Taita village bids farewell to shining light abruptly snuffed out by Al-Shabaab

Bryson Mwakulegwa, the first year student who was killed by Al-Shabaab in the Garissa University College attack. [Photo: Charles Ouko]

TAITA TAVETA: ‘Sometimes huwa na waza

Hivi life ina nibamba

Nikijaribu ku ngangana

Naona siku za fanana

Sina budi niombe

Father GOD aniponye

Sina budi niombe

Kwenya life, mi nisonge’

This song titled ‘Nawaza’ blared out of the speakers as the body of its composer and singer, Bryson Mwakuleghwa, was carried out of church for burial.

Mwakuleghwa was among the first students to be executed during the April 2 Garissa University College terror attack.

About 3,000 people attended the funeral service, quickly filling up the 700-seat Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) St Bartholemew Mwalenyi. Some stood and sat outside the church compound.

That was a record number of mourners attending the funeral service of a 20-year-old in rural Taita Hills. And it was not hard to understand why. From a very early age, members of Ndonga village considered him a child of the community. It is no wonder then that his secondary and even university education, for the short time he was there, was made possible by the ACK church, his former high school teachers and the Constituency Development Fund.

The son of Desmond and Mercy Mghalu, Mwakuleghwa went to Nyambu Primary School, only 1km away from their home. The school shares a compound with the church.

In 2009, he joined Dr Aggrey High School, one of the best secondary schools in the Coast region. It was here that his gifts in soccer and music came to the fore. During school holidays, he taught himself how to play the keyboard and at the time of his death, he was an accomplished player, with a beautiful voice to boot.

The strong supporter of Manchester United also played for Dr Aggrey High School’s football team as well as the local club, Wundanyi Junior FC.

As he was member of the Christian Union in secondary school and the boy’s brigade in the local church, none other than His Grace Bishop Samson Mwaluda of ACK eulogised him.

“This was one focused young man, that was a positive example for the youth of Ndonga and the wider Wundanyi. His testimony of faith in Jesus Christ, with his contribution to the music ministry in this church, further deepens our loss,” he said of Mwakuleghwa, who was a first-year Bachelor of Education student.

Bishop Mwaluda presided over both the memorial service and the burial in Ndonga on April 11.

Mwakuleghwa’s family heard the news of the attack via television on the morning it happened. Calls to his mobile over the next 24 hours went unanswered. It was his childhood friend, Stephen ‘Savalanga’ Saleka, who finally had a breakthrough. The Mount Kenya Universty student posted Mwakuleghwa’s details on social media as they anxiously searched for him.

“Through a Facebook friend of mine, Judence, I received news that I wish I had never sought in the first place. Together with one of Bryson’s lecturers, they went to the Garissa KDF camp, where a register of the dead and evacuated was being kept.” Judence, also from Taita, knew Mwakuleghwa well.

“Shortly after 1pm on Good Friday, April 3, Judence told me Bryson was no more. I refused to believe it. She then gave the phone to one of Bryson’s lecturers, who restated the same information. Bryson’s mum was next to me and in shock and utter disbelief, I handed her the phone,” recalled Saleka.

She listened, went pale, lost her voice and her limbs gave way and we had to help her into the house, where she began to weep painfully but silently. Bryson’s father, who was a short distance away, also became distraught. Showing great composure, he entered his bedroom to pray, then came to join his wife in grieving their only son in the living room. Bryson had two sisters, Anne Sanguli, 23, and Joy, three.

Speaking at the funeral service, Dr Aggrey High School Deputy Principal Josiah Kilei said: “We teachers are like house builders. Our pride is in looking back to see what we built still standing. When the news of his tragic death reached us, we all broke down as he had been a member of our school family, less than two years ago.”

Saleka, 23, who together with his brother Reuben, 20, and Julius Mwambisi, 21, was Mwakuleghwa’s best friend, said: “He was wise beyond his years. Ever jovial. Industrious and determined to better his family and community. Music, gospel music in particular, was his life. He loved God with zeal.”