Willis Edwin Opiyo Otondi, the longest-serving chairman of the Luo Council of Elders, has died aged 98.
The announcement came on Friday morning but it was not immediately clear what the exact cause of death was.
Otondi suffered a long term illness and had been admitted to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu County.
In a statement, TV personality Willis Raburu, who is Otondi’s grandson, said he died less than 24 hours after they spoke.
Mr Raburu wrote: “This one hits different and hurts! My grandfather, he whom I am named after, Ker Willis Opiyo Otondi! How can it be that yesterday we were talking and today you are no more?”
He said Otondi was always jovial, often joked around with his grandchildren, spoke his mind and was very caring.
“I will live to honor your legacy and memory by carrying forth your name, Willis Edwin Opiyo Otondi. Rest in power, ndugu (brother), I will miss you,” he added.
In a condolence message on his Twitter page, Raila Odinga, leader of the Azimio la Umoja–One Kenya Coalition, said “Kenya has lost a distinguished member of society”.
Mr Odinga, who visited Otondi in hospital early this week, added: “Ker Willis Otondi’s passing has left us with a heavy heart; it is a great loss for the wider Luo nation … Sad for the Luo nation to lose him at this moment.”
In an official statement, the politician further eulogised Otondi as a pillar of unity in the community and a leader who served with decorum and dedication.
“It is sad to lose him at this particular point in the life of community. We pray that his soul finds eternal place with God,” he said.
The Azimio leader intervened in 2018 when Otondi faced opposition from Mr Nyandiko Ongadi, who wanted to take control of the council.
Mr Odinga called a meeting at his Opoda home in Bondo, Siaya County, after which Otondi was reinstated as chairman.
The politician, who is the council’s patron, then tasked council members with holding peace tours and meeting elders from other communities, the aim being to unite Kenyans.
Among other responsibilities, Luo elders have the responsibility of preserving the community’s culture and welfare by offering wise counsel on health and socio-economic matters.
Otondi took over the council’s chairmanship from Meshack Riaga Ogallo, becoming the 9th Ker of the Luo community.
The chain of command began in 1945 when the first modern Luo elder, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, took charge under them defunct but powerful Luo Union.
Council members dethroned Ker Ogallo following allegations of abuse of office and his many foreign trips to Libya, which they said he took without consulting members of the executive.
Following Otondi’s death, Bob Madanji, Kisumu’s director of protocol, said the county will issue a statement on their plans.
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