Burial rekindles memories of Wamalwa

Published on 06/06/2009

By Oscar Obonyo

At times of heightened political temperatures and a MoU that threatened the Narc dream, the late Vice-President Michael Wamalwa implored colleagues “to be frank and not to be clever with each other”.

And when the Wamalwa family threatened to disintegrate, his mother, Esther Nekesa, was the glue that bound them. Though on different platforms, the duo stood out as reconciliatory leaders who made a difference in their paths.

Mother and son are indeed highly credited for their unity efforts in politics and the family.

The Bukusu community refers to this ideological connection as “omwana we endemu yesi endemu”. The saying roughly translates to “like mother, like son”.

Rare Ability

In life as in death, Wamalwa and his mother, have exhibited a rare ability to bring together and unite political foes. Like in August 2003, during Wamalwa’s funeral in Kitale, yesterday President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga mingled with mourners of varied political shades at Nekesa’s funeral in Sichei village, Bungoma.

Nekesa’s son, Wamalwa, is remembered for keeping the troubled Narc Coalition in the Ninth Parliament together, even though it was shortlived. Kibaki and Raila fought off in a hotly contested 2007 presidential election that turned tragic claiming the lives of about 1,3000 people. The frosty relationship between the two leaders began in earnest in 2003, immediately Narc came to power.

As is the case with PNU-ODM today, friction between LDP and NAK allied MPs was high. However, Wamalwa chose the middle path, reprimanding politicians on both sides of the political divide.

“I want us to be very frank with each other, not to be clever with each other by playing some cards above the table while hiding dangerous ones below the table,” he told a retreat of Narc MPs at Mt Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki. In what turned out to be one of the most memorable speeches in his short term as VP, Wamalwa told off Narc leaders over arrogance and reminded them of their mandate to the electorate.

“I am beginning to feel some disquiet among the Kenyan people. I am beginning to feel that power may be getting into our heads and subverting our noble goals. I am beginning to feel that we may run the danger of losing our main aim,” he observed.

Raila phobia and mania

He further singled out Raila as the subject of friction within Government. Wamalwa accused MPs on both sides of suffering from “Raila-phobia and Raila-mania”.

Said the Ford-Kenya leader: “My brother Raila excites such passion as those who love him love him unto death and those who do not are always suspicious of his intentions.”

Wamalwa was the navel that held Narc together and the Government literally disintegrated shortly after he died. What largely worked for Wamalwa is that he enjoyed a personal relationship and history with Raila and Kibaki. He consulted and interacted frequently with the two and was accordingly better placed to moderate relations between Kibaki and Raila.

What is more, Wamalwa had his way with words. His powerful oratory skills were quite disarming and endeared him to many.

In Government, Wamalwa belonged to the same NAK wing as Kibaki and the two had worked closely for two years, alongside Water Minister Charity Ngilu.

When he passed on, President Kibaki, who cuts the image of indifference, wept. He said he had lost “not just my deputy in Government, but a true and dear friend”.

Raila worked closely with Wamalwa in Ford-Kenya and as crusaders of the so-called second-liberation in the early 1990s. Then, they were fondly referred to as “Young Turks”.

Jaramogi’s Funeral

Wamalwa was even closer to Raila’s father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, whom he replaced as Ford-Kenya chairman in 1994 following the then Bondo MP’s demise. During Jaramogi’s funeral, Wamalwa transported a lorry-load of bulls to Bondo to mourn his party boss. Raila reciprocated this gesture nine years later in Kitale as well as staging a dramatic traditional mourning ritual. As well as the President, the Prime Minister has maintained ties with the Wamalwa family. Last year, Raila was chief guest at a function in Kitale, marking Wamalwa’s fifth anniversary since his death.

Raila’s last elaborate meeting with Mama Nekesa was in November 2007 where he made a 30-minute visit at his rural home where he pledged to clear all her pending medical bills and complete a house under construction.

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