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FAREWELL TO MAMA PAMELA MBOYA; A RARE KENYAN INDEED

At this moment in history, when Kenyans are mourning their own; the victims of two fire tragedies, I beg to remember Pamela Mboya.

At this time when Kenyans are gathered at All Saints Cathedral to offer special prayers to their dead in different fire tragedies; when others are gathered at the Kenyatta Conference Centre to talk about the Kenya they want; I have chosen to remember Pamela Mboya.

As I sat at the Holy Family Basilica to bid farewell to Pamela Mboya, many thoughts came crossing my mind. My mind took me back, twenty and even forty years back to see how many times I had come in contact with the late Pamela Mboya. I realized that they were not many but they were unforgettable.

Then I remembered her many siblings and relatives that I had come to know so well over so many years. I remembered her brother Jorry Odede, the late Dr. Oki Ooko Ombaka, Pam Ombaka, her sisters Monique Odede and Ray Odede.

In the early 1980s when I was an active theatre personality, her step daughter Alaki Mboya took me to her residence along State House Avenue. At that time she was Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the Habitat. The memory of a warm welcome to her house remained engraved in my memory.

A few years later, we would meet at a petrol station in Nakuru as we filled our cars with fuel on our way to Western Kenya. I remember Pamela in a blue Volvo always being chauffeured by a young slim tall man. Anytime we met, she would gladly say hello with a smile; a reminder that she had never forgotten meeting me in her house with her step daughter despite her fame and status in life.

Years later when I was working in Kisumu, I met her at the Kisumu Airport. I had gone to pick someone from the airport. As we stopped for a little chat, she suddenly received bad news that he father in-law, Mzee Ndiege had died! In minutes she burst into tears wondering aloud what to do. Meanwhile, her driver was no where to be seen. Instinctively, her first reaction was to rush to Rusinga Island to join her husband’s family at their moment of grief. All I remember is that I offered her lift to the Kisumu Bus stop so that she could board the earliest means to Homa Bay and Rusinga.

I never saw Pamela Mboya again until after the referendum in 2006 when a group of us were trying to jumpstart the stalled constitution. She had been enlisted as one of the eminent persons to reignite the process. At that time I realized that she had not been well. She had lost her robustness that I had associated her with all my life. However, her charm and ability to remind me of our earlier contacts was refreshing.

As I listened to the many beautiful speeches about her life, I saw Charles Njonjo sitting humbly in the crowd; just like many prominent Kenyans who Mboya could have aged with had it not been for the cruel hand of an assassin who decided to pluck him away from us at the tender age of 39. Then a strange feeling engulfed me that there was a real possibility that Mboya might have been the one burying his wife today at the age of 79 had that crazy assassin not decided to kill him on that Saturday afternoon on July 5th 1969.

Then I wondered aloud why Charles Njonjo; the man folklore recognizes as Mboya’s best man the day he wedded Pamela was not given an opportunity to pay tribute to the woman he was witness to her wedding. But again, such weighty matters are left to planners and family members of the deceased.

As I sat there in the church listening to people talking about her; I wondered aloud how much so many people knew her in their different ways. But what struck me most was one coincidence. That here we were on February 5th. bidding her farewell in a church and possibly the same spot where the body of her husband Thomas Mboya lay 40 years earlier five months to the day. Then I remembered that as Tom Mboya was gunned down on July 5th at midday; we were bidding farewell to Pamela on February 5th at midday exactly five months to the day Mboya departed from us.

Where were Pamela and her children the day Tom died? How did they take the bad news? Perhaps all of them were too young to know what was going on. Then I remembered that hot cloudy Saturday afternoon in the streets of Kisumu. As captured in the yet to be published” A Nation in Tears”:

It is Saturday morning, a bit cloudy in the sky, nothing special about this July 5th. 1969. We are in Kisumu town for nothing specific. As young boys, a bit of window-shopping crowned by a hearty meal in a favorite downtown market restaurant is all we need to make our day before we go chasing our dates in the afternoon.

We are around the Kisumu Municipal Market, commonly known as Jubilee Market or Chiro Mbero according to Luos. In this market stands proudly one Galilee Restaurant famous for its hot samaki dishes or chicken stew with steaming ugali. 

As we approach the doorway, the big transistor radio hanging on the wall booms music into our ears; a sure sign that beyond food we are also getting extra entertainment as an incentive!

We line up at the only sink available and wash our hands ready for a meal.

It is about 1pm now. As we are about to take our seats, the normal music program on VOK is interrupted by a very familiar voice, one Leonard Mambo Mbotela. Before he utters another word I instinctively tell Simiyu that something bad has happened, somebody important is dead!

Then the inevitable blares out of the box: We regret to inform you all fellow Kenyans that the Minister for Economic Planning, Thomas Joseph Adhiambo Mboya has been shot dead in a chemist shop along Government Road in Nairobi!

We cannot… we cannot move. We feel numb, even dead. Hit by a bombard, paralyzed and immobilized. Feeling dazed is traumatic. You feel like the world has come to an end. Some people are difficult to imagine dead!

We regain our presence of mind. We smell trouble. May be riots and violence, anything bad! 

It has not been said yet. Not on radio. No, not yet. But we know, each one of us knows. Perhaps all of us know, but we are not sharing it, that the killer must be……!

We rush to the streets. Word is out. TJ is dead! He has been assassinated by a lone gunman in the year of the first general elections since independence. In fact five months to be precise before elections are called.

We get into the first transport available to take us back to school, to be next to the radio for details.

Details of the killer begin to filter in. Leonard Mambo Mbotela is back with the 4pm full bulletin: The gunman shot him six times in the chest then fled into the streets vanishing in the crowd. The police have the identity of the suspect. He is a Yugoslavian trained gunman known as Naashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge!

Our suspicions proved right. It was a Kikuyu gunman as we predicted.

The whole country erupts in an orgy of violence. The anti- Kikuyu wave is sweeping across Nyanza, Nairobi, Nakuru and Mombasa. Kenyatta is besieged. The government is in turmoil. The architect of KANU is dead, killed by KANU. And with his death, KANU as a party dies in Nyanza.

It is a weeklong of mourning. The whole nation is grieving. The young and the old alike; beggars and prostitutes join hands with the affluent. Christians, Muslims and all; we all grieve with the same passion for the man we all loved so dearly yet we really never knew! In the evenings we must walk in groups looking for one social hall where a TV is installed to watch news bulletins.

The pictures on the screen are real! It is devastating. His body is in a pool of blood. His body is still! His wife, her young children, brothers and parents! The scene is awful.

We are afraid. We are angry too. For the first time we begin to question the meaning of life and death. We question the meaning of existence. Why should man live only to die the way Tom died? What right did this gunman have over Mboya’s life?

For the first time we feel real hatred against ourselves for having been so powerless when this man was dying. We slowly begin to vent our anger on the innocent around us, an innocent Kikuyu commoner who had nothing to do with Mboya’s assassination!

If this chapter captures the mood that Pamela went through those many years; may be it is time she went to her maker to join the husband she loved so much and grieved for so much.

Fare thee Nyar Uyoma

Fare thee well min Jo Kenya

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