Inside one famous  family of scholars and top leaders

Former Vice President Awori when he spoke to Saturday Nation at his home in Nairobi on April 28, 2017. PHOTO| ANTHONY OMUYA

What you need to know:

  • While the story of former vice president ‘Uncle’ Moody Awori, the best known of them, is in the public domain, a new book divulges interesting details about the Aworis — a family whose prominent members are spread in Kenya and Uganda

Sometime in the early 1930s, two clergymen loaded two girls on bicycle carriers and rode all the way from Butere to Kima, in Bunyore, tens of kilometres away. Their destination was the Church of God mission which was running an intermediate school.

The two clergymen, Canon Jeremiah Awori and Reverend Saulo Okello were in a predicament. The Canon’s daughter, Ellen Peris, had completed Standard Four at Butere School. The Reverend’s daughter, Ruth, was Ellen’s classmate.

As it were, the two girls had hit a dead end as far as education was concerned. The schools in the area had no further avenue for progression for girls.

For the Canon, this was simply unacceptable. Even in those early days, he firmly believed all his girls would get an equal shot at education as the boys.

It was for this reason that he persuaded his protégé Rev Okello to join him in a mission. To their dismay, they found that the school at Kima was a boys-only institution.

Nevertheless, they demanded that their daughters be admitted. But the school authorities could not budge. The men of God, in turn, threatened to leave the girls at the school and ride off.

Mr Aggrey Awori when he campaigned for president in Uganda in 2001. PHOTO | COURTESY

Nothing doing. In desperation, the clergymen came up with a solution. The mission had a school for girls that went up to Standard Four. They pleaded that their daughters be accommodated at the girls’ dormitory while attending the boys school. The school administration reluctantly gave in to the obstinacy of the determined priests.

Considering that even today 80 years later, the struggle to take and keep girls in school continues, Canon  Awori was a man way ahead of his time. This would explain a life of hard work that left behind a family with awesome material and intellectual resources at its disposal.

His children, both sons and daughters, became among the first to acquire university education in Kenya, attaining seven bachelors, two masters, two honorary doctorates and a professor of medicine. His grandchildren took the education bar to even higher heights acquiring 52 bachelors, 12 masters, one PhD and one professorship.


This fascinating story of Canon Awori and his family, easily one the most illustrious, in east Africa, unfolds in the recently released book, Seizing The Moment by Kondia Wachira and Horace Awori.

Contextually, the book is about that epic turning point where the old gives way to the new. It is a story that graphically mirrors the struggles of the pioneer churchmen and educationists as they tried to find a footing in tempestuously changing times.

Canon Awori, the son of an elephant hunter, was accidentally thrown into the new world, embraced the unknown and went on to become one of the most respected churchmen in Kenya in the early 20th Century.

In addition to working his way up from a lower primary school teacher, catechist, deacon then canon, the late Awori and his wife Mariamu managed the remarkable feat of bringing up 16 children to adulthood in an era of high child mortality.

The Awori siblings are Ellen, Joshua, W.W.W. Awori, Rhoda, Moody, Hannington, Winifred, Margaret, Nelson, Ernest, Aggrey, Grace, Mary, Christine, Henry, Willis and step sister Naomi.

While most of the Aworis have led quiet lives away from public limelight, Seizing The Moment reveals remarkable individuals scaling the heights in their respective careers. Their struggles in school, careers and business makes for captivating reading.

Canon Awori’s first son, Musa, died of a snake bite during infancy, leaving Ellen Peris, the second born, to take the role of the eldest of the siblings. Ellen trained as a nurse at Bulawasi college in Uganda and married Rev Mathew Owori.  She was later to train in social work at Nsamizi College in Entebbe before proceeding to complete the course in Israel. Consummate in networking, among the lifelong friends she made was Israeli Foreign Minister, Golda Meir, who went on to become Prime Minister.

Former Vice-President Moody Awori attending burial of Prof Calestous Juma in January. PHOTO| COURTESY

As it was common under British rule, a colonial administrator withheld Apollo Joshua Ayienga Awori’s admission letter to Makerere. He did a stint managing the family transport business which consisted of a lorry and two buses, another testimony of the canon’s industrious spirit.

He later joined what is today the Kenya School of Government for studies in personnel management before working as a superintendent in various hospitals. He then joined Caltex Oil as one of the first African personnel directors.

 W.W.W. Awori is one of the high profile members of the family. Trained as a public health officer at Mulago Medical School in Uganda, he briefly worked for the Municipal Council of Nairobi before resigning to go into journalism and politics.

For the first time, some previously unknown roles W.W.W. played in the struggle for independence are revealed. He was among the founders of Kenya Africa Study Union which evolved to Kenya African Union, KAU, one of the earliest independence struggle movements.

According to Seizing The Moment, in 1946, KAU sent W.W.W. to London to persuade Jomo Kenyatta to return home to lead the struggle for independence. Jomo had left the country 15 years earlier.

Jomo did return to Kenya but having exhausted W.W.W’s own funds that he had used for the trip. W.W.W, then aged only 21, was stranded in London for some time before an air ticket could be secured for him. His escapades in the struggle make for interesting reading.

Popularly, known as Uncle Moody, Arthur Moody Awori is perhaps the best known of the Awori’s after a long political career culminating in his appointment as vice-president in 2003.


While most of his life is in the public domain, the book traces his flamboyance to his youth. He loved fast machines, starting with a Harley Davidson motorbike in the 1940s.

His flashy mode of dressing dates back to those days. Kenyans will recall a day when as VP, he inspected a guard of honour at a passing-out parade at Lanet with a white fedora jauntily perched on his head. Only uncle Moody could pull that off.

Awori (second left) looks on as Dr Julia Ojiambo receives a cheque for the Samia water project. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

Hannington Ochwada Awori was one of the pioneer civil engineers in Kenya. He started his university education at Witwatersrand in South Africa in 1950 before proceeding to Imperial College. Back home he went on to occupy top positions in the corporate world.

True to the canon’s determination, all  his daughters had the opportunity to pursue education to whatever level they desired. Winifred Naburi Awori trained in nutrition and institutional management in Aberdeen, Scotland.

She would then work as a senior cateress in several institutions including Siriba College, University of Nairobi and Kenya Institute of Administration, KIA. She was married to the late Frederick Odera, a career teacher.

Rhoda Nambanja Awori took to a career in teaching after studying at Chadwick Teacher’s Training College and Bukura Farmer’s Training College. She married pioneer doctor John Omolo Ouya.

In 1987, the Katakwa Anglican Parish hit the headlines. The parish had refused to be part of the new Nambale diocese curved out of Maseno North.

The noisy and protracted protest shifted to Nairobi where it attracted newspaper headlines for months.

In the eye of the storm was Margaret Awori-Openda, the chair of the commission appointed by the diocesan synod to collect views on whether to curve out another diocese out of Maseno North.

A diploma holder from Siriba College, she taught home economics at the college before moving to KIA as deputy cateress. Upon retirement, she was appointed Diocesan Administrative Secretary of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Maseno North Diocese.

The first successful kidney transplant in Kenya was done in 1984 at Kenyatta National Hospital. Leading the team through this breakthrough was Prof Nelson Wanyama Awori.


Prof Awori studied medicine at Makerere before proceeding to the UK to specialise as a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. He had a distinguished career as a surgeon and researcher in kidney related ailments.

Ernest Achibo Awori started off as teacher training at Siriba. He later went to the US to study construction engineering in Boston. Back home he worked in major construction projects both in Kenya and Uganda.

Like many border communities, the Aworis straddle both Kenya and Uganda. Aggrey Siroyi Awori is the Ugandan politician who vied for the presidency in that country in 2001. And he was a fine sportsman too.

In 1959, the 100 metres sprinter won a gold medal during the Hapoel Games in Tel Aviv, Israel. He represented Uganda in the Olympics in Rome in 1960, and in Tokyo in 1964.

Aggrey studied political science at Harvard, capping his education with a master’s at Syracuse University. He served as Uganda’s ambassador to the US, Belgium and European Union.

After Yoweri Museveni seized power in 1986, he dropped Aggrey as ambassador, prompting him to start a short-lived rebel movement against Museveni. The two later reconciled and Aggrey joined the National Resistance Movement going on to become minister for ICT.

The 12th born child of the canon, Grace Odongo Awori, studied business and finance at Hendon College of Technology in London. She started working in Uganda. Her last jobs were general manager of Kenya Reinsurance Corporation and deputy CEO, Consolidated Bank of Kenya. Grace married the late educationist Matthew Wakhung’u, father of former Environment secretary Judi Wakhungu, now Kenya’s ambassador to France.

Makini schools rank up there with the best of private institutions in Kenya. Behind them is the hand of another Awori, Mary Okello. A trailblazer in every sense, Mary read history at Makerere. She then worked for Barclays Bank, becoming first woman branch manager in Kenya.

She held senior positions in international banking organisations such as Women’s World Banking.

In 1987 WWB seconded her to the African Development Bank. She closed her illustrious career as the vice president of WWB in New York. She married Dr Pius Okello, an engineer.

The 14th child in the family, Christine Awori-Hayanga studied law at the University of Dar-es-Salaam where she was the only woman in a class of 70. She held her first job at the Attorney General chambers.

She later worked for the Agricultural Finance Corporation and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO. She is married to retired judge, Andrew Hayanga.

Henry Wasia studied political science at Makerere. He did a brief stint in the provincial administration before joining Kenya National Assurance where he rose to become general manager. His last appointment was commissioner of insurance.

The 16th and last child of Canon Awori and Mariamu, Willis Mwendi Awori attended Pittsburg University, Pennsylvania, USA, where he studied human resource management.

After the death of the Canon’s first wife, Mariamu, in 1964, he married Mary Akinyi in 1968. They got a daughter, Naomi Nambiro, his 17th child in 1969. The Canon died two years later, in 1971.

Naomi trained as a chef at Utalii College. She is currently a senior chef at Muthaiga Country Club beside running hostels for university girls.




For those who believe in God working in mysterious ways, the story of Yeremiah Musungu Awori sounds just right. It began on October 14 1885, when Bishop James Hannington of the Church Missionary Society in London arrived at the home of his father, Awori Khatamoga in Gulumwoyo in today’s Funyula.

He spent a few nights there as the guest of Khatamoga before proceeding onwards to Buganda. As fate would have it, the bishop was hanged two weeks after his arrival in the Kingdom of Buganda on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga.

Most of the Bishop’s party were killed with the exception of four men who escaped. They included a man named Otsialo Olukuku. It was Olukuku who was later to ‘carry’ Bishop Hannington back to Khatamoga’s homestead in Gulumwoyo four years later.

This is how it happened. Immediately after the killing of Bishop Hannginton, Buganda was hit by a prolonged drought lasting four years. It decimated both crop and livestock, reducing people to walking skeletons. It took a senior diviner to figure it out. He declared that the remains of the murdered bishop had to be exhumed and carried out of the land by the route he had come through. That, or all would perish.

After his escape, Olukulu had remained in Buganda where another diviner had warned against his killing. He was tasked with carrying the remains of Bishop Hannington out of Buganda and was given a large number of goats as fees for his services to the kingdom.

A bout a week later, he ended up in the home of Khatamoga where the late bishop had been hosted four years earlier. Khatamoga still remembered his friend, the dead bishop, so he gladly allowed the body into his home for the night en route to Mumias where it was buried. It was exhumed in 1892 by Bishop Alfred Tucker and reburied at Namirembe in Uganda where a cathedral in the missionary’s memory was built.

Before dawn, the homestead was awakened by ululations. The first son by Khatamoga’s second wife, Osinya, had just been born. In honour of his late friend, Khatamoga named the boy Musungu, meaning the white man.

Forty years, later, Musungu was to become the first ordained priest from the Luhya community. It was Archdeacon Edwin Owen of then Anglican Church Diocese of Equatorial Africa who drew the divine connection about the arrival of the Bishop’s bones in the home of Khatamoga and the birth of Awori the same night.

“God, through the murdered bishop, was in some mysterious way claiming the baby for the gospel. The baby is now the ordained man of the people who gave sanctuary to the remains of Bishop Hannington,” Archdeacon Owen wrote in a 1925 church publication.

Many trace the success of the churchman’s offspring to his father’s kind act of giving sanctuary to the missionary’s remains those early days when the West met Africa.

–Gakiha Weru