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George Nthenge: I see my dream coming true

By | August 1st 2010

By Beauttah Omanga and Joe Ombuor

He may have faded from the national limelight, but his name remains etched in history books among the heroes of the independence struggle and a champion of the ‘Second Liberation’.

As Kenyans go to the ballot in a national referendum to determine a new constitutional dispensation, George Nthenge is resolute about his conviction for change.

He does not mince words as to whether he is ‘Green’ or ‘Red’ as the country hits the homestretch to a future constitutional dispensation.

Says Mr Nthenge: "Voting ‘Yes’ means choosing shared power which is what we vouched for in the original Lancaster House constitution that has been mangled beyond recognition. Going for ‘No’ means remaining with a badly tattered law that serves only a privileged few at the expense of the suffering masses".

Nthenge, a veteran politician and businessman who participated in the 1962 Lancaster House conference that cobbled the independence constitution, adds: "We fought for freedom which we already have but the new law will give us what has been missing. The current Constitution suffered its first mutilation when the post of Prime Minister was abrogated to create an all, powerful and abusive presidency, barely a year into independence. Only the selfish in society can support it."

Nthenge was among the founders of the original Ford in the early 1990s and was elected MP for Kamukunji in the first multiparty General Election in 1992. He did not defend his seat in 1997.

He was among a team of politicians who stormed Kamukunji grounds on July 7, 1990 — the event that gave birth to Saba Saba.

Among the group were the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenneth Matiba, Raila Odinga, James Orengo, the late Masinde Muliro, Salim Ndamwe, Charles Rubia, Salim Ahmed Bahmariz, Philip Gachoka, Paul Muite, Rashid Mzee and Martin Shikuku.

Matiba, Rubia and Raila were detained a week before the historic event.

He reminisces: "All that we wanted was the freedom to express ourselves but since we would not be allowed, we put our lives on the line and marched to multiparty politics, which I credit for the Proposed Constitution now on the threshold of reality."

On the position taken by his comrade in the ‘Second Liberation’ struggle, Rubia, to oppose the Proposed Constitution, he says: "It is not my nature to criticise leaders on their personal views. We are all entitled to what we think. What I know is that the Proposed Constitution is what the majority of Kenyans yearn for. I believe it is the right thing to secure Kenya for posterity".

But he expresses scepticism on the stand taken by Church leaders who he says should not engage in activities and utterances that mislead their flock.

"It is immoral and insincere of them to stand with the discredited on crucial matters. Politics is a dirty game of deceit for survival. It is not the place for bishops and pastors who people look to for divine guidance," he rues.

Are his eyes still on active politics?

"No! Politics has become murky with greed. What I see today is not the Parliament we served in; it is a den of greedy blokes, a cabal not ashamed of bleeding Kenyans to satisfy their stomachs. It is a shame," he says.

But in an afterthought, he adds: "May be the Proposed Constitution, if it passes, would change that. As for now I’m better off out here earning an honest living and serving my people quietly."

He is disappointed the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns have not thought it appropriate to call joint rallies to asses the mood of Kenyans.

"Such a gesture could reduce tension that results from separately held rallies where leaders claw ruthlessly on each other," he says.

The man from Mitaboni in Machakos District is now in curio business and commutes daily from his rural home, always driving himself in spite of his advanced age.

"I do not trust these young drivers," says Nthenge who in the 1970s lost nearly all his family in a road accident. He was driving the accident car.

He started his curio business in 1950, a year after he arrived in Nairobi after completing his secondary school studies at St Mary’s School, Tabora, Tanzania. Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, Tanzania’s founding president, was among his teachers.

He had earlier attended Mang’u High School, with President Kibaki and the late Tom Mboya as his classmates.

He once described President Kibaki as "a big dog without teeth".

"By nature, this man does not want to harm anybody. He is very soft and sympathetic, yet a genius," he said, in a past interview.

His plea to Kenyans is they should unite after Wednesday’s crucial exercise, regardless which side wins.

Nthenge joined then Kenya African Union (KAU) in 1951. KAU was later to be disbanded by the colonial authorities at the onset of the Mau Mau uprising in 1952 only to re-emerge more energised as Kanu.

When first approached to be a member of the Legislative Council (Legco) in 1957, Nthenge says he recommended his former classmate Tom Mboya, "who spoke as good English as me".

Mboya was then a health inspector and trade unionist in Nairobi. Why did he turn down the offer?

"I wanted to concentrate on my curio business," he replies flatly.

But he could not resist the people’s wish for long and joined Legco three years later with the creation of Machakos constituency. After independence, he was among the first electoral commissioners nominated to represent Eastern Province.

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