Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mourning Comrade Wanjiru

Onyango OIoo Remembers an Ideological Mentor

At 10:21 am, Sunday, January 26th, 2003 sitting on a chair in my “home-office” in what is now, from my present Nairobi vantage point, far, far, far off Montreal, Quebec, my restless fingers keyboarded the following lines:
i am not religious
so i will not pray for you
but, now, as you lie
precariously in a worrying coma
all my thoughts are with you and with your family
even though i am not there
i agonize and fret at the possibility
of worse news than what we already know about your plight
we cross our fingers
hoping the fighter in you
will pull through
like you always have after other ordeals and calamities
no monday morning quarterbacking from these northern quarters
on this sunday morning
no idle and needless speculation
about why you were in that fateful plane in the first place
no cursing and swearing wondering why it had to be you

it really does not matter
what is crucial is to remember that you were once again
in the thick of things
this time celebrating a democratic victory
that you and i and many others like us
spent decades dreaming and planning for
what is crucial is to remember
that even though your name is once again stuck in the grey shadows
away from the bright limelight extolling the virtues of departed luminaries from the same crash
even though you are hardly mentioned
we know that without you and many others like you
there would be no luminaries going anywhere to celebrate anything

sister comrade i still remember
that even before i met you face to face
i knew who you were
from the indefatigable campaign
you and the comrades
in the london committee
for the release of political prisoners in kenya
did in agitating for our release when we were quarantined in the dungeons of kamiti by the kanu thugs
sister comrade i still remember
your work with ukenya and umoja and your energy
in attempting to unite kenyan progressives and revolutionaries
sister comrade
we all know how you had to go through personal hell
in fighting tooth and claw for the release of comrade wanyiri
while working twenty-four seven to put food on the table for your kids
sister comrade
i am sure that by your side are dozens of old and new compatriots and comrades
sister comrade
i am sure you know that all of us are by your side even though we are separated by vast oceans and humungous time zones
you know, where you lay breathing and struggling like you always have
you know that all your comrades are with you
urging you to hang tight
to keep up the fight to live to fight another day
sister comrade
i would be a liar
if i did not admit my worry and my fright
that we might lose you, one of our valuable fighters
to a freak happening so untimely as a flight gone awry
my fright, my fear keeps me up
even as i know you would probably say
don't cry for me, i'll be alright
and if something happens, it happens
because we have seen comrades sacrifice all
in the quest for a new dawn
comrade sister
i recently met your articulate daughter-virtually
and marveled that the child prodigy who wowed us
with her poem for her famous incarcerated dad
is now a woman in her own right claiming her own space
and felt proud that at least part of who she is
had a lot to do with the work you put in all those dark years
when we were marginalized and reviled by the forces of evil
comrade sister
i wish you a speedy and swift recovery
i long to hear your strong and familiar voice
chatting seriously across the atlantic
comrade sister
hold on tight
we are not about to give up on you
just yet.....

onyango oloo
sunday, 10:21 am january 26th, 2003

Like millions of other Kenyans back in those early, heady, still delirious and euphoric post-NARC victory days, I had just heard and seen the shocking news flash about the fateful plane-crash that would leave a freshly minted minister dead, other public officials injured and Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro trapped in a coma from which she was to never recover.

Two days ago I came home from work here in Nairobi and was stunned, watching the Nipashe newscast in Kiswahili on Citizen TV to learn that the resilient Wanjiru who had defied death for almost four years was no more.

What was shocking this time around was that many of us who knew members of Wanjiru’s family were getting more and more optimistic about the prospects for full recovery for one of Kenya’s most driven and focused progressive patriots. Indeed, chatting with Wanyiri not too long ago, I was moved and swayed by the hope and courage he inspired when he informed us that Wanjiru was fully conscious when she was addressed- she would make a physical movement or signal through her eyes that she understood what was being said.

Today, on October 15, 2006, on another Sunday morning, almost four years after that tragic mishap in Busia, here I am again, composing yet another premature obituary to yet another comrade gone too soon.

Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro has been all over the news.

There are those media outlets who would like to see her as just another appendage to Wanyiri Kihoro- merely referring to her as his wife, oblivious to her own gargantuan achievements as a socialist underground organizer, human rights campaigner, feminist, NARC activist, progressive academic, Pan Africanist, NGO pioneer and so on.

Of course, Wanjiru was a comrade, friend and companion to her loving husband Wanyiri. There is not one day that I have met Wanyiri over the last few months when it was not obvious that he adored and cared for his comrade Wanjiru.

Anybody who is familiar with the travails, the trials and tribulations of Wanyiri- the police harassment, the Nyayo House torture sessions; the detention without trial among other things- is aware that his biggest defender, his firmest shield was always Wanjiru.

Conversely, anyone who knows of the painful coma that Wanjiru was in over the last three plus years also knows that there has been no one more resilient, more present, and more optimistic about Wanjiru’s plight than the former Nyeri MP, lawyer, land economist, progressive democrat and reformer Wanyiri Kihoro.

To a former Kenyan political prisoner like me, Wanjiru Kihoro holds pride of place in my memories of those who stood by us through out all that what we had to go through in the early 1980s during the height of the Moi-KANU neo-colonial fascist reign of terror and error. Together with comrades and compatriots like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Abdilatif Abdallah, Shiraz Durrani, Shadrack Gutto, Micere Mugo, Yusuf Hassan and others who formed the London-based Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya she fought resolutely and tirelessly for those Kenyans who found themselves in the dungeons and detention pits of Kamiti, Naivasha, Shimo-la-Tewa, Kodiaga, Manyani, King’ong’o, Eldoret, Naivasha and elsewhere.

I remember meeting her for the first time over the phone sometime in early 1989 when I called from Toronto to thank her for fighting for our release. She came across as warm, with a generosity of spirit that she proved over the years as she shipped across the Atlantic Ocean progressive literature, music tapes and information that kept us in the loop of what clandestine comrades in Europe were doing to bring down the Moi dictatorship. She is the one who first introduced me to the Pan African activist music group known as The Voices of African Dawn fronted by a London- based Kenyan exile known as Wangui. Even though we later ended up in different, often feuding underground groups- she was in Mwakenya, while I was one of the founding members of the Me Katilili Revolutionary Movement- we remained united when it came to our socialist convictions, our patriotic commitment in fighting for a new Kenya and our mutual disdain for Johnny-Come- Lately political opportunists who crawled out of the KANU woodwork in the aftermath of the amendment to Section 2A of the constitution which effectively reintroduced multi-party politics in Kenya.

Reading some of the public eulogies in the press over the last two days, I felt a seething rage when I encountered the comments of Raphael Tuju, Martha Karua, Moody Awori and other members of Kibaki’s administration.

For the last three years

Wanjiru Kihoro has been suffering in hospital fighting to get back on her feet. Wanyiri and the broader families of Wanjiru and Wanyiri have been struggling almost single-handedly to bear the brunt of the crippling hospital costs. Save for the occasional and quite modest solidarity contributions from comrades, well-wishers and friends, there has been no one to assist Wanyiri and the family with the bills.

Yet, according to Ida Odinga who gave a very compelling testimony of the pain the families of political “dissidents” had to go through, Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro contributed SIXTEEN MILLION SHILLINGS to the NARC campaign that brought Kibaki to power. She gave 500,000 shillings each to the women candidates vying for parliament on a NARC ticket.

Another comradely and sisterly and quite powerful eulogy is in Njeri Kabeberi’s Sunday Standard weekly column.

A reliable source informed me several months ago that Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro was slated to become the NARC government's appointee as Kenyan High Commissioner to the UK.

Kenyans remember too vividly that had Moody Awori not assembled a high powered entourage to accompany him on those wasteful and bizarre NARC "home-coming victory parties", Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro would probably still be alive today because she would not have been on that plane.

These Tujus and these Moodys are today the biggest “mourners” of Wanjiru yet they are members of a government which did not a thing to ensure that the Kihoro family was not burdened with all these hospital bills. How much would it have taken the Kibaki administration to pick up the tab or even fly Wanjiru out for even more specialized treatment?

Granted that the NARC regime, consciously, callously and steadfastly ignored Wanjiru when she was in a coma, why then the ridiculous machozi ya mamba, where springs the disgusting crocodile tears?

Why hog the media limelight with fake condolences and see-through rambi rambis?

To twist the knife even further, what does Moody Awori choose to do barely 48 hours after Wanjiru’s death?

This is what Vice-President Moody Awori does:

He leads a convoy of some of the SURVIVORS of the 2003 tragedy like

Martha Karua back to the SCENE OF THE PLANE CRASH just to remind the Kihoro family that these cynical cabinet ministers are still alive and indifferent while Wanjiru family makes arrangements on how to give her a final send off.

How crass!

How cruel!

How insensitive!

Shame on you, waffling Vice-President!

Shame on you preening Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi!

Shame on you boisterous Raphael Tuju!

(UPDATE: In an earlier version of this post, I had grouped Martha Karua with those shameless members of the Kibaki administration who are busy shedding crocodile tears now after watching Wanjiru lying in a coma for years. I have since found out that on the contrary, Martha was one of Wanjiru's closest pals and kept constant touch with the family. Mea culpa-OO).

Personally I think that Wanyiri Kihoro who successfully sued the Kenyan state for wrongful confinment should reprise the speech he gave thirty- one years ago as a University of Nairobi student leader at the funeral of the murdered JM Kariuki. Wanyiri denounced the official emissaries that Kenyatta sent and exposed the neo-colonial hypocrisy of the Kenya government which first tortured JM to death and then had the nerve to send a Provincial Commissioner to convey some fake rambi rambis from Mzee. Quite memorably, irate mourners, led by militant university students sent the hapless PC packing. Maybe our comrade Ng’ang’a Thiong’o (another radical and patriotic lawyer like Wanyiri) who no doubt will be there should repeat what he said at Bildad Kaggia’s funeral when he angrily demanded to know what homungatis like Kimeendero John Michuki were doing at the mazishi of a freedom fighter like Mzee Kaggia-especially after years of official state neglect as Kaggia wasted away in ill-health and penury.

In the papers today (Sunday, October 15th, 2006) there is a small piece about a statue of Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi going up on Kimathi Street. I hope this will be followed by the setting up of a Truth and Justice Commission.

What the life and death of Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro underscores, along with the testimonies and histories of Bildad Kaggia, Makhan Singh, Mzee Tamaa, Wahome Mutahi, Katama Mkangi, Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili Williams and other wananchi’s heroes and sheroes is that as long as we are led by a government of sell-outs, collaborators and neo-colonial defenders, it will be up to the patriots and progressives of this nation to nurture their living comrades and give a warm send off to their departed Wazalendo.

It is a bit cliché ridden to tread on that worn “she will always live among us” path so I will not even attempt that route.

What I do know is that Wanjiru’s indefatigable love for her mother Kenya is proof positive that one day this beautiful country and her long suffering people will wake up from the decades-long nightmare of dictatorship, corruption, repression and broken promises to welcome a new day of social justice, democracy, gender equality, peace and progressive, sustainable development and national prosperity.

Hamba Kahle Ndugu Wanjiru!

PS: Click Here to read an essay the late Wanjiru Kihoro wrote on why so many African women are still so poor.

PSS: For the Busia Crash report, click here.

PSSS: For a profile of ABANTU, that Wanjiru Kihoro co-founded, click here.

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya


Girl in the Meadow said...

I love your tribute to Wanjiru Kihoro (Dr).

But it would be better not to politicize the issues. You might end up hurting the family more.

Kenya Democracy Project said...


thanks a bunch for your comment. i appreciate where you are coming from but i would respectfully want to differ with your sentiments.

all my interactions with the late dr. and comrade wanjiru kihoro have been infused through and through with politics-albeit of an alternative kind contrasting with mainstream politicking.

secondly, wanjiru herself was intensely political. her husband, wanyiri has been a political activist for over thirty years. one of her daughters is named pambana meaning struggle. her handle on one of kenya's busiest online forums was "pambana mwenyewe" meaning the "struggle herself".she was one of the founders of ukenya,an underground political movement based in london, and later umoja, founded in 1987. she was later an active member of mwakenya, certainly no knitting society. her parents were active in the mau mau war for national independence. her mother was one of the leaders of the mothers at freedom corner who agitated for the release of political prisoners in the early nineties. many of wanjiru's friends that i know are political people. the person who is heading her funeral committee is none other than gitobu imanyara,human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist. let me share with you what is happening today (monday, october 16, 2006) at the holy family basilica here in nairobi. this evening, from 6 pm has been set aside as a "human rights day for wanjiru" and will feature tributes from from former political prisoners, human rights lawyers, ex-detainees etc. my buddy ng'ang'a thiong'o-socialist, human rights lawyer, former political prisoner and ex-student leader-is the one who is introducting the human rights lawyers.

you know shiro, for some of us, "politics" is not some kanzu, agbada or kiteng'e that we don on and off. politics is part of our very being. so when you tell me "not to politicize issues", you are essentially suggesting that i should denude wanjiru's life of the essential juice that kept her going, all those years of dictatorship, detention, exile and what not. i am afraid that will not be possible.

still like i said, i appreciate your viewpoint and ahsante once again for taking the time to read through that rambling tribute.


Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Kenya

Monday, October 16, 2006 (11:23 am local time).

Mosaisi said...

Oloo stop this hypocrisy!

You are one of the people who has been openly against the pay-to-play game that has messed up our country. I find it hypocritical when you say that Dr. Wanjiru should have neen appointed High Commissioner because she contributed Sh 16M to the Kibaki campaign. I used to think that is corruption until you gave a new defination of corruption!

You also claim that the GOVERNMENT should have cleared Wanjiru's hospital bills. As a learned person, can you tell us from what vote that should come? Government has no money. Whatever government has comes from the pockets of millions of poor Kenyans who can hardly afford a single tablet of Panadol. Oloo should be advocating for a healthcare system where our taxes are used to offer us the basics of medical attentions and not a system where only the famous are have their bills paid.

Last but not least, i have a gripe about your claims that:

"Kenyans remember too vividly that had Moody Awori not assembled a high powered entourage to accompany him on those wasteful and bizarre NARC "home-coming victory parties", Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro would probably still be alive today because she would not have been on that plane.

I am one of the people who was opposed to the wasteful home-comming parties. I however do not buy your statement. Moody had a party; he invited people; the people took a plane; their pilot landed it on a runway that was short. Nobody force Wanjiru to board the plane. Karua did not take Wanjiru by the colar as you are trying to imply. Oloo, why do you have to be this cheap?

I suggested elsewhere that Raila should give Wanyiri a job in one of his multi-million chemical plants or hire him as a legal advissor to replace Otieno Kajwang (they thief who stole from his amputated client).

Oloo, you, Raila, Awuori, Karua, Kibaki and others should come together and contribute something towards Wanjiru's hospital bills and funeral. Dragging the GOVERNMENT into a personal matter is running away from your responsibility as a firnd to the Kihoros.

Rodgers Akombe

Kenya Democracy Project said...

Rodgers Akombe READ Before You Blast!

Dear "Mosaisi" aka Rodegrs Akombe:

Please resist the urge to open rapid fire comments that have NO FACTUAL BASIS.

I did Not say that Wanjiru should have been appointed High Commissioner because she contributed to the NARC campaign. Where did you get that ridiculous notion? I merely reported that a reliable source had indicated to me that she was slated for that post- for she was more than ably qualified have served the Kenyan community with distinction for years when the official government Kenyan diplomats shunned the same Kenyans abroad in the UK.

For your information, the government is going to help cover the costs. I urge YOU to ask THEM where the vote is going to be coming from.

Where does Raila Odinga come in? Please speak to the topic.

Incidentally I do not "sell" statements so the question of your buying or not buying my statements are neither here nor there.

By the way, having vented so vociferously, do you feel a little bit sated by now?

Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya Democracy Project said...

A coupla mea culpas. I mixed up the names/genders of Wanyiri and Wanjiru's offspring. Pambana is the young man. Amandla is the young lady.

Onyango Oloo
Nairobi Kenya