Friday, October 20, 2006

Celebrating the Life of Shujaa Mzalendo Wanjiru Kihoro

It has been quite an exhilarating week here in Nairobi- especially given the otherwise dirge-like circumstances.

Now, I am NOT talking about the headline grabbing Ringera vs. Wako turf wars regarding corruption-linked prosecutions; nor am I referring to Baghdad like confrontations in the city streets of Nairobi starring plains clothes, uniformed and often uninformed cops trying to storm the spontaneous jacquerries and not so spontaneous urban guerrilla forays mounted by hawkers and the alleged “gangs”.

Those two items are subjects of another Kenya Democracy Project blog entry.

Rather I am referring to the phenomenal turn out and show of support for the late Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro who passed away a few days ago after hanging on tenaciously to life for three years, nine months and nine days following the Busia air crash of January 25, 2003 which left her in a coma.

From Monday this week, Wanjiru has been feted at the Holy Family Basilica in downtown Nairobi by former political prisoners, democratic lawyers, progressive politicians, human rights defenders, feminists, Pan Africanists, Marxists, religious leaders and even mainstream, cabinet and ex-cabinet ministers for a productive, revolutionary life cut tragically short by a freak accident.

Under the theme of Kusherekea Maisha ya Shujaa Wanjiru Kihoro, Kenyans have come out in their hundreds, if not thousands to hear moving testimonies, shared memories, passionate tributes, earnest exhortations from a range of individuals who have retained a piece of how Wanjiru touched and affected them.

This week-long series has not been another just occurrence. Rather it was consciously organized by the Funeral Committee working with the full knowledge, consent and involvement of Wanyiri, Wanjiru’s mother and father, her son and daughters, her sisters and brother and other members of her immediate family. Chaired by veteran human rights defender and civil society mainstay Njeri Kabeberi, the Funeral Committee includes people such as Gitobu Imanyara, Njeri Rugene, Ng’ang’a Thiong’o, Onyango Oloo, Mtumishi Kathangu, Njeri Kinyohu and others.

The daily evening series started at 6 pm and extended sometimes close to 10 pm.

The kick off night -Monday- was dedicated to human rights defenders and former political prisoners. The evening was anchored by the progressive, socially conscious cultural performances of the women-led Five Centuries theatre group (aka 5Cs). Willy Mutunga spoke exhorting us to praise and celebrate our heroes and sheroes while they were still alive. So did the Oslo based Ex-KAF former political prisoner Omondi K'abir; the Chair of Release Political Prisoners, Ng’ang’a Thiong’o did a very moving tribute. Gitobu Imanyara had some very poignant reminiscences of the support Wanjiru Kihoro and her family gave him and other Kenyan pro-democracy activists who passed through the Kihoro South London flat over the years, especially in the eighties and early nineties. Onyango Oloo did a poem. Five Centuries tried out a few brand new songs composed specially and expressly in Dr. Wanjiru’s honour. Zarina Patel spoke of the time when Wanjiru Kihoro out of the blue showed up at Zarina’s hospital bed side when Zarina Patel was convalescing after a major medical operation. To cap it all, James Orengo had a resonating eulogy full of rhyme, reason and rhythm.

Tuesday’s theme was Women Empowerment. In death, Wanjiru was able to bring Ida Odinga to share a podium with Martha Karua. Ida Odinga remembered the shared trials and travails both of their families and of other detainee and political prisoner families underwent during the dark days of the Moi KANU dictatorship- as well as the life-long bonds of genuine friendship that germinated back then- close to a quarter of a century ago. Martha Karua spoke about how contemporary Kenyan history had passed over in silence the glorious contributions of Kenyan women like Wanjiru and many other wazalendo women like her. The Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister decried how the November 2005 Referendum had divided Kenyan women and made them lose sight of their goals and aspirations. Wahu Kaara had vivid recollections growing up with Wanjiru Matenjwa (as she was back then) in their hometown of Eldoret. The evening was moderated by Njeri Kinyohu and was also galvanized by the speech given by Dr. Wanjiku Mukabi Kabira.

Wednesday was dedicated to Wanjiru Kihoro the Internationalist, the supporter of myriad political causes and Wanjiru the Kenyan politician. It was also the evening that Moody Awori came calling and Martha Karua did an encore. The Justice Minister is a very close personal friend of the late Wanjiru. For a few minutes the activists in the room fretted as they contemplated a worst scenario of the NARC government taking over the event and turning into a state propaganda affair. We needn’t have worried. From the get-go, Sophie, Diana, Anne and other members of the 5Cs as well as the CREDO ensemble ensured that progressive politics would drown the neo-colonial mainstream serikali blather. For instance right at the outset, there were TWO Kenyan national anthems sung. The official one and the more militant one sung by Kenyan activists at demonstrations, rallies and protests. You could tell, from the tepid delivery of the former and the passionate chorus of the latter who were the majority in the room practically encircling, politically, the entourage of the Vice President and other state officials. Brilliantly facilitated by the Kiswahili fluent former political prisoner and immediate ex-Runyenjes MP Njeru Kathangu, Wednesday proved to be the most radical and most militant night so far. Speakers included Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o in his usual erudite and eloquent self; Yusuf Hassan, who at one time was forced to pause in his written speech delivery because he was so overcome with emotion as he remembered how he had worked with Wanjiru, Ngugi, Abdilatif, Gutto and others to set up among other bodies, the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya, Ukenya and Umoja; Mwandawiro Mghanga who linked Wanjiru’s human rights campaigns to the plight of the Cuban 5 incarcerated in the United States; Martha Karua speaking in almost flawless Kiswahili asking Kenyans to honour Wanjiru by shunning tribalism and other divisive tendencies; her predecessor at the Justice and Constitutional Affairs ministry (and my former lawyer) Kiraitu Murungi remembered how the Kihoro’s had provided him with a couch in the living room to sleep on when he was forced into exile in 1990. One of the highlights of the evening was provided when Njeru Kathangu paraded most of the ex-political prisoners, especially Nyayo House survivors in the room (and they were more than a handful- Anyang Nyong’o, Njuguna Mutahi, Willy Mutunga, Omondi K’abir, Gitobu Imanyara, Kang’ethe wa Mungai, Njoroge Wanguthi, Onyango Oloo, Ng’ang’a Thiong’o, Mwandawiro Njeru Kathangu himself among others) to parade themselves before Moody Awori before Kathangu reminded the Vice President and the Justice Minister that the NARC government was yet to deliver on its promise to transform the Nyayo Torture Cells into a national monument to remind wananchi about the horrors patriots and activists endured in the fight for a new Kenya.

Another highlight was provided by one of Kenya’s most dynamic, militant and progressive cultural performers- Ndungi Githuku. Tall, dreadlocked and passionate, Githuku has electrified audiences both local and international with his progressive spoken word pieces which on Wednesday featured the active musical collaboration with members of the 5Cs. He did a song extolling the great women of Africa from Cleopatra, Queen Nzinga, Me Katilili, Muthoni Nyanjiru to Wanjiru Kihoro herself. But perhaps the most powerful moment in his performance was getting the audience to participate vigorously in a medley of RPP popularized freedom songs in Kiswahili. Most of us were on our feet, shaking our fists and gyrating to the beat of revolutionary sounds and lyrics.

I am not sure if it was discomfort or the old mainstream politician’s survival instinct of adapting their material to the audience- but when it was the turn for the government ministers to make their speeches, their delivery was delivered with a palpable trace of patriotism and more than a trace of democratic yearning. I have already alluded to Martha Karua’s crisp and uplifting earnest exhortations. When he rose to speak, Moody Awori confessed that it was due to Wanjiru’s activism around political prisoners that partly inspired the Vice President to be such an ardent crusader for prison reforms in Kenya.

Kudos to the CREDO ensemble for their three skits featuring the themes of corruption, bad governance and non-involvement of wananchi in major decisions.

To bring the house down, Wanyiri Kihoro shared with us several mental snapshots of Wanjiru- working with the activist likes of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem on a raft of Pan Africanist causes, not least the anti-apartheid struggles; Wanjiru in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua, Grenada, Cuba, Mozambique, Uganda and Namibia; Wanjiru the development worker and NGO visionary; Wanjiru the NARC campaigner etc.

Thursday was family night featuring son Pambana, daughters Kui (Wangui, known in some online circles like Mashada as “Wakili” or the blogger who runs Mama’s Junk Yard) Nimu and Amandla, parents, siblings and other relatives.

Interestingly, there is a handful of Kenyan political activists who are Wanjiru’s contemporaries, who have looked askance at the whole idea of celebrating of Wanjiru Kihoro’s life. They have two main arguments. One, is that we on the left should not engage in any canonizations of anyone. Two, they aver that some people are being opportunistic in praising to the skies someone who they differed with bitterly over ideological issues.

Those of us who have participated in Kusherekea Maisha ya Shujaa Wanjiru Kihoro have done so consciously and voluntarily because we have genuine and heartfelt reasons for doing so.

So far this year I have been happy to sign in as present during so many gatherings that have brought together members of the Kenyan Left. Not all occasions for doing so have been as somber as the death of a comrade. I am thinking of events like the triumphant and successful book launch of Zarina Patel’s biography on Makhan Singh in March; the well attended book launches of Shiraz Durrani and Maina wa Kinyatti in July and August respectively; the solidarity at the court appearances of patriots like Kepta Ombati, Cyprian Nyamwamu, Moses Ole Kina et al; the New Year Kenyan Workers’ Cultural Celebrations by Lake Naivasha; the 10 year commemoration of Karimi Nduthu and a slew of other events.

I strongly feel that the Kenyan Left is reconnecting and initiating new conversations without the overly personalized rancour and ideological sectarianism of the past.

This is a good thing that must be consolidated at a higher synthesis of organizational unity.

More on that in the near future.

Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro will be buried on October 28th, 2006.

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya


Anonymous said...

stop your pathetic hypocrisy for awhile if you want anyone to take you serious. Why am I saying that? Well, when Wanjiru was in a coma in the hospital, you never bothered to visit her to find out how she was doing and neither did those ugly bufoons shedding crocodile tears.

mzakai said...

A beautiful tribute. Thank you bwana Oloo. Hamba Khale dada Kihoro.

Kenya Democracy Project said...


Thanks for those kinds. Greatly appreciated.

As for the PERENNIAL anonymous heckler with the Oloo fixation, isn't your act a little tired by now? I mean following me around on every website with that stinking toilet mouth. If I am not mistaken, you are the very same heartless individual on the day after the crash posted very cruel messages about Wanjiru Kihoro on the Mashada website over three years ago.

As usual, you do NOT and WILL NEVER have the courage of using your real name or even a simple disposable handle that at least hold you accountable.

That is why it is IMPOSSIBLE for me treat you with anything other than undisguised contempt.

What an insect!

Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Kenya

Nyakehu said...

Habari Onyango, from the family thank you very much for writing on "Celebrating the life of Wanjiru Kihoro" and knowing that, you did not have to visit her in hospital to know that she was in your thoughts and who defines crocodile tears???
Wahu Matenjwa

Anonymous said...

Thank You for a beautiful and heart felt tribute.But you know what SHE would tell you 'A LUTA CONTINUA'

Anonymous said...

msaliti onyango oloo, you are such a fat short LIAR!

you were jailed for looting a blanket after the '87 abortive coup. stop masquerading as a freedom fighter after betraying SONU leaders to the special branch mister oloo cop informer.


One of the highlights of the evening was provided when Njeru Kathangu paraded most of the ex-political prisoners, especially Nyayo House survivors in the room (and they were more than a handful- Anyang Nyong’o, Njuguna Mutahi, Willy Mutunga, Omondi K’abir, Gitobu Imanyara, Kang’ethe wa Mungai, Njoroge Wanguthi, Onyango Oloo, Ng’ang’a Thiong’o, Mwandawiro Njeru Kathangu himself among others) to parade themselves before Moody Awori before Kathangu reminded the Vice President and the Justice Minister that the NARC government was yet to deliver on its promise to transform the Nyayo Torture Cells into a national monument to remind wananchi about the horrors patriots and activists endured in the fight for a new Kenya.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Oloo!!

Happy to Inform all! that On Wednesday 25th Oct, 2006 at YMCA .
Celebration of the Life and works of Dr. Wanjiru kihoro took place .It was graced by Hon. Wanyiri Kihoro and members of family representatives of various women groups well-wishers Citizens of Nyeri and kenya and the Nyeri Social Forum/Central kenya Social Forum.

Moving sppeches rent the Hall as grassroot people recounted their engagement with Dr. Wanjiru.

Lets meet on Sat at Gatitu
,on behalf of the Nyeri Social Forum!!!

Anonymous said...

Problem with the author of this article is that you have left too much marks on the web that identify you as a certain thinker. Its so hard to separate the two. OO, you need to learn, retract your comments and stop with this nonsense. If you truly support democracy, you need to excercise it from the start. These crocodile tears don't do much other than insult and cheapen the achievements of some of our great personalitites like Hon Wanjiru Kihoro.

Oh, and please bwana kibogoyo, you don't have to respond to every little insult or comment from someone, ever heard of the phrase "Pocketing the insult?" I think that was said by mahatma ghandi, from your impressive book list, you definately read about him. Now go and grow up, then learn to keep important people out of your small world.