Kibaki visited our home, says Ocholla who claims to be ex-president’s son

Mr Jacob Ocholla Mwai

Mr Jacob Ocholla Mwai who claims to be the son of former president Mwai Kibaki.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Mr Jacob Ocholla Mwai grew up seeing, knowing and interacting often with Emilio Mwai Kibaki as a neighbour and a close family friend. Mr Kibaki, he said, used to visit their home often. All that while, he says, he did not know that the man who visited them often was his biological father.

A hotelier by profession, Mr Ocholla was born and bred in Nairobi’s Kaloleni estate, precisely flat H14. He, like other children in the neighbourhood, started schooling at Kaloleni Social Hall. He later proceeded to Mariakani Primary School in 1968 for seven years where he sat for the Certificate of Primary Education test and joined the Rift Valley Academy for two years, before moving to Rift Valley Technical.

It took an evening meeting with the frequent visitor, a year after the death of the man whom he now calls his stepfather, for the daunting revelation to be made to him. Then everything changed, a twist in his life that he had never imagined.

Biological father

Mr Ocholla vividly remembers the June 21, 1982 meeting like it happened yesterday. It was the day when Kibaki, the then vice-president, in the presence of his now late mum, revealed to him that the man he had always called “dad” was not his real father. He was told that the man seated before him was his biological father.

As a hotelier, he had always interacted with Kibaki before. Yet, at the VIP sitting at the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi, he says, he was meeting Mr Kibaki for the first time as his father. The aura between them was punctuated with memories and a past they all wanted to unlearn or forget. Before him, he thought, was a man whose facial features looked like his. But there was also the shocking revelation that the five-hour evening meeting birthed.

“Jacob, I’m your father,” Mr Kibaki told him, as he narrated to the Sunday Nation in an interview earlier this week.

A lot was going through his mind in the minutes after the revelation. He did not know what to make of it and stared blankly into space. He did not know whether to hug him or to cry.

“It was the most shocking thing I had ever heard. The news left me distraught and with so many unanswered questions,” he recalls the moment. “All along I had grown up knowing that I was a Luo, only to realise that I was not.”

The 62-year-old is a father of five children and three grandchildren. Mr Kibaki died early this year aged 90. The 28-year difference between their ages might as well represent the former president’s age at the time Ms Jane Hilda Ocholla gave birth to Mr Ocholla.

Plans to meet his real father

All along, Mr Ocholla says, he knew that Mr Hillary Ocholla, the founding managing director of the Bomas of Kenya, the man he now calls “my adopted father”, was his biological father. His mother had sat him down upon his death in January 1981 and explained that the deceased was not his biological father, and promised to make arrangements for him to meet his real father.

“Even when the time came for me to meet with him (Kibaki), even when he walked into the Amboseli Grill Foyer at Hilton Hotel, I did not know he was [my] father, because he was someone I had known when I was growing up. When orders were placed, my mother broke the news and told me Kibaki was my biological father,” said Mr Ocholla Mwai.

The revelation opened a pandora's box and a past they all wished to forget; a story of a father wanting to be as close as possible to his son, yet honouring the boundaries between him, the friend, and the mother.

Addressed by name

“He (Kibaki) addressed me by name. Remember he was a close associate of my adopted father, both having been students at Makerere. Indeed it is in Uganda that he met my mother when she was visiting my adopted father, Ocholla. At one time, the two were even neighbours at Bahati estate, Nairobi,” he says.

Thereafter, Ocholla claims he met and shared meals with Mr Kibaki countless times at Milimani, Mombasa Beach, and Sirikwa hotels in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Eldoret where he served as a manager. Their meetings were most frequent at Milimani Hotel where the then vice-president was a frequent visitor. Mr Kibaki even spent an hour with his late mother at a city hospital when she was stricken by cancer in 1994, he says.

He did not know that things would change drastically after his ascendancy to the presidency.

Access suddenly cut off

With Mr Kibaki becoming the third president of the republic and his security beefed up in 2002, Mr Ocholla claims access “to his father” was suddenly cut off. Even in death, he was not allowed to get closer to him and he had to ‘pay’ to view his body.

“I was never able to get through his minders when he became President. After his retirement, I made numerous attempts to visit him at his Muthaiga home when he was ailing without success," he narrated.

“One thing that my father insisted on is that I marry a Kikuyu woman,” he said, explaining that all his wives hail from Central Kenya. But that was not the only advise Mr Kibaki gave him, he says. He always asked him to keep their relationship secret to protect his stature in society.

“If my keeping away from his family would give him peace, so be it,” he reasoned.

When Lucy Kibaki, Mr Kibaki’s wife died, he interacted with him at the requiem mass for the first time since his rise to the highest office in the land, he said.

“I walked to him and knelt by his seat and spoke to him,” he said, adding that Mr Kibaki was battling tears, “an indication of a father remorseful of his actions.”

Yet, of all the talks he ever had with his “biological father”, it is the assurance that he would include him in the Will that has pushed him to court demanding to know if the former Head of State bequeathed any part of his wealth to him.

Ready for a DNA test

After 15 years of him trying to reach out to his family, Mr Ocholla is ready to have a DNA test to prove to his “real” family that he is indeed the oldest son of the late president.

“I’ll accept the outcome of the DNA results,” he says. “Many people are curious and are asking why I’m coming out now; it’s because I was honoring my late father’s wish.”

“This is an embarrassing situation to be in but if it reaches a certain point and they say they want a DNA test I am ready for that. I am ready for them to exhume the remains of my dad and test me. I am ready for that,” says Mr Ocholla.

He has filed a case in a Nyeri court claiming he fears he might be left out during the succession process. His attorney says they have unsuccessfully tried serving the Kibakis with the court documents.

“That the citor (Ocholla Mwai) has attempted to reach out to the citees (Kibaki children) multiple times but his efforts have not been successful. The citor is afraid that the citees might proceed with the succession process without involving him and he might be left out of the estate of the deceased despite him being entitled to the share of the estate,” the court documents read in part. According to Mr Ocholla’s affidavit, Kibaki might have already written his will at the time he died. He is seeking to know who should be appointed as the administrator of Kibaki's estate and who should benefit from it.

Mr Ocholla says he takes after President Kibaki. He has attached photos that people who have met him say he looks like the deceased in his court documents.

Struggling with identity

In his “father's” death, he is now a man struggling with identity and belonging. The facial resemblance to the former Head of State, he says, is evidence that he truly is a man with roots in central. Other than Nairobi, Mr Ocholla has always known his mother’s Koru home and his step fathers’ Ugenya home as his other homes where he “is accepted and welcomed as one of their own”. He speaks Dholuo with native fluency and can understand “a little bit of Kikuyu.”

In a bid to establish his identity, he visited Mr Kibaki’s then surviving sister, now deceased, Esther Waitherero’s home. The motive of the visit, he says, was to establish his “roots” for the first time. When he entered her house, Mr Ocholla says, Ms Waitherero stared at him for almost five minutes. When she broke the silence, she told her children and her grandchildren in Kikuyu: “Ũyũ nĩ witũ”, meaning he is one of us.  

Ms Waitherero died mid last month aged 115 years.