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Had he lived, would Kenya's former Vice-President Michael Wamalwa Kijana be president today?

By - JUMA KWAYERA | Published Sat, August 24th 2013 at 00:00, Updated August 24th 2013 at 12:49 GMT +3
Late VP Wamalwa


KENYA: As Kenya marked 10 years since the death of former Vice-President Michael Wamalwa Kijana, his former political base seems lost in the wilderness.

Western Kenya is still smarting from a weak showing in the March 4 presidential race. In the countdown to the polls, the region appeared rudderless despite repeated appeals for unity, leading some to ask whether things would have been different had Wamalwa been alive.

The former VP’s younger brother and successor in politics Eugene Wamalwa posits that the humiliation he and United Democratic Forum (UDF) presidential candidate Musalia Mudavadi were subjected to by G7 and Jubilee leaders would not have taken place because the former vice president had the mettle and astuteness to win over political foes.

“I am sure Mike would be the president today (if he had lived),” says the younger Wamalwa, who served as justice and constitutional minister in the last government. “He was within striking distance of the presidency. He and Kibaki had an understanding that he would succeed him.”

He adds that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto would not have been indicted for crimes against humanity because the 2008 post-election violence would not have taken place.

The anniversary is marked just seven days after his eldest son Jabali married. Jabali tied the knot last week, in The Netherlands, where lives. He arrived in Kenya with his wife on Wednesday night to commemorate his father’s passing on, according to Eugene.

Won admiration

Renowned for his mastery of English, Kiswahili and Lubukusu mother tongue, the late Michael Wamalwa electrified Kenyan politics with his eloquence that won him many admirers locally and internationally, and across the political divide. The oratory power and knowledge of issues firmed his ideological orientation as liberal democrat that is rare in Kenya’s ethnicised politics. He was also known to make personal sacrifices that completely shifted the course of Kenyan politics.

It is generally believed had he not put his presidential ambitions on hold, Kibaki would not have been the president. His sacrifices were informed by his selflessness, which many times was also liability as it would leave him penniless.

In the countdown to the 2002 elections, Wamalwa who had expressed interest in the presidency persuaded would-be-rival Charity Ngilu to back DP’s Mwai Kibaki to unseat Kanu. Looking back in time, Eugene compares him to a stabiliser bush in a vehicle.

“He was the stabilising factor in the Kibaki administration. He believed in unity and was alive to the fact that charity begins at home. He saw Kenya as a rainbow nation of 42 tribes. He was also a pragmatic politician who believed that for him to get the support of other Kenyans, he needed to unite his Luhyia community,” observes the former justice minister.

It is a quality he acquired from his father Wamalwa Senior and his political mentor Masinde Muliro, both revered as statesmen in Kenyan politics.

Wamalwa’s death threw Kibaki administration into a spin as thereafter leapt from one crisis to another to the end of his first term. In Western, it has been difficult for the Luhyia to rally behind one of their own to run for the presidency. 

In the March 4 elections, after President Kenyatta dangled the Jubilee coalition presidential ticket in Mudavadi’s eyes and the shabby mistreatment Eugene incurred, forced Western to throw their lot behind ODM’s Raila Odinga as a way of getting back at Uhuru and William Ruto.

“When he was alive he would drive to Mbale to attend the Maragoli annual cultural festival. He also attended important occasions in Western. Then Luhyias came together as a bloc,” explains Eugene, regretting that the glue that held the region, Ford Kenya party, is shell of what his brother left. Ford Kenya was deserted by key players, including Eugene, in the region’s politics. Ford Kenya is led by Bungoma senator Moses Wetang’ula.

Ten years after his demise, Kenya held its first elections under a new Constitution. However, the Luhyia community whose interests he passionately articulated is sidelined in the government. Significantly, since his death on August 22, 2003, in a London hospital, Western’s relevance in national politics began to wane.

Reflecting on the changed political environment, his former personal assistant Stephanie Majuma, says the country at present lacks a unifying force of Wamalwa’s calibre. Ms Majuma, a sister of Wamalwa’s widow Yvonne, says it is regrettable that after Wamalwa death, Western fractured politically and has failed to speak in one voice. Yvonne is Kenya’s deputy ambassador to Australia.

“At family level, Eugene has succeeded in keeping the family united. However on the political front, he left a vacuum that nobody in western Kenya has been able to fill. Wamalwa was the kind of leader who would sit down people and arrive at a unanimous position,” observes Majuma.

Narc brigade

In the 2002 elections, Wamalwa was part of a generation of politicians who wrestled power from then ruling party Kanu under the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) banner. Narc consisted of 14 political parties that mounted a spirited campaign that hoisted former President Mwai Kibaki to power. Ford Kenya, then a strong and vibrant party has since splintered and ceded ground in its former strongholds to either Orange Democratic Movement or New Ford Kenya.

Upon assumption of power, Kibaki appointed Wamalwa his vice president, but his tenure lasted only eight months. Former Budalang’i MP Raphael Wanjala says had Wamalwa been alive today, he would be the president.

“Even the political crisis of 2007 would not have been experienced. Unlike the people wielding power today, Wamalwa was accommodative and had a natural way of reaching out to his political adversaries. It is because of this quality that he closed ranks with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga after parting ways acrimoniously in 1997,” Wanjala notes.

Wamalwa’s memorial service is a pilgrimage as it traditionally attended politically heavy weights, including wannabes. However, this was the first time former VP death is being marked immediately after an election. Previously, it used to provide a platform for election campaigns. Last year, President Uhuru Kenya and his deputy William Ruto took part at the invitation of former Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa.

Majuma expressed disappointment that Jubilee leaders had used and dumped Eugene, although she took consolation in the fact that the family is used to being in the opposition or out of government.