Bob Collymore

Cancer, how Kenyans opened their eyes to this deadly diseases

They were all champions in their own right. One beat the odds and rise from poverty to become a selfless MP with a heart for his constituents. He built a school because he believed education is one of the keys to releasing people from the shackles of poverty.

Another went down in history as one of the first women governors Kenya has produced after emerging victorious in a tough race against her opponent who was looking to secure a second term in office.

Yet another came from a far away land – Guyana – to fill the shoes of an extremely successful predecessor who had helped build a company to the point of becoming one of the most profitable firms in Kenya. He held his own and accomplished even greater feats than his predecessor. He blended in Kenya and identified with the country and its culture.

All the three had several things in common.

They made the country proud. But they also had something else in common – they all died from cancer – robbing the country of promising leaders.

Ken Okoth, Joyce Laboso and Bob Collymore fought a good fight, but lost the battle.

They were Kibra MP, Bomet governor and Safaricom CEO – top leaders.

Although cancer has cut short the lives of many people in Kenya, the three deaths brought more focus on the killer condition and talk was rife on whether it should be declared a national disaster.

Collymore died on July 1 at his home in Kitisuru.

He had gone to the UK in October 2017 to receive treatment for acute myeloid Leukemia and returned in July 2018 to resume duties at Safaricom.
A statement by the telco said that prior to his death, Collymore’s condition worsened.

Collymore left behind a wife and four children. He died at the age of 61.

Barely a month later, news broke of the passing on of Kibra MP Ken Okoth.

Okoth died on July 26.

His brother, Imran, said the legislator was rushed to Nairobi Hospital at 5pm on July 25 and moved to ICU at 8am the following day after multiple organ failure.

He succumbed to stage four colorectal cancer.

Two weeks before his death, Okoth had made his first official appearance in public after being away in France for five months seeking treatment.


Both Okoth and Collymore were cremated.

However, Okoth’s family members had differed on whether he should be buried or cremated. His wife said that before his death he had said his body should be cremated. But Okoth’s mother, Angeline, and other extended family members were initially opposed to cremation.

They, however, finally accepted cremation. He died at the age of 41.

Barely two days later, as Kenyans were coming to grips with Okoth’s loss, Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso died.

Laboso died at the Nairobi Hospital after battling cancer.

She had been admitted at the facility’s ICU since she arrived from India earlier where she was receiving treatment. She was 58 years old.

Laboso had left the country on May 29 for the United Kingdom (Royal Madden NHS Hospital) where she stayed before being transferred for further treatment in India.

She had been put on full bed rest and the county office had said the number of people visiting her at Nairobi Hospital was restricted to allow her enough rest.

Laboso left behind a husband and three sons.

During burial preparations, Laboso’s widower, Edwin Abonyo, revealed his wife had battled with cancer for more than two decades. She was first diagnosed with cancer 28 years ago, but she went into remission.


The deaths of the three prominent leaders made Kenyans realise just how real the threat of cancer is. Many people thought – if top leaders with access to many resources could succumb to the killer disease, what of the common Wanjiku?

Kenyans appealed to the government to build more cancer treatment facilities which were more accessible to everyone.

Many cancer patients seek treatment abroad because the country does not have enough specialists and equipment.

In Nairobi, ward reps asked Governor Mike Sonko to set up cancer screening and testing centres across major health facilities.

The ward reps said this would play a key role in early detection.

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Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o – a cancer survivor – also urged the government to focus on research and personnel in the fight against cancer, rather than just equipment and facilities.

He said oncologists are desperately required and they should be the main focus before establishing the centres.

The three leaders who succumbed to cancer inspired Kenyans to pursue excellence.
Collymore led Safaricom for 10 years.

Laboso was among the first women from her community to obtain a PhD.

Okoth built a modern school in the heart of Kibra – Mbagathi Girls High School and rehabilitated Kibera Primary School.

Kenyans can borrow a leaf from these former leaders whose lights were dimmed.

Eating a balanced diet and keeping physically active are some of the tips given to staying healthy. Although cancer has been known to affect even the healthiest of people.

Cancer screening is also important because if it is detected early, it can be managed.

By Tracy Mutinda

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