By MOODY AWORI
In this third instalment of former VP Moody Awori’s memoirs, Riding on a Tiger, he reveals how Mwai Kibaki was overcome with grief upon the death of his deputy Kijana Wamalwa and how he took over the position.
Although the President’s health was not yet good, Vice-President Kijana Wamalwa’s was deteriorating faster, giving a lot of concern to the President and the country as a whole.
Kijana Wamalwa was hospitalised in London just after six months in office.
As Vice President, his ill health received a lot of media attention and many people, including senior government officials who were in the USA or Europe, passed via London to visit him.
As always, when there is inadequate information, particularly about a popular senior politician in Kenya, speculation sets in.
The President relied on Cabinet Ministers and other government officials (who made a stopover in London while en route to other destinations) to brief him.
Sometime in 1970, I was approached by a prominent Kenyan lawyer, James Hamilton, a senior partner in one of the oldest legal firms, Hamilton, Harrison and Mathews Advocates.
Besides having a very distinguished legal career, which included a lot of pro bono work, Hamilton was a very pious man, active in the Anglican Church matters at the All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi.
At that time, an old English publishing house, Macmillan Publishers, had been selling school and other books for many years through Text Book Centre (TBC).
Macmillan felt it was time to establish a fully fledged local set-up of its own in Kenya.
To this end, Hamilton registered a new company, Macmillan East Africa Publishers Ltd.
He asked me to join the new board to help the company to grow.
I brought with me a friend, an eminent educationist, Joe Kimaru to the board.
The parent company in the UK sent a young Scottish lad, Frank Slater, as Managing Director. Progressively, we increased our local staff at the management level.
Soon we needed a Sales Manager and advertised the vacancy, which attracted several applications.
After interviewing several on the short list, there was one who outshone all the candidates.
We settled on this young graduate teacher, David Muita.
Right from the beginning, David was a highly motivated young man who truly loved books.
As a teacher, he had a good rapport with other teachers. He passionately persuaded them to buy Macmillan books.
It did not take long before both the local board and Macmillan in the UK to realise the potential of David.
Rather than waste him by making him work under an expatriate managing director, who was less qualified, we appointed David as Managing Director. Thereafter, the company grew rapidly.
David appreciated the potential of local authors. He encouraged them and always offered suggestions.
He accepted quite a number of manuscripts that had been rejected by other publishers. Over time, many of those earlier rejected manuscripts, which we published were best sellers and hence paid dividends.
As Chairman of Macmillan Kenya Publishers since 1974, I travelled to London annually for meetings with the parent company in the UK.
In August 2003, I travelled with my wife for the Macmillan meeting. Before I left for London, I called at State House.
The President asked me to check on his Vice President at the hospital even though reports indicated that he was getting better.
On arrival in London, the High Commission helped me reach, via telephone, the Great North Hospital, where Kijana Wamalwa was hospitalised.
I was put through to George Arodi, the Vice President’s Director of Communications.
For some reason, Arodi was evasive and would not let me know when I could see the Vice President.
I sensed the parochial attitudes and political insularity common in Nairobi.
Apparently, he was consulting with Ford-Kenya officials. I called several times but they could not tell me when I could visit.
I had earlier run into Dr Newton Kulundu, the Minister for Health, who was also in London and we decided to visit the Vice President together.
When we reached the hospital, the Vice President’s political handlers could not allow us to see him.
Dr Kulundu was very upset. He told them that he was a medical doctor used to seeing patients even in their worst conditions.
He told them that he had seen dying and dead people and that he was at ease with any human medical condition.
We tried for two days to see the sick Wamalwa but we hit a brick wall.
At about 6.30 am on the third day, I received a call in our hotel room from our London High Commission with a request to go urgently to the Great North Hospital immediately.
When my wife and I reached the hospital, we were informed that the Vice President had died.
It was 23 August, 2003. The Vice President’s young wife, Yvonne Wamalwa, was there, weeping and extremely distressed.
The President in Nairobi needed to be told immediately.
The High Commissioner was in Nairobi but her deputy, a Mr Kiogora, was not only available but knew what to do via the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Fortunately, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, the Minister for Trade, was visiting his in-laws in Norway and on his way back, jetted into London.
One of Wamalwa’s sons, Jabali, lived in Germany.
Dr Mukhisa knew how he could get him and arranged for him to join us immediately.
President Kibaki had very strong affection for his Vice President.
He considered sending his official plane. However, the logistics of the fact that it was a military plane (requiring special clearance over other countries’ airspace) put paid to our plans.
We contacted Kenya Airways. The national carrier agreed to our plans and took it as something of a patriotic duty to transport the VP’s remains to Kenya.
After settling on this, we had to see to the welfare of the widow who had accompanied the VP along with their five-year old daughter.
We comforted her and assured her of both our personal and the government’s full support as the President had promised by phone.
We (the Ministers) accompanied Yvonne to get the casket, clothes and everything needed for transporting the body.
When we arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, there was an overwhelming atmosphere of sadness.
There was a huge crowd, led by the President. It was like a national holiday.
President Kibaki announced there would be a state funeral for Wamalwa, the second in Kenya since Independence after that of the founding President, Jomo Kenyatta.
The body lay in state at Parliament buildings for public viewing as the whole country went into mourning.
I was touched by this show of compassion and grief. Kenyans had come to love VP Kijana Wamalwa intensely.
The funeral was at Wamalwa’s farm in Kitale. It was a sombre mood. It was also President Kibaki’s personal grief.
In all the years I had known Mwai Kibaki, I had never seen him show emotion.
But on that day, tears for Michael Kijana Wamalwa trickled freely down the President’s face.
After the funeral, the President ensured that Wamalwa’s family was well taken care of.
No sooner had Kijana Wamalwa’s remains been interred than the big question was voiced: who would replace Michael Kijana Wamalwa as the Vice President of the Republic of Kenya?
The Ford-Kenya contingent took it for granted that one of them would be appointed.
As it always happens in such cases, lobbying went into high gear. Besides Ford-Kenya members, there were two or so young and well-placed Ministers outside Ford-Kenya who also had expectations.
One day, I met John Michuki at a function in the city. By that time, he was very close to the President.
The conversation naturally turned to the vacant position of VP.
Cryptically, he said to me that the office of VP should be held by an old and mature man who would not stress the President or destabilise the government because of high ambition.
He did not elaborate. He did not give me any hint about what was cooking.
Two days later, I was going about my business at my office at Jogoo House when a call came from State House.
The President wanted to see me immediately. When I reached State House, Musikari Kombo was at the waiting room, and we engaged in small talk.
Former VP Moody Awori gives a speech at a past forum. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
After a few minutes, my great friend and State House Controller, Matere Keriri, requested me to accompany him to the President’s office.
The President greeted me in his usual genial manner and we sat down.
He spoke about his late deputy, adding that since we were through with the mourning, government business had to continue.
Without further ado, he said that he had decided I should replace his late deputy to continue with the good work Kijana Wamalwa had been doing.
This was a big surprise for me! I thanked him and he rose from his seat and we hugged each other.
I was going to become the ninth Vice President of the Republic of Kenya! It was 25 September, 2003.
A bell suddenly rang in my mind. Kijana Wamalwa had been a popular and powerful Vice President but without a ministerial portfolio.
Did this mean I would be without a ministerial position?
In the previous eight months, I had thoroughly enjoyed working with all the departments under the Ministry of Home Affairs, particularly the Prisons Department.
I asked the President if I could keep my ministerial portfolio. He readily agreed.
I thanked him again and walked into Matere Keriri’s office.
He congratulated me and something compelled me to inform him that although the late Kijana Wamalwa had no portfolio, the President said I would continue serving as the Minister for Home Affairs. He seemed surprised.
KOMBO AS MINISTER
Later, there was a rumour that the position of Minister for Home Affairs was going to be given to someone else.
Kombo entered the President’s office after I left and he was offered a ministerial position.
The President was yet to make a formal announcement about our appointments, so we were asked not to tell anyone about it but to return to State House at 2.30 pm the same day.
Back in the office, I kept the news to myself. Not even my secretary knew that I was the Vice President.
But such a high-level appointment induces exuberance even in the least emotional people and I could not concentrate on my work!
I felt a desperate need to tell someone about it. So I suspended all official business for the day and went home.
I just lounged there until after lunch and did not tell even my wife. I kept my word to the last moment!
I was taken aback when I found Musikari Kombo already at State House with his wife and a few relatives in tow.
I had understood that I was to tell nobody till the President’s announcement so I made my appearance alone!
After the brief swearing-in ceremony, the President had a few words of advice and bade us farewell.
I was dying to call my wife with the news. Before stepping out of State House, I got the chance to call her.
She had already heard the news and was very agitated as there were many security officers in the compound.
She wanted to know when I would be home.
I told her that I would see her later and went out of State House, ready for my new office in town.
If the day had been dramatic for me so far, what I found at the entrance of State House as I got out surprised me even more.
Everything seemed to be happening at a breakneck speed. My modest official Pajero car had disappeared.
In its place was a convoy of new, big Mercedes Benz cars and a Land Rover with new bodyguards and an aide.
The Comptroller of State House introduced me to the new team.
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