But then his new boss, a Chinese man his own age, started calling him a monkey.
It happened when the two were on a sales trip and spotted a troop of baboons on the roadside, he said.
"They are the ones with the capital, but as much as we want their money, we don't want them to treat us like we are not human in our own country," said David Kinyua, 30, who manages an industrial park in Ruiru that is home to several Chinese companies, including the motorcycle company where Ochieng' works.
In interviews with The New York Times, several current and former locomotive drivers agreed that only Chinese drivers got to operate the train, describing a range of racist behaviour.
When asked about the controversy, China's foreign ministry spokesman suggested that Western news organisations had blown the matter out of proportion in an effort to "sow discord in China's relations with African countries."
French, the author of China's Second Continent, said that when it comes to Africa, China has had a tendency to dismiss criticism of its conduct by noting that the West, not China, fuelled the slave trade and colonised the continent.