By Jerry Okungu
September 17, 2012
Cancer the silent killer has once more claimed a great Kenya in his prime. And with that fall, David has gone to his maker with his dreams of a better Kenya and a greater East Africa.
But it is not just David’s dreams that have been dashed by the cruel hand of death. With him are dreams of his wife Dorcas Nyar Kisumo and her children, some too young to under the magnitude of his demise.
David has also gone with the dreams of many friends and relatives who had urged him to become the first governor of Kisumu County while some of us thought he would make a great Cabinet Secretary or even the Head of the Public Service in the next dispensation.
Others whose dreams have been dashed by David’s demise are the citizens of East Africa who saw him as a great champion of regional integration and an astute negotiator at the regional and world trade conferences. The man was a strong believer in the East African Customs Union, Common Market, Monetary Union and ultimately Regional Integration.
David was a family man, a loving father, husband and son. He was a community leader of no mean repute. He saw the need to uplift the community that nurtured him into a full grown successful man that he was. It was the reason he would easily accept to be a board chairman of this and that secondary school without using his tight East African schedule as an excuse.
Colleagues who have worked with him all his life knew him as a fair manager, an organizer, a thoroughly schooled strategic thinker and a diligent planner who left nothing to chance.
Above all, after over two decades in the Public Service, David left the scene without a single blemish on his name and character.
He believed in the proper utilization of public resources for the common good and disdained personal enrichment through his office. He led and cherished a simple life according to his means.
I met David Obonyo Nalo one morning at the PanAfric Hotel in early 2005. It was purely by accident. At that time he had been the Permanent Secretary for two years after moving from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics as its first CEO following the conversion of the Bureau from a department in the Ministry of Planning into a state corporation.
The reason why I met David was because the then Chairman of the African Peer Review Mechanism, Mrs. Grace Akumu wanted me to meet him. I had never seen or heard of him even though I later learnt that he came from my home in Ahero. I guess the reason our paths never crossed was simply because he went to college long after I had gone and as I was busy burying myself in the corporate world, he was busy immersing himself in the public service trying to make a difference.
The occasion was to launch the APRM to stakeholders in Kenya so that Kenya could embark on the process of the AU review. With him at his table was Prof. Anyang’ Nyongo’ my former teacher at the university and a good friend of decades.
On my arrival, Prof. Nyongo’ invited me to join them which I did. However, when David greeted me using my first name I acted as if I too knew him. Only later did Grace Akumu formally introduce me to him as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Planning for National Development where Anyang’ was the Minister then.
Although in those days I was mostly in Somaliland working on the International Republican Institute programme, I didn’t imagine that David would want me to work with him on the APRM project until one day in early May I got a call from Nairobi to come home urgently to join NEPAD Kenya as the Communications Advisor. By the time I landed in Nairobi, Nalo had already signed my contract without negotiating the terms with me.
That same month, he was suddenly moved to the Ministry of Trade and Industry leaving the Ministry he had grown to love in his entire working career.
Difficult as the transition was, with Graca Machel and Nelson Mandela arriving in Kenya for two weeks for the APRM, we pulled through with advice from him from time to time especially in handling the bureaucratic red tape that was everywhere.
As the Permanent Secretary in the ministries of Trade and EAC, I had to meet David on numerous occasions on East African matters both in Arusha and Nairobi. It was during these meetings that I came across the other side of David.
One day when we met at a meeting in Arusha, David casually asked me where I was putting up. I informed him that the EAC had booked me in some expensive hotel outside the Arusha CBD. At lunch time he offered to take me to where he was staying. It was a simple cheap but elegant hotel. Moreover, it gave him the privacy he badly needed after every grueling day. That evening, I checked out of my five star hotel and joined him. Thereafter, David’s hotel became my hotel whenever I was in Arusha.
As we moved towards the Common Market protocol, David and I shared many ideas about the hurdles the EAC was facing in realizing a genuine regional integration. He shared with me his frustrations because he knew I had a passion for regional integration which was evident in my columns in Kenya and Uganda.
He was a tough negotiator who believed that the EAC protocols had to be followed to the letter. It was the reason he believed that after Juma Mwapacho, the next Secretary General would come from Kenya. When I took him on reminding him that the EAC first Secretary General was Francis Muthaura, he politely reminded me that Muthaura was merely a coordinator and that the first SG was from Uganda!
Soon after the promulgation of Kenya’s new constitution, David started rethinking his career in public service. He would tell me quite often that he would rather be governor in Kisumu to help uplift the lives of his people. Despite my persuading him to remain in government and await appointment as a cabinet secretary, he was adamant that his time was up in the civil service.
It is strange that I am writing this eulogy for David when he should have done it for me. This cancer which has taken David attacked me earlier than David although of another kind. And when I returned from the USA in late last year, David was one of the people that presided at my fundraiser when the bills were hitting the roof. I had to later learn that when he came to my function, he was already ailing and like I before, earlier diagnosis was way of the mark.
As David continued to battle his lymphoma, I was a constant visitor in his home and hospital bed, at times visiting him late into the night in hospital masquerading as his driver in order to be allowed to go in. Once in we would spend hours, sometimes help him walk so that we could go and sit outside. He needed company and I knew that.
When it was time to go to Nebraska, I made sure I informed my friends and relatives in the USA and Nebraska to receive him and cheer him up. Those contacts did not let David down.
On his return, he was more energetic and optimistic. I was happy to see him smile again and go for walks with me in the neighborhoods. I did not know that his condition would go downhill so fast.
When he was readmitted at Nairobi Hospital for the last time, I visited him twice and twice I was not allowed to see him. However, on both occasions I wrote him letters; letters I’m sure he never had the strength to read!
On his last Sunday in that hospital, his wife Dorcas called me at 6pm that David’s condition had worsened and that we should meet in the hospital immediately. I rushed there and met the entire family. Despite this condition, he lasted another four days.
On Thursday morning of September 13, I received another call from his wife Dorcas this time at 2am in the morning. I didn’t have to be told what had happened. I rushed to the hospital and met his family there. David had died eight minutes before I arrived.
No more words Wuod Ahero!
Remain in peace till we meet again.