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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 August, 2003, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Obituary: Michael Kijana Wamalwa

by Gray Phombeah
BBC, Nairobi

Friends and supporters of Michael Kijana Wamalwa described him as a gentleman who liked to read Shakespeare, listen to classical music and watch cartoons on television.

Kijana was his nickname - meaning a young person in Kiswahili - because he was thought to be too young for politics when he first attempted to enter parliament at the age 30 in 1974.

But his ill-health was to become the metaphor for the new government after his opposition coalition swept to power in elections last December, ending 24 years of rule under President Daniel arap Moi.

Over the last six months, Kijana Wamalwa was repeatedly admitted to hospital in London, suffering from various ailments.

And the end came on an English summer morning at the Royal Free hospital in London where he was undergoing treatment.

'Kenya's Englishman'

Wamalwa, born in 1944, studied law and once practised as a barrister before establishing himself as an opposition stalwart during former President Moi's rule.

Michael Kijana Wamalwa and his wife Yvonne
Wamalwa married just months before his death

For decades, Kijana Wamalwa survived the infighting in Kenya's fractured opposition and allegations of sleaze to forge a united opposition with President Mwaki Kibaki last year which won a landslide victory in the 2002 elections.

But all was not well with the man many regarded as Kenya's Englishman.

In the run-up to the December election, he joined Mwai Kibaki at the Royal Free Hospital in London where President Kibaki was admitted for injuries sustained in a road accident on the campaign trail in Kenya.

They both returned home in time for the December election victory.

Glimpse of romance

But a few weeks later Wamalwa was back in the same London hospital - this time suffering from what he himself described as high concentration of uric acid in his body.

His death comes at time when the public euphoria that greeted the election victory of the opposition alliance has been replaced by anxiety
He seemed to have recovered and returned home to marry his long-time partner in a wedding that offered Kenyans a glimpse of royal romance.

He proposed to the bride in Shakespearean English, and on the wedding day his wife arrived at a Nairobi church in a Ford vintage car. Wamalwa himself sported a morning coat.

Just two months later, Wamalwa returned to the Royal Free Hospital for another check-up - leading to widespread speculation that his health was worse than doctors had been letting on.

His death comes at time when the public euphoria that greeted the election victory of the opposition alliance has been replaced by anxiety over the new government's ability to deliver on its election campaign promises.

Already internal rows over the creation of the post of a prime minister threatens to split the alliance and add fuel to the power struggle in the government.

Both Wamalwa and President Kibaki have been dogged by ill-health since the National Rainbow Coalition took power in December.

Wamalwa's death is therefore likely to shift the focus to the President's own state of health.


SEE ALSO:
Kenya's new era assessed
08 Apr 03  |  Africa
Kenyan leader back in hospital
20 Jan 03  |  Africa
New Kenyan leader names cabinet
03 Jan 03  |  Africa
Boost for Kenyan opposition
09 Dec 02  |  Africa


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