Leaders united in grief as they pay last tribute to Raila Odinga's son Fidel

From left: President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and his wife Susan Mboya, former VP Kalonzo Musyoka and Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi during a memorial service for Fidel Odinga. [PHOTO: DPPS]

NAIROBI: The wall between government and opposition crumbled as leaders eulogised Raila Odinga’s son Fidel as a unifier and called for national unity and dialogue fashioned along the lines of what they praised as his indiscriminate socialisation and friendship circle.

They spoke a few feet from where the casket bearing the remains of the first born son of the Opposition leader and with the differences between the two political blocs set aside, even President Uhuru in his speech appreciated that before all eyes at the funeral service, dazzled the beautiful face of 'One Kenya'.

"It is possible to  have one Kenya like the one we see today,'' said Uhuru who had been to Raila's home to console him and his family following the sudden death of Fidel.

Sharing the front benches in the church were Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) leaders led by former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula and Raila who is also the Orange Democratic Movement leader, and those in government headed by Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto.

Mourners from different spheres of life thronged the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi during the funeral service where speakers eulogised Fidel as a 'personal friend' while pointing out that he transcended political, ethnic and religious boundaries.

Uhuru spoke of moments shared in his office while at the Treasury and also revealed last month Fidel called him asking for a meeting and he promised they would fix an appointment.

"That was not to be the case,'' said Uhuru of a meeting that would have between himself and the son of his most fierce political rival before and after 2013 elections.

The running theme was just as the congregation represented a mosaic of the country's heritage so should the leaders, both in the ruling coalition and the opposition, set aside partisan differences to unite Kenyans.

The two groups have running tussles including the contentious security law that is being challenged in court and the push for referendum by CORD under the banner of 'Okoa Kenya' initiative. Opposition accuses Jubilee of returning the country to the dark days through reintroduction of draconian laws giving the President and security forces more powers.

"We can unite together and make Kenya a better country and key for me is the fact that we can see a united Kenya, as one we have right now as we mourn the death of Fidel," the Head of State said.

But he seemed to quickly put a caveat on the nature of relations he had in mind with the Opposition: "We need less of shouting at each other and more of talking with each other... Fidel was good at this; talking to people and that is how great things are achieved," Uhuru concluded.

Ruto noted that Fidel's friendship went beyond borders, as he wanted to see a free Kenya.

"Once character is judged by the company he keeps. The company of friends Fidel kept showed a true Kenyan at heart, within the diverse communities and religion," Ruto said.

He added: "As we speak at his funeral service, we speak as one people, who transcend tribal and regional barriers. One thing, we have learnt from Fidel as we bid farewell to this great man, is his relations, which go across political divide."

Raila and his brother Oburu, who spoke on behalf of the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga family, both explained Fidel had a way of bringing people of all shades together adding that "he knew how to walk above the bridges and bring people together."

Musyoka, had earlier touched off the debate saying the opposition's call for dialogue with the Government on challenges facing the country had no mischief.

"These fights in Parliament and court battles can be a thing of the past if we give dialogue a chance. The future of this country is in the hands of the likes of Fidel and other youths," Kalonzo said.

"Fidel has gone at the age of 41, yet the nation has stood and mourned him by own right and attributes. Let's reach out to each other and give dialogue a chance. We mean no ill when we call for deliberations," Kalonzo went on.

"Fidel was a friend and a man I respected. He was a man who knew how to cross the barriers of tribe, politics and religion. He did not hold grudges and he was the kind of man who could congratulate you and compete with the next minute," said the President.

"When I shared a building with Mr Raila, Fidel would often pass by my office on his way to his father's office and we would talk about a lot of things," Uhuru recalled.

Others present were Speakers Ekwee Ethuro (Senate) and Justin Muturi (National Assembly), as well as hordes of diplomats, politicians, captains of business sector, and ordinary Kenyans drawn by the tragedy that befell the Odinga family just four says into the new year.

"The doctors have not as of yet told us what killed Fidel. If it was natural death so be it. But if someone really calculated and hit us below the belt (through murder) then we leave the revenge to God,'' Oburu told mourners.

Fidel's mother said of her son and first child: "On November 2, 1973, I gave birth to Fidel at Mater Hospital. That was the happiest day of my life, to hold him in my hands. The saddest day for me is when I lost him".

Fidel's widow Lwam was unable to complete her speech as she broke down in grief but her tribute to her husband was read by one of her friends.

Those who could not be accommodated in church followed proceedings from the auditorium, while others remained outside the church where huge screens were mounted for mourners to follow proceedings.

The leaders, friends and family admitted that Fidel's sudden demise had a devastating effect not only to his relations but the country as a whole, noting that he had a promising future.

Speaker after another emphasised the importance of dialogue in addressing issues despite advancing opposing ideologies, which was Fidel's greatest trait in their view.

Wetangula said Fidel had touched many lives and his legacy will live on.

"We will continue to celebrate his life and emulate his attributes," he said.

Former President Mwai Kibaki described the death as a blow to the young generation as he had great expectations.

"He was ready to get his hands dirty and get along with everyone. He is alive in politics and sports," said Kibaki, in a message read on his behalf by Kiambu Senator Kimani Wamatangi.

Raila talked of great moments shared with Fidel right through his childhood, capping it with the line, "he was my friend too."

"Many friends have called and sent messages of condolence from all over the world and for that my family and I thank you. A writer once said that we only live once but if you live right then once is enough... Fidel lived with us once and once was enough; now we celebrate his life," said Raila.

He pointed out that many people had spoken well of his son meaning, he must have been good and lived his life right.

The CORD leader explained how they ended up naming their late son after the former Cuban president.

"Fidel was born at the height of the cold war and Cuban Fidel Castro was seen to be standing against the United States who were the aggressors in the Vietnam war and so we named him after Fidel Castro. He got the name Makarios after he converted to the Greek Orthodox religion for him to marry his wife Lwam Gatachaw Bekele."

Raila talked lightly about Fidel's divorce with his first wife and later marrying his current Eritrean wife saying how he warned him to make sure he does not get disappointed a second time.

"He came to me later and said now he had decided to get a wife out of the country,'' he revealed.

Fidel will be buried in the Jaramogi family's home in Bondo Suturday.