How could a briefcase taken from a man’s deathbed 6,800km in London generate so much controversy in the city in the sun?
For some time, the whereabouts of the briefcase overshadowed the tragedy that had befallen Kenya and driven Mwai Kibaki, the then commander in chief of the armed forces, to shed tears in public.
Twenty years later, memories of the drama that unfolded after the briefcase was picked from the bedside table at Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, where it had been lying as its owner fought for his life, flood back.
The owner, Michael Wamalwa Kijana had been taken to the hospital after he fell ill after addressing an International Labour Organisation conference in Geneva.
The shock of Wamalwa’s death shook Nairobi. In his Runda and Kitale residences, tears flowed freely.
In London, however, a nasty war was shaping up that crystallised into a family feud that played out for years.
The news of Wamalwa’s missing briefcase was broken on August 24, 2003, by Jackline Nangani, the sister of Wamalwa’s widow Yvonne. She first claimed that the briefcase had been taken by Wamalwa’s cousin, Mukhisa Kituyi who was at the time Trade minister.
“My sister has been locking herself in her hotel room for the last two days as some relatives were hunting for her. They got her today.”
Kituyi later clarified that the briefcase had been taken by the head of the Vice President’s security after Wamalwa died and was handed to Wamalwa’s son Jabali, after the combination code was changed in the presence of Moody Awori who was at the time a minister.
“I can confirm that the briefcase was taken from Yvonne and entrusted to Jabali but I have neither seen it nor was I present,” Kituyi said.
Long after the owner of the briefcase was sent off in a state funeral, the row that erupted after his death persisted, clouding the legacy of a gentleman whose oratory skills, delivered in Queens English and embellished with quotes from Shakespeare and Winston Churchill, always left his peers in awe.
Despite his gentle demeanour, Wamalwa was no political pushover as Raila Odinga learnt when he tried to wrestle the Ford Kenya leadership from the man who had deputised the doyen of opposition, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
At the height of their fights, Raila had locked Wamalwa out of Thika Stadium where elections were being held and was waiting to be crowned chairman when Wamalwa, assisted by Bagdad Boys, stormed the stadium and grabbed the crown from Raila. He drove Raila from his father’s party and out of Parliament. Raila then formed NDP which he used to reclaim Langata parliamentary seat.