BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
“Vijana msilale, lale lale. Vijana msilale, bado mapambano! Mapambano, mapambano!” his thunderous voice would stir up the crowd whenever he stood up. This accompanied by a trademark flywhisk waving at the crowd and trademark jig was the public persona that came to be associated with Gerald Otieno Kajwang’.
Indeed, an American actor, who has since died, Christopher Reeve, once said; “What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely. From an acting point of view, that’s how I approached the part.”
Love him or hate him, the late Homa Bay Senator Otieno Kajwang’ was a national hero in many aspects and one who should be celebrated by all Kenyans. Like any other human being, Kajwang’ had his own faults but it is important that we celebrate his life and his role in the entrenchment of democracy in the country.
For a man who spent 12 of his 17 years in politics in Opposition benches, he was always a thorn in the flesh of the government of the day. But he was also a man who breathed life and humour into the political scene whether in government or at Opposition rallies.
Kajwang’ will always be remembered for his “soloist” role as he led crowds in singing “bado mapambano!” The song became his trademark and always stirred any crowd in any corner of the country, so much so that he never passed an opportunity to dance to its accompaniment at the podium or among adulatory crowds.
When he was appointed minister in the Grand Coalition Government in 2008, Kajwang’ made one of the most memorable addresses to the media. At his first press conference, he recalled how he was in the bedroom with his wife when he received the news that he had been appointed Cabinet Minister and immediately broke into a dance.
And in dramatization that was characteristic of all his addresses, the former Immigration Minister danced his way while singing his favourite tune “mapambano” to end the interview as he expressed his excitement on his new role in government.
Kajwang’ was extremely loyal to his party, its leadership and even the government as he served as minister. He has left a great lesson to Kenyans on staying true to your cause and being loyal. He even at one time protested the suggested renaming of Mbita Constituency to Suba North in the 2012 boundaries review. No one throws away a shirt just because some patchwork has been added on to it. In fact, one treasures the garment more, for it is still the same shirt. So, Mbita it remained.
As colleagues in Parliament eulogized him, one could tell that he made an impact in the life of both senior politicians and newcomers. From his colleagues’ statements, it is clear that he was a jovial man who made all those he met laugh and smile.
Many described him as a friend and a man who did not keep a grudge, was forthright and distinguished political differences from friendship. It leaves no doubt in followers of parliamentary debates that Kajwang’ was not just funny but was forthright, candid and UNAPOLOGETIC when he addressed issues of national importance.
In his condolence message, President Uhuru Kenyatta describes the late Senator as “an eloquent debater, patriot and nationalist.” CORD leader Raila Odinga said that he had lost “a top leader, adviser and pillar” in his political circle.
His role in politics and especially the fight against single party rule in the country will remain edged in everyone’s minds. As a first-term MP after winning the Mbita Parliamentary seat in 1997, Kajwang’ tabled a vote of no confidence that saw the then Vice President, the late George Saitoti, almost sent home.
As Immigration Minister, Kajwang’ abolished the need for Kenyans to travel all the way to their ancestral homes in order to be issued with national Identity Cards. This was the beginning of major reforms in the way Kenyans register for their national IDs.
While many thought that his “mapambano” tune was about political contest, keener observers would tell you that he was never satisfied with any progress made. Kajwang always believed that Kenyans deserved more than what the leadership was delivering and that why there was need to push the envelope farther.
The late Senator Kajwang’ was also an achiever; he was the first lawyer to come from his clan and family, which has inspired many others after him. He was also the second Cabinet Minister from Mbita after the late Tom Mboya who was in the first post-independence Cabinet.
Yes, Kajwang’ was expelled during the heady days at university for allegedly leading a strike; the Law Society of Kenya also struck him off the advocates roll for a while. But that notwithstanding, his contribution and impact in Kenyan politics and nationhood will never be forgotten for ages to come.
As Gerald Otieno Kajwang’ is laid to rest, let us blare his clarion call “bado mapambano” louder since Kenyans deserve more, and let this be our drive to achieve more and prosper as a country.
May the Lord rest his soul in eternal peace.
(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)