|Kassim Mwamzandi during the interview. [PHOTOS: JOE OMBUOR/FILE STANDARD]|
KWALE COUNTY: Kassim Bakari Mwamzandi, now a simple farmer in Kwale County, was probably the first victim of the heightened hostility between President Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga after the two broke ranks at the infamous 1966 Limuru Kanu delegates Conference.
But as it would turn out later, it was a few metres from his house that the late president would hold his last public function.
After the 1966 Kanu delegates Conference created eight Vice-Presidents, each representing the eight provinces, Jaramogi resigned as Kenya’s first Vice-President.
Mwamzandi says Jaramogi’s first political rally after he hinted at forming a party to rival the all-powerful Kanu was in his Kwale East Constituency where, the late Msanifu Kombo, then powerful mayor of Mombasa played host.
“My detractors convinced Mzee that I was at that rally that, in essence, marked the beginning of Kenya People’s Union (KPU). Kenyatta hit the roof,” recalls Mwamzandi.
He says: “To counter the Jaramogi rally, an angry Mzee organised a big Kanu rally at Diani where he publicly harangued me for “misleading the people while flocking with rebels”, an accusation that was received incredulously by the crowd from the way they responded. Many knew that I was never at the Shimba Hills rally. Mzee felt embarrassed on learning the truth.
He continues: “Sensing that he had indeed been misled, Mzee gave me a chance to talk to the people upon which I said in a trembling voice that the Shimba Hills meeting was strange to me. That was the beginning of our close relationship with Kenyatta who became a regular visitor to my constituency whenever he was visiting the Coast.”
“It also changed his handling of issues brought to his attention by aides and advisers. Never again did he act on rumours and always made sure he brought the person being accused into the picture to establish the truth before he took action. In my case, he dealt firmly with the person who misled him,” he says.
From then on, Mwamzandi was Mzee’s point man at the Coast. Msambweni, Mwamzandi’s home town 70 kilometres South of Mombasa was Mzee’s chosen centre of entertainment; first at Msambweni Primary School and later at Bomani Primary School where he had his last public function on August 21, 1978 before his demise at the Mombasa State House on the morning of August 22.
Says Mwamzandi: “I was always with him whenever he crossed the Likoni ferry to savour the rich Coastal culture in the form of entertainment in my backyard. Traditional dancers and school choirs, from across the region, converged for the purpose. All his engagements ended with entertainment a stone’s thrown away from my house nudging the Bomani Primary School compound.”
By a strange twist of fate, Mwamzandi was not with Mzee at his last function and eventual entertainment at Bomani Primary School. Neither was Peter Mbiyu Koinange, Mzee Kenyatta’s powerful Minister of Sate and brother-in-law who routinely kept by his side in his latter days, and who was considered the most powerful man after the president.
Koinange was in Nairobi, attending to private business. Mwamzandi, then an assistant minister for Foreign Affairs, was overseas in Europe, on official engagement in Geneva, Switzerland.
Koinange was never to recover from the shock of Mzee dying in his absence, and what that meant to the power games of the time, reckons Mwamzandi. He died three years later, a frustrated man in September 1981.
Mwamzandi slogged on, serving under President Moi in the same capacity and later in the dockets of Energy, Water and Public Works.
He reminisces on Kenyatta’s death thus: “August 21 was to be a great day for my family because Peter Muigai Kenyatta, my fellow assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs had organised that the President calls at my house for refreshments after the entertainment at the school. My late first wife, Amina was to host him.”
“A sixth sense told me that all was not well when I was informed Mzee had abruptly cut short his programme and headed straight back to Mombasa. The next news hit me like a bullet. Mzee had breathed his last in his sleep at State House, Mombasa. Dazed, I hurriedly left Switzerland where I was attending a UN meeting for a return flight to Kenya,” he says.
“May his soul rest in eternal peace,” he mutters.
How did Mzee’s love for Bomani, renamed Jomo Kenyatta Primary School in his honour, come about? Mwamzandi puffs at his favourite cigarette and says: “Mzee’s attitude towards me underwent kind of a metamorphosis the moment he realised he had been fed on falsehoods about me on the Shimba Hills rally. To ward off what was perceived as a budding opposition in Kwale following the Jaramogi rally that ostensibly midwifed KPU, Mzee’s trips to the South Coast to initiate or inspect development projects became more frequent after which he would be entertained at Msambweni Primary School. The venue later moved to Bomani Primary School because of the many trees there that provided shade against the hot sun.”
The huge mango tree under which Mzee and his troupe of dignitaries always sat and became his favourite spot of entertainment stands to this day, its leaves scraping the skies.
Mwamzandi who puts his age at 74, says he has eaten fruits from the tree since he was a small boy. A concrete slab constructed around the tree in Kenyatta’s days is testimony to how special it is. Metres away is a tree the locals call Mtondia (Stondian Mondin) planted by retired president Daniel arap Moi on August 24, 1982 to mark the opening of a rehabilitated Bomani Primary School, aptly renamed Jomo Kenyatta Primary School in honour of the founding president.
Mwamzandi says his father, the late Mzee Bakari Yusuf and other community elders donated the land on which the school sits.
Mwamzandi was only 20 and fresh from a refresher course at the Government Training Institute (GTI) Maseno after serving briefly as a Court Clerk in Kwale when he made his debut in politics in 1963.
He narrates: “I joined Ronald Ngala’s Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) which was the dominant party at the Coast and contested the newly created Kwale East parliamentary seat, defeating a Kanu candidate, the late Albert Ramtu. Robert Matano took Kwale West also on a Kadu ticket. We all became Kanu when Kadu was dissolved in 1964.”
Mwamzandi says he was quick at mastering standing orders and often served as acting speaker in the days of Humphrey Slade and the first African speaker, Fred Mbiti Mati. He was appointed an assistant minister for Foreign Affairs under Dr Munyua Waiyaki.
Mwamzandi describes as Kwale’s worst nightmare, the collapse of Associated Sugar Company, Ramisi in the late 1980s in the wake of massive dumping of smuggled sugar into the market by well connected corrupt individuals in the Nyayo regime, forcing the Madhvani Group who ran the company to reduce the payment to farmers.
He says: “It was painful to see the only company that gave our people employment tumble even after Juma Boy and I joined hands to organise a meeting with President Moi in an effort to save it. The president ordered a differential pay for the farmers and even looked for money to bail out the cash strapped company, but Madhvani Group decided to re-locate to Uganda, leaving the farmers and employees stranded.”
After a longish pause, he says: “We sank to our lowest economically. With the collapse of Ramisi, only the beach and its myriad problems that include drugs and child abuse remained as our hope of employment.
He adds: “But hope is creeping back with the coming of the Kwale International Sugar Company Limited owned by local investors. We appreciate their serious approach to reviving this once vibrant industry using the more reliable drip irrigation that ensures harvest at all times on the 15,000 acres that they have been allocated. It is unfortunate that much of the land remains under squatters who encroached on it, creating tension with the community from which it was originally leased by the government.”
Mwamzandi welcomes Tiomin Mining Company in the County, re-location of people notwithstanding: “I was among the people re-located, but the benefits of having it in our midst far outweigh the disadvantages. I am a member of the Kwale Mineral Liaison Committee with responsibility over Tiomin. Besides creating employment, it is a boon for all manner of business as a result of an increased circulation of money locally.”
Commenting on the leadership style of Kenya’s four presidents since independence, Mwamzandi says: “Kenyatta was a premier ruler who enjoyed total power and did not tolerate criticism, a style suitable for his time. Moi was destabilised by the change the constitution struggle, and the attempted coup of 1980 that made him drift off course to strong-arm tactics. As for Kibaki, he watched as the country went into autopilot.”
And the new Uhuru regime? Mwamzandi says: “You see, Uhuru wants to do everything at the same time and gets confused in the process. He needs to identify the country’s priorities, and realise that a lot has changed since the times of his predecessors.”