Gen Francis Ogolla
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Francis Ogolla: The General who loved golf, praying and philanthropy

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The late Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Francis Ogolla plants a tree at Waso Primary School in Isiolo on November 13, 2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Generous. Humble. Pious. Fitness enthusiast. Those are some of the attributes of fallen Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) boss Francis Ogolla that came to the fore yesterday.

We spoke to his master’s degree supervisor, golfing friends, brother and locals near his former primary school in Homa Bay.

Who would have thought he moved around with a Bible until his son Joel Rabuku said that at the memorial service? Who would have thought that Gen Ogolla would go on his knees and pray for his troops, had it not been revealed KDF Principal Chaplain Alfayo Lelei?

“He believed that tactics in war were not the only solution. He believed in prayer,” the chaplain said.

Without hesitation, Gen Ogolla allowed Rotarians to use Ulinzi Sports Complex – where his memorial was held yesterday – for the Sunshine Rally. The rally brings together children with disabilities for fun activities.

Mr Leonard Ithau, a Rotarian, said the General allowed the more than 7,000 children to use it for free.

Dr George Gona, a senior don in the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Nairobi, gave a glimpse of what Gen Ogolla was as a student.

“He was diligent, inquisitive, curious and ready to learn. He attended class without fail,” he said.

At Muthaiga Golf Club, Gen Ogolla had a playing handicap of 7.4, though he played as low as handicap five. He was an avid golfer, but had not played since December because of his schedule. Mr Paul Gondi, a friend of the General and his playing partner, said though the military boss had been held up with work, they always stayed in touch. Their last conversation was on April 17.

Kenya Golf Union Chairman, Philip Ochola, said the death is a loss to the golfing fraternity.

 “Gen Ogolla was a paragon of integrity and beacon of truth. He never had two ways about an issue. He stuck to the straight and narrow,” he said, describing the general as a strict time-keeper and fitness enthusiast.

“Gen Ogolla taught us the virtues of patience and courage to meticulously execute our mandate. Excellence was his hallmark,” he said.

In Homa Bay County, Gen Ogolla is remembered for supporting the sinking of a borehole at Lala Secondary School in August last year. He was a pupil at Lala Primary School.

Arujo Chief, Bob Lang’o, said the borehole was to drilled at the primary school but geologist advised against it.

The administrator said the water serves the two schools and the community.

Mr Rabuku on Saturday praised the General for his generosity.

“Don’t let those things remain in your pockets. Open your hands and God will bless you,” he told mourners.

Gen Ogolla was also praised for his simplicity. Mr Rabuku spoke of the Sh6,800 casket made of rough timber that was his resting place.

His father, he said, would not have loved to be put in an expensive coffin. He said the general would be buried while draped in sheets and without a casket.

“We’ll lay him on the ground so that he can return to dust as quickly as possible, following the example of the man he admired most – Jesus Christ,” he said.

In Siaya, Gen Ogolla’s brother – Canon Hezekiah Oduor – said the family would make the burial as simple as possible.

The General, he said, believed that funeral committee meetings and fundraisers are unnecessary. He had also shown his relatives where he wanted to be interred.

“He even cautioned one a family member not to get in the way of his wishes,” Canon Oduor said.

General Francis Ogolla Memorial

General Francis Ogolla's memorial service at the Ulinzi Sports Complex on April 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto touched on Gen Ogolla’s virtues.

“Even in death, he is giving us lessons and on humility,” he said.

The general’s village-mates say he interacted with them freely.

 “I have known him as cheerful giver. He attended to the needs of those who sought help. He did not like to postpone things,” Canon Oduor said.

“What will happen to the widows who benefited from him?”

The other side of the general was his love for books. In a KBC interview last year, he said it is the passion he had been left with as he had little time for golf.

 “He loved reading and playing golf,” his son said.

The General, Kenyans learnt yesterday, was how open he was with discussing life and death.

He had spoken to his family about death and discussed mortality in detail. A video of him discussing life and death was played at the sports complex.

 Gen Ogolla gave profound advice at Life Ministry Church when as it marked its 50th anniversary in October last year.

“In my military life, I have come to learn the reality of mortality. I have appreciated that life is finite, humans are mortal and life is short. One morning, you are with a healthy colleague, the next minute he’s ashes,” he said.

“Now you see him, now you don’t. Seeing colleagues die in war, accidents or sicknesses, the reality of human mortality lives with us every day.”

  He then cited a Bible verse that says in part: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.”

During the Ash Wednesday in February, Gen Ogolla spoke about death.

“He talked about human mortality, saying he had realised that life has a meaning when you entrust it to God,” Mr Lelei said.

Standing at more than six feet, Gen Ogolla was conscious about staying fit

Religious officials hold a ceremony for the remains of the people who died in a military helicopter crash that killed Kenya's military chief, General Francis Ogolla, in Nairobi, Kenya, April 18, 2024, in this still image taken from social media video.

Photo credit: President William Ruto/Facebook

Tuesdays and Fridays were dedicated to fitness in the army. His son recalled how he did 80 push-ups, 50 press-ups and ran 3.2 kilometres in about 19 minutes two days before his death.

 “It was phenomenal for his age,” said Mr Rabuku, encouraging others to borrow a leaf from his father who “even fit in his coffin without having to be squeezed”.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said Gen Ogolla had a funny side, and that he would crack jokes for the teams seeing off or receiving the President at airports.


Chief of Defence Forces, General Francis Omondi Ogolla

The late Chief of Defence Forces, General Francis Omondi Ogolla.

Photo credit: File

 Mr Gachagua also spoke of a man who showed up one day with a birthday card, when the Deputy President did not even remember that it was his birthday.

The military chaplain said he was sure Gen Ogolla would reject the naming of a Sunday school class after him. At his local Anglican Church in Nduru, he would visit unannounced, often electing to sit at the back.

- Reported by Larry Ngala, George Odiwuor, Elvis Ondieki and Angeline Ochieng