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Order! Order! Kaparo recounts heated debate in august House

POLITICS
By Mercy Adhiambo | November 30th 2019
Former Speaker Francis Ole Kaparo during the interview in his Kiambu home. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

 

There was more to Francis Xavier ole Kaparo than a booming voice screaming “Order! Order!” from the Speaker’s seat in Parliament. For years, the portly man was the ultimate custodian of law and order in Kenya’s legislature.

 

And by the time he left office, he says he had learned one key life lesson:

“Inside every adult there lies a child,” he says in his booming trademark voice. “I saw those children coming out in the behaviour of politicians.”

Kaparo believes his exit from the Speaker’s position could have been triggered by a secret oath by a section of politicians allied to Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who at that time was the prime minister, immediately after the 2007 General Election.

He claims he was told of a meeting in Karen where all ODM politicians went for a three-day retreat, and they were fed a concoction and told not to vote for Kaparo.

“They were on a three-day bonding trip to get me out. They voted like robots,” he says, throwing his hands in the air in mirth.

Ababu Namwamba, a vocal ODM MP at the time, laughs and says: “I have never taken any oath with a human. The only oath I have is between myself and Jesus.”

Isaac Ruto who was voted Chepalungu MP on an ODM ticket in 2007 admits that indeed there was a meeting. He says they all bundled up in a bus, went to Karen, and under the stewardship of their leader Raila, they discussed the way forward for their party that was facing turbulent times in the wake of alleged election rigging.

“We agreed that we were not going to vote for Kaparo. The environment was charged. There was no way we would have voted anyone outside the party,” he says.

Former Speaker Kenneth Marende, who replaced Kaparo, sighs on allegations that he was voted in under an oath.

“Kaparo needs to grow up. He was bitter. The wheels of democracy were turning and he was not ready. He had served for 15 years, he needs to let things go,” says Marende.

He says it was battle royale for speaker position, the only powerful seat left, and ODM felt the presidency had been forcefully taken from them.

“The only thing Kaparo was better at was that he had a louder voice. I am sharper, and my score card speaks for itself,” Marende says.

But today, Kaparo says he had made a resolve to retire. He longed for the calmness that Laikipia provided. He wanted to return home, to the place where he was forcefully taken by policemen with guns and thrown into school.

“In our days, young people would be forced to go to school by people who were called tribal police,” he says.

Although he would later chart his path and become a powerful lawyer and speaker, superstition is never far away from him. For one, apart from the alleged oath, he also believes it to be “bad manners” for one to inquire about the number of head of cattle one owns.

His philosophy

“I have many cattle. That is all you need to know. Serious men do not talk about the number of cows they own,” he says.

Sometimes he steps away from his cattle rearing hobby and glances at news articles about Parliament.

“Recently, I was mortified to watch house business being conducted in chaos. I wondered if they have a speaker. It would never happen under my watch,” he says.

As speaker, his philosophy was simple: “Charm them with humour when they are charged and when they get unruly, throw them out!”

He says he would send out as many as 40 MPs if they refused to follow House rules.

“People must respect the House. If you are a stumbling block, you have no business being in bunge,” he says.

He respected the sanctity of legislature. Even small things like women carrying handbags to Parliament was a No for him. When he allowed women to bring their bags after much noise, and boycotts from female parliamentarians, he dictated the size. Dainty and classy. Nothing big or crazy. 

He believes he had the most aggressively charged parliamentarians and that it took wit, humour and firmness to stop the House from breaking.

“Those were days when politics was politics. It was a delicate time. There was push for multi-party government, and politicians were angry. I was the man in the middle of that heat,” he says.

He recalls the volatile debates. There were agitated voices of Young Turks like Martin Shikuku, James Orengo and Paul Muite who incessantly demanded for change. The old guards rooted for loyalty to the ruling party. Kaparo longed for sanity. Shouting: “Order! Order! Order!” became his signature tune; and later the title of his biography.

“I had Raila and his father in the same Parliament, Nyaga and his son Norman, Shikuku and his brother Oyondi…too many emotions, so much energy. Outside, people were being arrested. The country was fragile. I would wake up at 4am to write my rulings. All eyes were on me,” he says.

He strenuously struggled to restore elusive order in a House where politicians were threatening to throw punches at each other.

Former assistant minister Sammy Leshore remembers Kaparo sending a team of opposition and Kanu MPs to the US in an attempt to teach them how a multi-party democracy works.

“We were not talking to each other. The trip was meant to unite us,” says Leshore.

In Doldol, Laikipia, where he comes from, people call him a role model; the man who beamed light to the otherwise ignored Maasai community. At 69, he believes his greatest achievement is that he did not have to steal from anyone to be successful.

A section of women frowns at his personal life, and how he married a younger wife and ‘fled’ from his first wife.

“Look, is it a crime for an African man to marry two wives? Maybe the ones whining about my marriage wanted me to marry them. I am taken,” he says.

He believes he did what he could, and that even during his stint as National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) chair, he preached the message of peace, but later realised politicians were not interested in solving tribalism.

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