MY PERSONAL TRIBUTE TO THE FALLEN HON. OTIENO KAJWANG’

If there is one week I would want to forget quickly it is this.

A single tragedy turned what could have been an ordinary week into one that left me in shock, sadness and nostalgia.

The sudden death of ODM legislator Otieno Kajwang’ at the prime of his political career stunned me.

As one who doesn’t believe in everything I read in social networks, I had to wander to alternative sources to confirm news that indeed the king of mapambano had exited the stage.

And being away from home and cut off from purveyors of instant information, it took me time to consume the news and accept the inevitable.

I knew Kajwang’ in 2002 when I joined the Liberal Democratic Party straight from the corridors of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. Even then, he was a dogmatic oppositionist. Always energised and ready for any type of kerfuffle – whether of a verbal or a physical nature – Kajwang’ was the engine of the party when we battled Mwai Kibaki after he reneged on the power-sharing agreement with LDP. He ranted and harangued but Kibaki never budged.

Except for the period in Kibaki’s second term when he held a Cabinet position, Kajwang’ was always the vanguard of opposition ranks both in and out of Parliament, playing his role with copious enthusiasm until death suddenly found him. He was an ebullient debater; and  an argumentatively stubborn back-bencher in the august House.His stint in the Senate was short and undramatic.

I am convinced Kajwang’ loved politics more than anything else. He was thoughtful and calculated behind closed doors but noisy and vivacious before crowds. When he spoke, he was proverbial but not sententious; blunt but not condescending; contemptuous and bombastic most of the time, but not to an extent of wishing harm to anyone.

Kajwang’ was just Kajwang’. Many didn’t take him seriously because of the way he clowned in public. He had an innate sense of personal pride like so many of his kinsmen from the lake region, but who says pride is odious. If he appeared somewhat obstinate it was because he didn’t care much about what others thought of him.

Yes, he was a political irritant to the ruling élite but he was also a patriot, a democrat and a principled and consistent leader, one of few politicians whose support for party leader, Raila Odinga, remained intact to the end.

Those who expected more from this son of Mbita were disappointed.

But if there is one disillusionment Kajwang is taking to the grave is the fact that he never lived long enough to enjoy a Raila-led Administration, something he fought so hard, and for so long, to achieve.

May God rest his soul in eternal peace.

 

YOUTHFUL SHARKS OUT TO TORPEDO RAILA’S AMBITION

Kenya’s Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga must be feeling the heat. The man who is known for destroying parties from within is today faced with an internal crisis in his own opposition party that is endangering his political future.

From 1994 when he walked out of FORD party and left it in shambles following a clash with Michael Wamalwa; to 2002 when he stormed out of KANU and left it in disarray after President Moi tipped Uhuru Kenyatta as his preferred presidential candidate; to 2005 when he quarrelled with President Kibaki and left NARC in disorder to form ODM-K, Raila has been a man in a hurry to ascend to power.

He missed three chances to become President of Kenya. Now, he is on a fourth mission. But this mission is fraught with unprecedented difficulties as he tries to stay afloat against youthful sharks determined to torpedo his ambition. He does not just have enemies without; he has them in droves within.

For the first time in his long political career, Raila finds he has few options.

One, age is against him. At 70 years old and with opponents half his age scrambling to succeed him, Raila finds himself in a strangle-hold. Though still agile, physically and mentally, foes are using his advanced age as an excuse to edge him out into oblivion.

Two, because of the combative, abrasive, and bossiful nature of his personality, Raila has left many political enemies in the wake of his career. In a country as heavily tribal as Kenya, a national politician cannot survive in an atmosphere of unending personal crises.

Three, his own close allies, the people he relied most to push his philosophy at the grassroots, have either bolted or are deserting him.

Hence the desperation. Why is it that he has to follow on the footsteps of his arch-enemy, Uhuru Kenyatta? Whenever Uhuru goes he follows behind; name it, Mombasa, Kwale, Migori, Kisii, and now Nyanza. Either his aides have run out of ideas on how the opposition should operate in a democratic society; or they are too frustrated by the way things are going in the opposition camp.

Any opposition party anywhere in the world must be pro-active, aggressive, innovative, and a step ahead of the ruling party. It cannot lie fallow, nor can it be a copy-cat. The reasons of Uhuru visiting Kwale may be different from Raila’s. Uhuru may want to tell the Digos what his government has done or intends to do for them. Raila must tell them why what the government is doing is not good enough for them.

Raila’s flagship campaign to force a referendum as a way of disorganizing the government has lost steam and, as I said here, dead at the docks.

But don’t write-off Raila. The man is adept at re-inventing himself. He has done it before. In 2007, he surprised Kalonzo Musyoka, his fellow presidential aspirant, when he acquired the Orange name after the former had taken off with the party registration documents. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does the same this time around. Maybe that is why we are hearing about outfits like OKOA-Fresh and OKOA Kenya Patriotic Party. They may be his fall-back.

His opponents must know that Raila still commands a lot of following in the country. If he ditches ODM today for OKOA this or OKOA that, ODM will be nothing but a shell. His fanatic supporters will most certainly follow him.

The tragedy is, there is no one in ODM who has the kind of magnetic charisma and mass support to advance ODM’s agenda like Jakom.

That is why the Luo leaders who are on a mission to find a replacement for Raila have a hard time ahead of them.

And that is my say.

A few weeks ago in America, I flew from Charleston, North Carolina, to Dallas, Texas, with a stop-over in Atlanta, Georgia. Before the plane left the parking bay at Atlanta airport, the pilot came on the intercom to announce a brief delay in departure.

At that moment I looked through the window and saw a casket, draped in the American flag, being wheeled into the belly of the plane. Next to the casket was a lone marine in full ceremonial uniform, his hand raised in an honour salute. Nearby, a government official, stoic, in a black suit.

The two were escorting the soldier, killed in action overseas, to his home in Texas.

As the plane approached its destination at Dallas Fort Worth airport, the pilot came on the radio; this time to tell passengers to stay put on their seats until the casket had left the plane. “We are doing this in honour of a fallen soldier, and as a show of respect for the family on board,” he said in a sorrowful voice.

To meet the casket on the airport tarmac were a number of his fellow marines, several black limos and half a dozen police cars with lights flashing, ready to chaperone the body to its destination

It was only after the body was removed from the aircraft and loaded into a well polished hearse that passengers were allowed to disembark.

This, my dear Kenyans, is how America honours its dead soldiers; with lots of respect, honour, dignity, and decorum.

The reason I am telling you this story is because I was spurred by rage when I saw the bodies of Kenyan policemen piled on top of each other in a land-cruiser, like bags of charcoal, their faces bloodied, their uniforms soiled. The bodies were being moved from the area of ambush in the north of Kenya to a mortuary.

The officers were accorded no respect, no honour, no privacy. Not even the “luxury” of a body bag or a service hearse. They were just there in an open jeep, lonely and uncared.

Most of us have seen in newspapers pictures of common criminals dumped in police vehicles in a similar way. The difference is that the people I am talking about were not thugs. They were our gallant sons who offered their lives so that we may live in peace.

More than 20 of them fell at Kapedo, their repeated calls for reinforcements ignored. For thirty hours they pleaded with higher-ups to send back-up support but nobody responded.

If there is one case of negligence that requires an independent investigation, this is it.

You can bet that at the funerals, government officials and politicians will be there to deliver long, winding, speeches. Some will even make lofty promises of financial support to the families. That support – as we have seen in many instances before – will never come.

Most likely there will be a gun salute and shells will reverberate through the desolate dusty, landscape of the north. Once a burial is over, leaders will get into their four-wheel guzzlers and return to their luxury homes leaving the parents to ponder the future without their sons, brothers and uncles.

Our policemen are some of the most poorly paid workers in Kenya. Most of them live in horrible conditions. They are also some of the most ill-equipped, as we saw last week.

That is why I believe our men and women in uniform deserve better, not only in life, but also in death.

And that is my say.

T