Ochieng died at his home in Awendo, Migori County at the age of 83 years old. The cause of his death was not clear at the time of announcement.
Veteran editor and columnist at Sunday Nation under Nation Media Group, Philip Ochieng died on Tuesday night, April 27.
Ochieng’s death was confirmed by his family and announced by Nation.
Ochieng died at his home in Awendo, Migori County at the age of 83 years old after battling pneumonia. He had been admitted at the Ombo mission hospital and was discharged last week.
Many journalists, prominent personalities and Kenyans took to social media to pay tribute to a fallen hero who was termed by many as the father of scribes.
“I remember reading Phillip Ochieng’s columns in college with a dictionary by my side. An erudite writer with no degree but well informed, PhD knowledge in his brain,” recounted BBC journalist Ferdinand Omondi.
“Sad to learn of the death of legendary scribe Phillip Ochieng. A man’s whose pen shaped many of us in the industry.
“The 5th columnist was a man full of knowledge & always eager to share. A man who told me I cannot say or write ‘cant be able’ some 13 years ago at Nation Centre,” weighed in Radio Africa Group digital editor Oliver Mathenge.
Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga mourned the late Ochieng as a legendary communist with veteran experience in journalism and an unopposed prowess of the English language.
“Through the power of the pen, Philip spoke to the most powerful and moved the society into action,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Fifth Columnist
Ochieng made his mark as an Editor-in-chief of the Kenya Times and was termed as a father to modern-day journalists, a hero to many and a villain to others.
He served as a columnist and editor for the Nation Media Group and was once a columnist for the Standard and was renowned for his The Fifth Columnist and Language Clinic columns in Sunday and Saturday Nation editions.
A master of writing talent within the scribes community Ochieng was well known for documenting chronicles of the independent KANU party.
Likened to Prof. Wangari Maathai, Ochieng helped to steer the profession to brand new heights and his prowess to the published word that made many troop back to school in search of knowledge.
One of his books, The Fifth Columnist, underneath his historic column and among the very few books that took readers through the journey of the media scene and professionals in Kenya and remains a precious gem from its date of publication in 2016.
It details the trials and tribulations of Ochieng on his way to become one of the most celebrated media personalities of all time.
He started his education deep in the village in present-day Awendo, Migori, before his admission to the iconic Alliance High School, then under the stewardship of British mathematician and Anglican missionary Edward Carey Francis, who at one point had to chase down Ochieng to his home to complete school.
In 1957, Ochieng would write a letter asking to be re-admitted to school, promising to change his ways. Despite not living up to his word decades later with his many printing presses that dismissed God’s existence, he was among the top 10 performers at the end of his schooling in Alliance and was admitted to a university in the United States.
He was part of the first cohort of students to be airlifted to the US, a trip organised by politician and union leader Tom Mboya and his parliamentary colleagues, Gikonyo Kiano and Muriuki Njiiri, with the first flight involving 81 students.
According to the book, Ocheing was having lunchtime beer at a place known as Siqueras opposite Jeevanjee Gardens, a typical leisure activity for journalists at the time when he learnt of Mboya’s assassination on July 5, 1969.
“He was devastated. Mboya was not just a friend but a mentor, the hand of providence in the Fifth Columnist’s life.”
Ochieng wound up not completing his university studies in the US and elsewhere, which makes his achievements and writing a special feat to behold in the media space. After returning to Kenya, Ochieng’ joined Nation Media Group as an intern and rose to be the Editorial Copy Reviser, Chief Sub-Editor, Associate Editor, Managing Editor and later on Editor-in-Chief.
He was also a celebrated author who published several books including I Accuse the Press: An Insider’s View of the Media and Politics in Africa in 1992 and The Kenyatta Succession, co-written with Joseph Karimi.
He also helped edit the classic, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, which was written by his friend – the celebrated Caribbean intellectual, Walter Rodney.
He has documented his experiences across countries such as Tanzania, Uganda and in Europe.
Godfrey Myotumba, a lecturer at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University recalled Ochieng as a man bearing a beehive of knowledge but for one to get him to open up, it would require a lot.
“I first met him as a freelance journalist with Kenya Times during KANU days”, Nyotumba said.
Nyotumba added that Ochieng had information on how Tanzania President Mwalimu Nyerere was allegedly one of the early officials of Luo East Africa, the Luo traditional religion and its connection to ancient Egypt and an expansive list of all beneficiaries that accompanied him to his further studies in the US, some who never gave credit to Tom Mboya throughout their lives as they did to the late Prof. George Saitoti and Wangari Maathai.
Like many other awards he received, Ochieng’ was bestowed with the Order of the Burning Spear(OBS) by Kenya’s third President Mwai Kibaki. The former President conferred him with the award owing to his impartiality in writing.