PHOTO | FILE Mr Joseph Martin Shikuku. NATION MEDIA GROUP
By EMMAN OMARI
Friday, August 24 2012
Shikuku was in the group of Kenyans who went to Lancaster House in London to negotiate for independence from Britain
A free-talking hardliner, Shikuku would engage all and sundry, even on the streets, and chide journalists for thriving on “Shikuku’s newspaper headlines” to earn a living
When history books are written on the evolution of democracy in Kenya, the names of Mr Shikuku and the people he fought with will be immortalised in the same way the 13 Americans who went to Philadelphia to write the independence constitution of the United States of America were
The death, on Wednesday, of Mr Joseph Martin Shikuku marked the end of an era for a politician who had lived in three different worlds.
First, Mr Shikuku belonged to the group of Kenyans who went to the Lancaster House Conference in London in the 1962 to negotiate for Kenya’s independence from Britain. (IN PICTURES: Martin Shikuku)
Apart from President Kibaki and retired President Moi, who rose to the pinnacle of power, the freedom fighters’ generation has fizzled into oblivion over the years.
Second, Mr Shikuku lived in his own world, many years ahead of his peers and other Kenyans. He aspired and lived a transparent life – not poor and not rich.
He set up an anti-corruption committee in Parliament in 1975, long before the government’s anti-graft editions. The government of the day disbanded the committee as soon as it began its sittings.
Mr Shikuku was among the few post-independence leaders who advocated for the declaration of wealth and how it was acquired.
He would declare that he had five wives, many children (for it is taboo for an African to count his children), 100 acres in Kiminini, Bungoma County, a piece of land in Mombasa, and how he acquired them.
He never participated in Harambees because he saw fund-raisers as a source of corruption.
His philosophy was that he was employed by the people to be their “watchman,” and the people pay taxes for the government to provide services and development.
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Third, Mr Shikuku was detained by the Kenyatta regime and lived to fight for the second liberation after two decades of Kanu misrule.
He had peers who fought for independence and the second liberation, but none was in his world called transparency.
A free-talking hardliner, Shikuku would engage all and sundry, even on the streets, and chide journalists for thriving on “Shikuku’s newspaper headlines” to earn a living.
“I have never been to any university, but no university in the world has a department called Faculty of Experience,” the son of Reuben Oyondi would tell me.
He often repeated the same to new-comer MPs in Parliament.
Reason? He was a stickler for parliamentary rules and procedures derived not only from the Kenyan Parliament but from the Commonwealth.
He memorised every quote from Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice in the Commonwealth, the document that holds centuries old parliamentary precedents in the world.
Indeed, at one time he challenged the late Prof George Saitoti (then newly-nominated in 1983 and made Finance minister) from the floor of the House to tell him what Standing Order Number One says – which Saitoti failed to do. It says: “Where it is not provided for, Mr Speaker shall rule.”
Even at 79, Mr Shikuku was still a fast driver behind the wheel just as he was in his youthful days.
Before he fell sick, he once had an accident along the Eldoret-Webuye Road. “I was only doing 130 kph” he told me.
So, where are the rest of the Lancaster House generation?
While Mr Shikuku has gone to his maker to join other Lancaster House politicians who include founding President Kenyatta, Achieng Oneko, Ronald Ngala, Tom Mboya, Argwings Kodhek and Jean Marie Seroney, the generation is growing smaller by the day.
Three politicians, retired President Daniel arap Moi, former Cabinet minister Ngala Mwendwa and former Kamukunji MP George Nthenge, are the only ones alive among those who went to negotiate the first constitution in 1962.
Then there are those who did not go to Lancaster House but made a contribution in the fight for independence.
Former Cabinet ministers Joseph Daniel Otiende and James Osogo, John Keen and President Mwai Kibaki played leading roles in their youthful years in the fight for independence.
While Mr Moi lives away in the comfort of retirement, Mr Mwendwa and Mr Nthenge live in poverty in Kitui and Nairobi respectively. There was hope when the new Constitution that recognises mashujaa (heroes) was promulgated with the hope that such people who did public duty to help realise independence would be rewarded.
So far, there is no fund at the Treasury set aside for their upkeep, apart from taking up seats on October 20 during public celebrations marking Mashujaa Day.
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Mr Otiende, 93, who was in Kenyatta’s first Cabinet, lives in poverty in Vihiga County while Mr Osogo has also retreated to his Busia County.
Mr Keen, who at independence owned big tracts of land around Nairobi, is the only one outside Kibaki and Moi who lives comfortably in his palatial home in Langata.
Margaret Kenyatta, 92, is one politician whose role in the fight for independence is usually swept under the carpet.
She was among the few women who played leading roles in passing information to political groups ahead of the Lancaster House talks.
Margaret, the first daughter of the founding president, rose to become Nairobi mayor and served in other State roles.
She has retired from public life and lives in Nairobi.
Among his peers in the second liberation, Mr Shikuku’s exit leaves behind Mr Kenneth Matiba, Mr Charles Rubia, Mr Nthenge and Mr Mohamed Bahmariz.Together with the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Masinde Muliro, Philip Gachoka and Salim Ndamwe, they founded the Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford) pressure group in 1990, whose relentless fight in Nairobi streets led to the re-introduction of multiparty democracy.
Detained and released under Moi, Mr Matiba and Mr Rubia lead quiet lives doing their businesses in Nairobi and Mombasa.
Mr Bahmariz shuttles between Kenya and Yemen on personal businesses.
When history books are written on the evolution of democracy in Kenya, the names of Mr Shikuku and the people he fought with will be immortalised in the same way the 13 Americans who went to Philadelphia to write the independence constitution of the United States of America were.