somewhere in the Eastern region of the country. Ouko says the reports seemed genuine, but the family had no way of immediately tracing his uncle.

A relative who claimed to have seen him also died, further complicating the search.

Local politics

Ouko describes his uncle as friendly and very interested in education.
The same was said by 78-year-old Joseph Awandu Owuor, Fwaga's friend who was involved in local politics.

The last time Awandu saw Fwaga was in Kisumu on November 7, 1979, on the eve of the elections. 

Joseph Awandu, an old friend of Jonathan Ogwang' Fwaga, holds a photograph of Fwaga at his home in Seme, Kisumu.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

"I was preparing to be an agent for a former councillor, Mr Oyugi Anyaa, who was contesting on a Kanu ticket. While in Kisumu, Fwaga told me he was going to Busia for some personal matters. I never saw him again," says Awandu.

He still hopes that one day his close friend and confidant will come home.

Atieno has four siblings who are still alive, while three have since died.  
The reports and speculation about their father’s disappearance have only added to the family's psychological torture.

"All I have is a picture of my father and sometimes I see these mentally challenged old men on the street and I feel that one of them could be my father. If he is somewhere reading all this or seeing us, he should know that we are waiting for him at home," says Atieno.