Podcast: Louis Otieno on how he lost voice, controversial ‘son’

Louis Otieno: Family, health and the response

It is the voice of a man who got addicted to strong painkillers and it didn’t end well for him.

His unending back pain had to be managed for him to keep up with the rigours of his job, but the side effects of the drugs he was using were extreme. His pancreas later crashed and the opioid addiction must have contributed to that.

It is the voice of a former journalist who, while being treated for the pancreas issue, lost his hearing at a hospital ward. A nurse came in one morning and he couldn’t hear her. She thought he was joking but the reality quickly set in when he told her to write down whatever she wanted to pass across. Today, he can’t even hear himself talk if his cochlear implant malfunctions. 

That voice is in a new podcast featuring former newscaster Louis Otieno, which was uploaded on nation.africa this morning. The podcast tells the story of how Mr Otieno was left to live alone by his wife and two children as he became a burden as a result of his ill-health and his joblessness.

Another podcast, the last in the series on Mr Otieno, was also uploaded this morning. In it, filmmaker Silas Miami – who claims to be Mr Otieno’s son but the former journalist vehemently denies it – insists that he is his father, though he wants nothing to do with the former newscaster. 

Mr Otieno’s story with painkillers will be a lesson to many who underestimate the dangers of the drugs.

Because of a back problem he had and the demands of his media job, he resorted to taking opioids and it became an addiction. There is a day he went straight from a hospital bed to a studio to host a show. The painkillers he took to manage that pain got stronger and stronger.

His mother Elizabeth Omolo thinks it was due to bad company that he got himself there.

“There were groups that thought they were in cloud nine, and they have to get all those popular guys to drown with them if they’re drowning. So, in getting some wrong company, I think he was misled. Wrong company got him into some wrongdoings, which he accepts,” she says.

Mr Otieno told us that he has tried to get over the painkiller addiction, though–like any other form of addiction– it has not been easy.

And when his pancreas gave in, doctors who were gossiping in his presence blamed alcohol.

“TV guys, man. This is how they live. They just drink and smoke and eat whatever and drink whatever. Now look,” he remembers one doctor saying as he slept in hospital, dazed.

This wasn’t long before his sense of hearing disappeared. This was as he was regaining consciousness after a surgery at a Nairobi hospital that attended to his pancreas.

“This nurse goes away, comes in the morning and I can’t hear her. I lost my hearing in one night in the hospital. That, I couldn’t process. And the nurse was like, ‘You’re joking.’ And I’m like, ‘Start writing; I can’t hear you.’ And there, my life took a different turn,” Mr Otieno narrates.

“I am now a registered PWD, which actually means a person with disability,” he goes on. “I’m in that category, whether I want to accept it or not. And things change. People look at you differently. People are just scared of being with you.” 

At the peak of his career, Mr Otieno separated from his wife and children. But when he left his media career and was ailing, they came to his rescue. When he started improving, they separated again.

When we visited him in 2016, at a time when there was a public funds drive that helped him go for a cochlear implant, he was living with his wife, a humanitarian worker, and their two children. Ms Omolo believes her son may have struggled with marriage because he is a straight-talker.

“He is an honest guy. He’ll tell the truth,” she says. “His family would get tired of him not working, not paying rent or not paying school fees for his children and not feeding them. So, that was a great conflict between him and the family.”

Ms Omolo, a former employee of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, insists that they are merely separated.

“He’s not divorced. The family is there but that (separation) was a decision the two of them made, him and the wife. I wasn’t there when they were deciding,” she said. 

On the issue of Silas Miami–a filmmaker and photographer who is behind a number of films like Supa Modo and Disconnect–Mr Otieno says he is not bothered by claims that he fathered the young man. The story goes that Silas’ mother was Mr Otieno’s childhood neighbour.

When we contacted Silas for his comment, he opted to respond through a publicly posted statement earlier this year. We have voiced it in the final podcast and it packs the resentment he has towards his father.

“I know he’s genetically my father. But I do not know this man,” he stated.

But Mr Otieno, when asked whether Silas is his son, answers: “That’s a definite no.” Mr Otieno’s mother comes to his defence: “Let them say it until they say enough … My son is not a criminal. He didn’t do anything. He didn’t harm anybody. He just happened to be smart with his brains, with talents, and his kind, he is loving.”

On Louis’s wedding day, Silas’ mother stormed the venue but the matter was addressed and the wedding continued.

“I take this opportunity to ask everyone to stop asking me about him, because you are asking me about a stranger. I know nothing about the relationship between him and my mother. Nothing less than nothing,” Silas stated. “I’ve had more heartfelt conversations with my house plants than with Louis.”

There was a day Mr Otieno was in a hospital, vigorously banging walls with his bare knuckles but hardly feeling pain. Listen to the podcast to find out how this led doctors into discovering something in Mr Otieno that no medic had thought of before.

To listen to the freshly uploaded final two episodes and the previous four of the six-part podcast series on Mr Otieno, go here