One fine evening in 2010, while Allan and his colleagues were partying at Carnivore, one of them requested Allan to host a late-night Rhumba show on his behalf. He accepted. Allan worked at Radio Citizen as the morning show co-host and comedian (under the alias Oloibon). After a couple more drinks, he made his way to the studio. He had done radio for almost ten years and it had become second nature to him. With confidence hitting the skies, he knew he could do it, even with his eyes closed.
But not that night, he had drunk one too many and while in studio, and his eyes literally closed. The radio went silent, like an eerie night in the forest, no one was speaking, he had dozed off.
Being a late-night show, he was alone in studio and was woken up by the technical guys who had been alerted by the watchman who had noticed that the radio was off. Allan’s confidence, skill, experience could not save his job after that incident. He was fired.
“How did you feel about it?” I ask.
“I had failed myself and it felt really bad,” he answers, his words slow and measured as if he’s reliving that day in his mind, with pulpable regret in his demeanor, the ‘what ifs’ refusing to be silenced.
A few months later, West Fm came calling, all the way from Bungoma. Allan’s dilemma was leaving his acting role in Inspekta Mwala (which he still had). Being absent from TV without having a clear picture of the potential of the new role was distressing, but had to happen.
After one year in Bungoma, Crispus Yankem called from Q Fm inviting Allan for an interview which ended with “when can you start?” He needed a month to finalize his affairs at West Fm, an expanded role he had settled well into, before moving back to Nairobi. At Q Fm, he had to reinvent himself. He recalls, “I had to work on a new character, I became Arap Koros. I was also the sports news editor and reader. I would do Arap Koros in the show with Linda Oriaso then in between read news as Allan Namisi, it was crazy.”
Alcohol had become an issue, but not enough to affect his work, he performed at work but at home, a storm was brewing right under his nose but the smell of booze had made him so insensitive, he couldn’t smell it coming.
“I went home one day and found the house empty, except for my bed and clothes. My wife had unexpectedly walked away on me, with our daughter,” Allan remembers, adding that his drinking definitely played a big role in the separation. He had been quarrelsome, especially on the nights he came home drunk, and she could not have tolerated the abuse any longer.
At work the roses were falling off the radio station, it wasn’t making money, the management said, and they decided to pull the plug on it. After 3 years at Q Fm, Allan was sent home together with the other employees.
He was back acting at Inspekta Mwala which he shot once or twice a week. With the free time he had, the bottle became his friend, he sank deeper into alcoholism even as he struggled with relevance.
“I had not accepted myself, I wanted to fit in, be like my friends in media, I had a mask. I thought that everything will be rosy but the reality was hitting me that I was jobless, my colleagues had moved on to other stations, others were nowhere to be seen,” he says.
Allan was living in denial. Drinking became a substitute for whatever he should have been doing with his free time.
We are in Kitale, at our corner of Mokoiywet village about 7km from Kitale town. We are seated in the living room of his brother’s house where he has been staying for the last six months. The covers on the sofa set providing a homely ambience of rural life to our conversation. The kids playing outside keep banging on the metal door and Allan would scream at them to play further from the house. Allan, in his sweatpants pulled to his knees, sandals and an old man’s hat (flat cap), looks like he has embraced village life. With that cap, he could pass for a village elder in the making, except they don’t wear sweatpants, and also, he barely ventures outside the compound. Many people don’t know that he is around.
I wanted to know how Allan got into acting and radio and he took me back to the late 90s when he had finished high school from St. Joseph’s Boys Kitale where he was nicknamed ‘the entertainer’ because of his quick wit and comedic stunts he would unleash but he never officially participated in drama or anything artsy. He was more into sports.
After high school he went to live with his brother in Webuye and help him in his cake business. There he met Khaemba Mbita and Henry Walela at the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) and they formed a group called Choice Outreach which taught the word of God to young people through narration.
“We used to dress up like Moses and Aaron and other bible characters and narrate bible stories,” Allan outlines their modus operandi then.
The priest at ACK was into acting and he urged Allan and his crew to register for an upcoming competition that showcased art (dance, drama, spoken word, plays, skits, comedy) from churches, youth/women groups and such, but not schools. They wrote a piece about the refugees for the competition inspired by stories from the BBC’s Network Africa program which Allan was fond of listening to. They packaged it into dramatized poetry for the competition. Allan also performed a separate piece on public speaking.
They emerged top in the district (Bungoma), and also in the province (Western) and that earned them a trip to the nationals in Nairobi.
The group of seven landed in Nairobi and did their best in the competition that was hosted at KICC. They finished second nationally.
“We landed an interview on BBC Network Africa program and it was amazing, we also had an interview at KBC. From there things changed,” he remembers.
“What do you mean things changed?” I ask.
“I was to return to Webuye but I didn’t, just like the poem we performed which was titled ‘I shall not return’,” he says laughing.
At KBC, after the interview, Allan spotted Mama Kayai as she was coming out of the station and decided to approach her. “I introduced myself, told her I had been watching her since I was a kid, she was kind and inquired about my plans after the event. I told her we were to travel back to Webuye. She invited me to audition for Vitimbi the next day in the morning. Just like that. I think what made it easier is that she had listened to our interview on KBC,” he recalls, his chronic cheerfulness always playing a big role in his interactions.
The rest of the team travelled back but Allan, Walela and Khaemba remained in Nairobi, staying with relatives and knocking on any acting doors available, zealous in pursuit of their dreams. They got some auditions for roles as set book characters at the Kenya National Theatre (KNT).
In Vitimbi, Allan got the role of Safsaf, a confused Luhya guy who worked in Mr. Ojwang’s hotel and would confuse everything. He relished the opportunity of working with the veterans Mzee Ojwang and Mama Kayai as well as Mwala, Mogaka and others.
I enquire about payment, a thorny issue for people in arts in this country.
Allan smiles and responds, “700 per appearance on the show”. No way, I protest and ask if he knew what the others got. He didn’t, and didn’t dare to ask. It’s a system, he says, that you don’t question a lot or it will cost you your role. You give your best and lie low, like an underdog, hoping and praying for other opportunities to come.
At KNT, Allan and Walela’s narration skills caught the eye of Joel Otuko, a director who gave them a role in the dramatization of the legendary novel ‘The River and the Source’, a role in which they made their names. They were the ‘go to guys’ for narration and were casted for many other such roles.
He narrates the intro of the ‘The River and the Source’ to me and am in awe. His voice, though slightly raspy, is rich, insistent and well projected like in character. More than 20 years and he still remembers! How could he forget, he chimes, it was his livelihood. Students would travel from all over the country to watch them perform the set books.
Allan’s charm and amiability got him introduced to the likes of Bernad Oduor, Wanjiru Kago, Nzau Kalulu who worked at KBC Radio and Metro FM (which is part of KBC). He got a role in Radio Theatre, a radio program on KBC’s English Service. One of their plays won the continental URTNA award.
“In KBC Swahili Service I was also acting as Baba Lela on the show ‘Wakati ni Sasa’,” he adds.
It was the year 2000 and Allan was busy. With Vitimbi on KBC TV, set books narration at KNT, Radio Theatre on KBC English Service, Wakati ni Sasa on KBC Swahili Service Allan was shuffling them all like a master DJ. Thankfully, the rehearsals were on different days and times. Sometimes they would record two shows for two weeks.
Allan’s feet in the world of radio were fortifying. After being allowed to do voice tests on Metro FM, he was given a sports highlights segment. In house training helped Allan learn reel to reel recording, presenting and producing radio programs, the likes of John Karani, Ras Kip, Tony Msalame, Ras Kangi, Jeff Mwangemi instrumental in Allan’s radio development. Joseph Onyango particularly helped Allan in sports reporting as a veteran sports journalist. If you know all these names, and you listened to them, make sure you have a retirement plan in place.
“Tony Msalame needed some comic relief in his morning show. I created the character Dr. Mkongolo, a funny Luhya guy. I would also be the Maasai guy on Msalame’s Shaky Leggy show on Saturdays and also do the sports news as Allan. All on Metro FM,” he recalls.
It was 2003, Radio stations were opening all over town and comedians were in high demand. Allan found himself auditioning against Mwalimu Kin’gan’gi (Churchill) at Classic FM. Churchill, who had left Radio Citizen, was taken. Fred Afune, the head of radio programs at Radio Citizen, called Allan for a meeting in which he convinced him to move to Citizen Radio to do the morning show with Vincent Ateya under a new character – Oloibon.
The move to Citizen was finalized but Allan would still go to KBC for Vitimbi. Wachira Waruru had moved from KBC to Royal media Services (RMS) and after sorting out the TV programming, he was looking for a local TV program for Citizen TV (they already had Papa Shirandula). He consulted Allan and Abdi to conceptualize a show and that is how Inspekta Mwala was born.
“I am the one who convinced Mwala to come to Citizen. He was adamant, unsure if the move was good for him. We had breakfast in a restaurant in town one morning and he had so many questions. But he eventually agreed,” Allan recalls.
Inspekta Mwala premiered in 2006, the morning show was raving and after Odeo Serare moved to BBC, his sports highlights segment was taken by Allan as yet another character, Babu Kubwa. Life was good.
I remember having breakfast with Allan in 2006 after one of his morning shows. Man was in high spirits, feeling good, joking around, ecstatic about life. Must have been his best years.
Until that fateful night when he came to the studio drunk and dozed off during a live show and brought everything to a screeching end. Then he went to West Fm briefly, then Q Fm, then they were dismissed from Q Fm and his only remaining gig was acting on Inspekta Mwala but then his drinking had become worse. He would show up on the set of Inspekta Mwala drunk.
“I was at a point where I could not do without it, it was part of me,” he recalls, his voice mellow at this point of the interview. “I could not be trusted anymore as I failed to honor my commitments. I did not show up for an event for which I was the MC, and I had been given down-payment. I came to realize later that the even was happening.”
He lost a car he had taken to a garage to get checked for a minor mechanical problem. He never went back for it for some time and when he finally did, the garage had moved and he had no one to ask.
Those were desperate times for Allan, he was lost and giving up on life. Alcohol had taken over the cockpit and set on autopilot to nowhere. He wished something bad would happen to him to end the agony, but then he would be reminded of the people depending on him, his new wife and son. He would shuffle between despondency and life with little hope, booze being his ever-present companion.
“Job Imagine I would find myself in unmentionable places in Nairobi drinking Chang’aa, not even bothered where it came from or where it was made, I didn’t even worry because I was like even if I die it’s okay,” he says animatedly then goes silent for a while. “That thing was eating me, I wasn’t fine at all, sometimes I would not get any sleep at night, just tossing and thinking all night.”
A friend who had been monitoring him for a while asked if Allan needed help. He agreed to go to a rehab center in Thika.
“When was that?” I ask.
Allan fumbles with dates before he settles on 2018. I realize he’s not good with dates, I have been trying to get the timestamps all interview. He’s great with names though, remembers everyone by two names.
He was there for 3 months. Cool, was his answer to how rehab was for him. I am sure it was because his head could finally cool down after years of running around. He met others, worse than himself which gave him hope of beating the addiction. He also became aware of the enablers in his life, ‘friends’ who would moderately drink but would happily buy Allan drinks from Monday to Sunday without caring about his wellbeing. But they wouldn’t help in any other problem, they were there only for an endless supply of booze.
“Where you fall after rehab is very important. When you come back to society people look at you different, they judge you, they see you like you are nobody, like you are garbage, like you are done with but they don’t know that addiction is a disease that needs treatment, just like Malaria or any other sickness” he says.
After rehab he went to stay his elder brother. He was sober, healthy, had taken to jogging and training again, he even participated in the 2019 Beyond Zero marathon and was back acting on Inspekta Mwala.
His breathing then slows down as he says, “I don’t know what happened, when I moved back to live with my wife, we could not cope, so I moved out and looked for my own house.” The enablers were not too far away and as Allan heeded their call, he was back at it. He relapsed.
“It became pathetic, I could not even pay for that house, my wife later went to pick the things that were there, I went and started living with a friend, we couldn’t afford that house also, Covid season was in, salaries were reduced (became pay per appearance), I could barely sleep at night and I basically gave up on life and drank even more,” he recalls. “I lived a life that nobody understood and I didn’t want anybody to understand. At some point I was told that I was talking to myself.”
From then, October 2020, he couldn’t shoot Inspekta Mwala anymore.
Allan’s brother took him to hospital for a checkup and then he stayed with him for a couple of days before going home to Kitale where he has been until we met for this interview.
“Do you think this affected your creativity?” I query.
He is quick to answer, “It really did, because I was not me, not sleeping, not eating well, so definitely it affected my performance.”
In Kitale, nobody understood Allan, or so he thought and he confided in the one friend who always understood him without questioning, he drank more and more and would be picked by his brothers (Mwalimu George and Mike), blacked out in places he can’t even explain how he reached.
It was a dead end, at loggerheads with his brothers who were trying to help, he just stopped talking to everyone.
Then in March 2021 something bad happened in the village. A neighbor died, a friend’s mother he knew since childhood.
“I was there helping kupasua kuni, putting up the tent and helping in all preparations. On the burial day, I helped dig the grave then came home later after she was laid to rest. I began reflecting about my life and salvation and sharing my story with the world and it dawned on me that the baggage I was carrying was too much,” he says, slowly, his voice down almost to whispering levels.
The following day Allan went to visit a friend who lives nearby and that is when he received an unexpected call from Daisy, who acts as Naliaka in Papa Shirandula. “I don’t know why but I have been thinking about you,” she said on the phone, “the Lord is really concerned about you.” She then read Isaiah chapter 54 to Allan and prayed for him.
“I came back home and I was not settled. That night I prayed but the prayer could not end. I struggled with God for what was like 5 hours in prayer. God was trying to pull me to his side but the devil was trying to hold on to me, saying “he is ours”. In the morning I was spent but I was still praising the Lord. In the midst of all this I gave my life to Christ. From there things changed. That was the last of my nightmares, weird dreams, seeing funny images in my sleep, I finally slept like a King,” Allan reveals to my jaw dropping shock.
Somehow, he began waking up at 2.30am and 4.30am to read scripture, meditate and write. He brings a 120-page A4 book which I peruse and find it full of scripture in his handwriting, prayers, inspirations and songs. I am amazed at the detail and intentionality in each written word, even the songs were written for a specific purpose. It’s a gem of a book, one you hand over through generations as a testimony of God’s work. He rewrites scripture because it’s like re-reading which helps him get it deeper. He has a new 120 pager because the other one is full. And it had only been two months at the time of the interview.
“The Lord tells me that once I say the truth, it will set me free” he quips. You know, I was really hoping that Allan would be open in the interview, it was my condition for writing his story but I had not told him. I was waiting to see how it plays out. I got more than honesty.
“Knowing Christ has been fun. The Lord says he is my father, he is my good shepherd, I should not worry because that won’t change a thing, the devil has never won any battle with the Lord and it will never happen,” he declares.
Since the interview, Allan hasn’t had desire for alcohol again. He is now back in Nairobi. It’s about 4 months since his incredible transformation. He is eager to get back to work, restore his relationships with his loved ones and find ways to tell his story and help others in the process. He dreams of starting a center for mentorship and rehab because he understands how much drugs and alcohol are destroying lives.
Pray for him. The battle for his soul, just like for ours, is fierce and active. But we are assured of victory because Jesus overcame. If you can reach out to personally encourage him, the better.
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