Ben’s life story, contributed to by Henry Otunge (Savings Scheme member, Korogocho) and Aggrey Willis Otieno (Brother)
Benson Erick Osumba lived a short but fulfilling life. Though we are deeply hurt and in inconsolable grief and disbelief, hidden in all the pain and sorrow that we feel, we celebrate him for having touched our lives in a million ways.
Benson Erick Osumba was born in Nairobi on 28th February 1980 to the late Richard Odhiambo Osumba and Peninah Awino Osumba, and so begun the life of the man that people gathered here today were proud of to call their husband, their father, their son, their brother, their friend and leader.
In his early childhood days, Benson grew up in the sprawling slums of Korogocho without beating his siblings. He was very playful and humorous that his mum would quickly forget punishing him when he was in the wrong.
Benson Osumba joined Scouting at a tender age while in primary school and an active member of Tegemeo Scouts Center, he was appointed a patrol member and a stave master of their unit/ troop. He was among of his troop who represented Nairobi Province in the Nationals Inter Patrol Competitions. He underwent various Leadership Trainings; in the words of the founder of Scouting Osumba did his best in leaving the world a better place than he found it.
As early as he was 9 years old, Benson started exhibiting a sense for indulging in community service by becoming a Cub Scout member in Ngunyumu Primary school. He moved up the rank and file of the scout system and eventually not only became a cub scout but also an admired troop commander. He was also a talented stave commander. This talent made him to be called upon on several occasions to lead the passing over parade by Boy Scouts during public holidays in front of the second President of Kenya, H.E Daniel Arap Moi.
As Senior Wang’ombe recalls, “the most memorable moment was when President Moi put some cash inside Benson’s pocket at State House during one of the public holidays”.
Benson started his schooling life in 1986 when he joined St. John’s Nursery school. He joined standard one class, at Ngunyumu Primary school in 1987 and left in 1992 to join Jina Primary School where he continued with his studies for Standard 7 and 8. Having excelled in his KCPE exams in 1994, Benson got admitted to St. Theresa Boys High school, Nairobi in 1995 and sat for his KCSE exams in 1998 in the same school.
Benson had a checkered illustrious career; Benson was a well liked and respected young man. He dedicated his entire life in serving the urban poor where he sharpened his leadership and problem solving skills. He has served in the boards of various Non- Governmental Organizations notably being Pambazuko Mashinani and Muungano Support Trust.
Though many within the civil society remember him as an urban poor advocate. Benson Osumba was also an entrepreneur in his own right. He registered Bencastro Engineering firm in 2008. Through the firm, Benson has left behind a number of buildings that he drew their architectural designs the latest being the telemedicine centre that belongs to his elder brother – Aggrey Willis.
Benson was a bit of a perfectionist in everything he did, he liked things to be just so. While not engaged in community service, Benson dedicated his time to perfecting his architectural drawing skills. To quench his thirst for more knowledge in the same field, he enrolled for a distance learning course.
Osumba joined Muungano wa Wanavijiji in April, 2000 through his local savings scheme, Korogocho Needy; in Gitathuru Village, Korogocho Network, Nairobi Eastern region. He joined the group after an Enumeration exercise conducted in Korogocho settlement under the supervision of Muungano federation and the Korogocho people settlement.
His enthusiasm to learn the Enumeration tool unveiled by Slum Dwellers International, Osumba was selected as an Enumerator representing the Gitathuru Enumerations team. His hard work during the enumeration exercise was noted by the Gitathuru community leaders; he was the approached by the settlement leader; Martin Okumu to join their group, Korogocho Needy, who were in need of a group secretary.
Benson agreed to be the group’s secretary; he was deputized by the Late Tobias Ndege. Osumba embraced SDI’s concept of savings for a better life out of poverty and a developed well knit Korogocho settlement. Despite the fact that he lacked a job and a steady source of income, Osumba set aside every penny he could afford, so that he could save and be a good example with his savings group.
Benson managed his duties very well as the group’s secretary until 2005, when he joined the Federation to help out on Data Entry Training and Enumerations team, in Nairobi’s Eastern region by then. His brilliance and his ability to analyze perspectives on a broader perspective, gave his the opportunity to take part in numerous enumerations exercise in various towns and settlements in Kenya and abroad.
In his capacity as Secretary of Korogocho Needy; he together with the members set up systems and structures that would ensure all members get access to loans, ensured proper documentation and filing, transparency in running the group’s affairs and more importantly he ensured the role of women in the management of the group was achieved.
That very year, 2005; Benson opened himself up to attend the federation’s workshops, trainings on savings, community organising and lobbying and advocacy. His confidence and passion for community processes and participation matured.
In August 2005, Benson left Korogocho Needy group and formed a new group, called Cup Kenya, of which he was able to maintain his membership until his untimely death. Osumba managed to organize many groups in Korogocho and outside and within Kasarani District; such as Kariadudu United, Bsucola Youth SHG, Laundy Youth and Hunters in Korogocho. Kariadudu United and Hunters picked up momentum and are performing well.
Benson took life in his stride and appreciated what life offered him. Alongside countless people from Muungano wa Wanavijiji, civil society, global networks, and community-based organizations, Benson traversed the country and the world, trying to conceptualize and support poor peoples’ initiatives.
In 2007, the Nairobi Regional Council members of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, from both Eastern and Southern regions held an election to elect the Nairobi Regional Chairperson. Benson was then elected as the Nairobi Region Chairperson, where he was given the mandate to address the plight of the urban poor in the city.
In May 2008, the federation (Muungano wa Wanavijiji), decided to restructure its organizational structure, that would see a more vibrant and all inclusive and people centered movement. After the reorganization of the federation’s structure, and election was called for. Benson was elected the National Chairman of the Kenya’s Slum Dwellers Federation (Muungano wa Wanavijiji) for a renewable term of five years.
His experience garnered at national and international SDI processes, Benson implemented the operationalisation of the new look federation. Benson also transformed himself to a critical thinker, strategist, activist and a brilliant community organizer, a unique trait indeed.
It is out of these special character traits that; in May 2008 Benson was nominated by the Kenyan Federation to sit on the board of Shack/Slum Dwellers International, representing Kenya.Benson served with dedication as Chairperson of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, and SDI Board Member till his untimely demise.
Martin Nyawina Okumu a grassroot community leader; Korogocho describes Benson as a best friend. “He was born a leader and a listener. He went out of his way to help the poor regardless of their status or affiliation to the federation, we will dearly miss him”. “Henry Otunge, a member of Muungano Korogocho network and advocacy team, remembers Benson, as a brave community organizer and coordinator, when he had money he called himself, “Osumba will pay”, when he had no money he called himself,” Osumba will organize”, we went to the extent of nicknaming him; OKEW GI YESU!
The late Benson Osumba was in perfect health until March 2013, when he started ailing and immediately started the prescribed treatment for his illness. Benson began getting better and returned to his normal duties.
On 15th April 2013, his health deteriorated and was admitted in Hospital where he was getting specialized treatment. His health deteriorated on 17th April, 2013 and he succumbed to his ill health. Benson went to be with the Lord.
Despite his ill health, Benson was never at any one given time discouraged; he was ever jovial, vibrant, energetic and charismatic. Benson was full of life and valued every moment he spent with his family, regardless of his busy schedule to serve the Federation of Kenya’s Urban poor as their national Chairman.
He has left behind a wife and four children, namely Cynthia Awino, Marion Atieno, Fidel Odhiambo and Victor Ryan.
Benson will be laid to rest on 4th May 2013, at his Yala home, Gem
Tribute from colleagues and friends
In reflecting Benson’s life his colleagues, peers and friends both locally and internationally pay glowing tribute to a fallen hero;
I remember Benson sometime back when I came to Kenya, and he told me of how he has constituted a federation leadership structure. I was surprised to find that majority of the men had taken up leadership. That is when I beseeched him to incorporate more women in leadership, for this will help strengthen the Kenyan federation. This he did, and a number of women are now sitting on the National Executive Council.
I called Benson a number of times, to spend time with me in India; we planned on a number of issues regarding the federation and key community projects. We thank God for giving us Benson, though for a short time, he was able to do a lot for the Kenyan Federation and the SDI global network.
We at SDI will honor Benson’s immense contribution and dedication by replicating his ideas and work throughout the slums in our global network.- Jockin Arpthrum, President SDI
His calm nature was coupled by a jovial tone, many thought it was a weakness but indeed it was a gift that enabled him to negotiate with the Kenyan government on the needs of the poor to be enjoined in the participatory planning process, it was above all an opportunity to make connections and sign MOUs with various stakeholders, thus sustaining a resilient urban poor people. It is this people-building that was the real and lasting investment.-Rashid Mutua, Vice Chair Muungano wa Wanavijiji.
His resilience to ensure that the people’s agenda are at the centre stage of engagement with government and other stakeholders shall always be remembered. Rest in peace Ben- Jane Weru, Akiba Mashinani, Kenya
We celebrate his life today; we would like to acknowledge the role he has played in placing the urban poor agenda at the center of development in Kenya. He courageously responded to settlements faced with forced evictions with a resolve to end this kind of injustice in Kenya and other countries. The struggle continues and his vision for a safe city for all, especially the poor, lives on!!-Irene Karanja-Muungano Support Trust, Kenya
Benson was a uniting figure to all. He leaves at a time when Muungano and civil society need more to forge the agenda for inclusive development. God rest him in peace-Prof Peter Ngau, University of Nairobi
My thoughts and prayers of strength to the whole SDI family, Muungano Federation and Benson’s family in particular. May his soul rest in peace as his loving memory and spirit continue to guide our activism.-Paula Assubiji, Cape Town
On behalf of the Zambian Alliance, we would want to offer our sincere condolences to Benson’s family, Muungano and the entire SDI family. We pray for God's comfort and guidance during this tough period. May God be with us-Nelson Ncube, Zambian SDI Alliance
Losing such a young, bright and indeed amazing young man is shocking but we will celebrate the life we shared with him and the inspiration and hope he gave to us as a Network. May Your soul rest in peace Ben and may the Lord comfort your family during this sad and trying time.-Siku Nkhoma, Malawi SDI Alliance
From Boston, I echo the sentiments of the rest of this broad family. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and the rest of Muungano and the wider SDI family. I experienced his presence in a number of meetings, and shared many conversations and an occasional after-hours game of pool with him. Benson was a man of strategy and a street philosopher. His warm personality, tactical sensibility, intellect, leadership and conviction are embedded in the strengths of Muungano, and the rest of the SDI network of federations and support professionals. For these reasons and more, may we honor his memory-Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat
Please accept my deepest condolences. Benson will be with us in spirit. - Arvinn Gadgil, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway
On behalf of SDFN/NHAG and fellow Namibians we would like to offer our sincere condolences to his family, fellow fed members, SDI family. May the almighty be with us all during this difficult moment and be consoled. We are together in prayers and may all of us be strengthened.-Heinrich, Namibian SDI Alliance
It is saddening to learn of the passing on of our dear brother Benson. Please convey my condolence to the family of the deceased. We thank God for the gift of his life and pray that may his soul rest in eternal peace-Samuel Mabala, Ministry of Lands, Housing & Urban Development, Uganda
On behalf of the South African Alliance please convey our deepest sympathy to our Kenyan colleagues and the family of Benson. Hamba Kahle to a dear friend and brother of the movement!-Bunita Kohler, South African SDI Alliance
Benson has been a source of motivation for SL Alliance. Our condolence to his family and Muungano. May his soul rest in peace and let perpetual light shine upon him.-Francis Reffell, Sierra Leone SDI Alliance
The Zimbabwean Federation and Dialogue on Shelter wishes to convey its condolences to Benson's family, Muungano and the whole of the SDI family on the passing of Benson. He will be greatly missed by all of us who had the pleasure of working with him.-Beth Chitekwe-Biti, Zimbabwe SDI Alliance
Benson Osumba alikuwa mtu mwema na mkarimu. Bwana Osumba hakumwamuru mtu ye yote amheshimu, lakini ulipomwona ulijua yeye ni mtu mpole aliyestahili heshima. Alikuwa mwenye ujuzi sana katika kazi yake, na alikuwa kiongozi ambaye alipenda sana kuhudumia Muungano. Lakini Bwana Osumba hakuwa na maringo, na siku zote alipenda kuzungumza na watu wote bila ubaguzi. Alinikumbuka kila niliporudi Kenya, na alinipokea kwa njia ambayo ilinifanya nijisikie kama niko nyumbani. Kifo cha Bwana Osumba ni hasara kubwa na ninasikitika sana. Lakini nina hakika kwamba Muungano utaendeleza kazi muhimu ya Bwana Osumba, na Muungano wetu utaimarika zaidi. Pole sana kwa familia ya Ben na Muungano-Alice Sverdlik, USA
May Benson rest in peace and his life's dedication to the urban poor be an inspiration to us all.
Peace-Elizabeth Mackeon, Formely Ford Foundation
Please accept my condolences to Benson’s family, friends and the entire Muungano family. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you during this difficult time. I know Benson’s vision and passion will continue to fuel the urban poor and their supporters in creating better lives for all – we will miss him terribly and remember his passion and dedication to push ourselves forward. –Sureshbabu Suman, Rockefeller Foundation
Rest in perfect peace Chairman. May the good Lord grant you a perfect rest in his bosom. My deepest condolences to the family and the Kenyan Federation at large. - Mensah Owusu, Ghana
I am so heartbroken to hear of Benson’s passing. He was such a nice guy who had a smile for everyone he met. We will miss the Professor every day-Louise Cobbett, Bethesda