The widow of Kitui West MP Francis Nyenze, who died Wednesday, recalled how her husband sorrowfully and persistently asked her to let him go in his last days.
Edith Nyenze recounted how the MP, who has been battling colon cancer for years, on Tuesday night waved an ominously prolonged goodbye as she left the Nairobi Hospital.
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“He had started asking me a month ago to let him go. He said he would be well with the Lord, and he wanted to rest.
"But every time he asked me I refused, I told him to stay longer,” she told The Standard Wednesday at Lee Funeral Home, where the body of the former Cabinet minister was moved following his death at 7.15am.
Edith explained she had been with her husband until 9.30pm on Tuesday night and they prayed, and when she was preparing to leave, Nyenze waved.
“He had difficulty talking but as I prepared to leave he told me bye a number of times and insistently. He was leaving us, I now can see,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Nyenze’s brother-in-law and Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua said the MP had been battling colon cancer, first diagnosed in 2007.
Wambua said the lawmaker, whom he described as a peacemaker, had been treated in many hospitals in and out of the country and had been progressing well.
“He has been in and out of hospital for the past 10 years, had really improved but during the campaigns he contracted pneumonia, which exposed his lungs,” he said.
Born on June 2, 1957 in Kabati, Kitui West in Kitui County, Nyenze, a graduate of the University of Nairobi, was a member of Wiper Democratic Movement Kenya.
Signs of his failing health came to the fore when he was sworn in to the 13th Parliament with an oxygen tank strapped to his body. He was serving his third term.
Leaders eulogised Nyenze, a father of three - Erick, 30, Ruth, 26, and Grace, 23 - as one who never shied away from speaking his mind and a voice of reason.
President Uhuru Kenyatta mourned Nyenze, eulogising him as a legislator who served his constituents with commitment and dedication.
“I have known Nyenze since the time he was a Cabinet minister under President Moi’s administration. He was always keen on preserving our unity and nationhood. I urge all of us to emulate his leadership style,” said President Kenyatta.
Deputy President William Ruto described Nyenze as an amiable and open-minded lawmaker, adding he was a voice of reason in and out of Parliament.
"His strong personality, charm, and wit rubbed off on those he interacted with," said Ruto.
Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, currently in Germany, said as Leader of Minority in the 11th Parliament, Nyenze served the country with great commitment and his "non-confrontational, gentlemanly mien was a great asset in helping to build bridges among political protagonists.
"Nyenze was an outspoken and candid politician who never shied away from articulating his political convictions.
"In Kitui West, where he was immensely popular, he was nicknamed 'Shabiki' (fan), a term coined from the early years of his political career when he used to mobilise his political supporters, particularly the youth, using shabiki as his rallying call," said Kalonzo.
National Assembly Majority Leader Adan Duale described Nyenze as an open-minded leader who stood for the country at the expense of anything else.
"He was ready to differ with his political coalition on matters that were of Kenyan interest. He shelved personal and party interests for the sake of the country," said Duale.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We wish to convey heartfelt sympathies and sincere condolences to the people of Kitui West and the country for the loss of a leader with dedication cumulatively for decades," said a statement attributed to NASA leaders Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi, and Senate Minority Leader and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula.
"Nyenze steered our MPs in the National Assembly in a difficult and hostile 2013-2017 through very careful balancing," said the opposition leaders.
"We know that his passing fills Kitui West constituents and NASA family with powerful emotions, given the countless ways in which he served the nation and the constituency as MP, minister, and Leader of Minority at different times in his career," said the statement.
In Kitui West, at the constituency’s main centre of Kabati, small crowds of people were seen discussing the sad news with many others huddled in local eateries.
Rodgers Kaleve, a businessman based at Kabati market, said Nyenze’s death so soon after winning his third term in Parliament had left a huge gap in the constituency.
“Nyenze was a grassroots leader who effortlessly interacted with everybody. His death is shocking and a great loss to us. It will be very difficult for anybody else to fit into his shoes,” Kaleve said.
Nyenze had won the parliamentary seat on a Wiper ticket for a third term with over 20,000 votes, followed by Mutiso Leli, who managed a paltry 6,000 votes.
During the August 8 campaigns, his opponents openly tore into the MP owing to his ill health, but when the final ballot was cast, the soft-spoken Nyenze trounced them.
Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu mourned him as a courageous man who spoke out his mind without fear.
For long, Nyenze and Ngilu seemed to enjoy unshakable camaraderie, something which saw Ngilu appoint Nyenze as chairman of the Water Resources Management Authority and also as director of the National Irrigation Board when she served as Water minister.
But even in his gentlemanly mien, Nyenze courted controversy in his last term in Parliament during which he was branded a Jubilee mole by his detractors.
The mole tag to the former Minority Leader was assigned to him after he was perceived to be too close to the ruling coalition even when he was expected to push for the opposition agenda in the House.