Rebecca Garang can learn much from Mama Ngina

By Mbijiwe Mwenda

Kenya: Mrs Rebecca Garang, wife to the late iconic father of the South Sudan freedom movement, the indomitable John Garang, has completely dishonoured her departed husband. Mama Rebecca should get schooled by the mother of Kenya’s fourth president, Mama Ngina Kenyatta.

John Garang and Jomo Kenyatta (may their souls rest in peace) have several things in common, but the one very outstanding is that both were fathers of their nations. In Kenyatta’s case, the old man died and left a nation whose top brass politicians were jostling for power.

The political undercurrents at the time of his passing would easily have swayed the hearts of most people in this life to any side of alignment.  In comparison, John Garang De Mabior Atum passed on at a time of heightened political activity in the Sudan.

Like Kenyatta, Dr Garang had established himself as the leader of the freedom movement for South Sudanese for close to four decades. His untimely demise on July 20, 2005 left a political gap similar to the one Kenyatta’s death lift in Kenya 26 years earlier.

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Freedom icon

Garang’s departure however had one distinct thing with Kenyatta’s — the former died at the height of the freedom process for the South Sudanese people. The latter had completed his course, having raised the flag of Kenya’s freedom 14 years earlier. Garang left an almost complete process, but that did not make him any less of a freedom icon.

Both men have been immortalised in books, songs, poems and mausoleums built in their honour in Nairobi and in Juba. Both men left behind an unrivalled political legacy, but most notably their beloved wives. Kenyatta left Ngina and Garang left Rebecca.

Ngina turned out to be a political genius. Rebecca is turning out to be the opposite.  Mama Ngina did not allow herself to be sucked into the political scrimmage of her day that followed her husband’s demise. She was cognisant of the shadow (of her late husband) under which she lived. Mama Ngina must surely have felt the need to support a politician of a certain conviction, but she didn’t, at least not any that we know about. 

She must have toyed with the idea of running for a political position whether in her husband’s party or in the constituency — but she didn’t. Mama Ngina must have had a political opinion, but she kept it to herself. Mama Ngina decided that her husband’s iconic figure was enough for her. She crucified her own desires and chose to be contented in being the wife of the founding president.

What’s more? Her late husband had left her two very important things to take care of; his children and his property. And she did it diligently. To this day we have never heard of the Kenyatta family fighting each other for a piece of land, or for a certain building, or some money the old man left in the bank.

Other political families have fought and taken each other to court over their inherited property, most notably the Koinange family and recently, the Kirima family. Mama Ngina kept her family away from estate feuds. Secondly, she schooled and mentored Jomo’s children. She imparted into them the vision and passion that drove their father. She would reap big from this diligence. Mama Ngina was also a clever political tactician. Between her husband’s and son’s presidencies was a whooping 35 years that saw the presidencies of Daniel Toroitich arap Moi (Nyayo) and Stanley Emillio Mwai Kibaki, with the former doing 24 years and the latter the remainder. Mama Ngina never fought with any of these men.

Even when at one point her community was severely marginalised by the Kanu regime, she never openly opposed Moi.  When iconic men of her community decamped from Kanu en masse to join the opposition, Mama Ngina was never one of them. She always kept away from the political limelight of the antagonists of the day and jealously guarded her image, and more importantly, that of her husband.

Neutral stance

Two major political events happened in the 35 years of the Moi and Mwai presidencies. The 1982 attempted military coup and the 2007/8 post-election violence. In both, Mama Ngina never participated, not even as a mediator, lest she risked being seen as taking sides. Mama Ngina remained completely unseen in public except at Nyayo Stadium during national days’ celebrations, or at such other functions that required her presence.

Her political genius was to become manifest to all when her son, who was only a teenager when his father died in 1978, won one of the hotly contested presidential elections on March 4, last year. For 35 years, in great silence, Mama Ngina had imparted her husband’s vision, passion and courage in his son Uhuru.

We knew that when her son won the March 4 election. Mama Ngina became one of the few women to witness both their husband and son become presidents in their lifetime. I advise Rebecca Garang to realise that her political star is intricately embedded in Garang’s. When the curtains closed on his life, her star became half-covered. I advise her to book an appointment with Mama Ngina Kenyatta and get schooled on how to “eat” from her husband’s sweat.

She needs to do that soon enough before the currents of South Sudan politics declare her irredeemably inconsequential. I advise her to follow Mama Ngina’s example of watching and tremendously growing her husband’s estate and children. These two are interrelated because it takes money to win political contests, and any of her sons, like Jomo’s son, Uhuru, may decide to run for the South Sudan presidency some day. Like Mama Ngina, she can build for them a firm financial base that will make all the political machinery of their opponents look like a joke.

Rebecca needs to hire a PR group and an image crisis team because already the whole world has believed that she was and still is part of the Riek Machar team. If she doesn’t, her children — Mabior, Chuol, Gak, Akwal, Nyankuir and Atong — will never taste the fruits of their father’s sweat, toil and eventual death for the liberation of the South Sudan people. To fail to taste your father’s sweat is tantamount to a curse.

Rebecca should decide with her entire spirit, soul and body to preserve her husband’s name and stature and not get caught in the political showmanship of his political sons and daughters. To her President Kiir or rebels’ leader Riek should be equal and must she support any of them, it must be the one in power. Why have her husband’s labour and sweat for the freedom of South Sudan never ever benefitted his family?

She should already have cleverly negotiated for her children to be appointed into the Kiir government... Mama Ngina did likewise with Uhuru throwing him into the mainstream of politics that today has made him the president of Kenya. Rebecca should stop playing the song of rebels. She is Garang’s wife, the father of the nation, for goodness sake!

Finally, since she is a Christian, I urge her to read and re-read Proverbs 31 — the noble woman!

The writer is a former Kenya Air Force Officer and Editor-in-Chief of the monthly Eye On Security magazine.

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