Ndolo Ayah: Leader who defended one-party rule with religious zeal

No one was spared, but journalists and diplomats were the most affected.

Saturday March 26 2016

Wilson Ndolo Ayah. The Makerere alumnus was first elected to Parliament, as MP for Kisumu Rural, in 1969, against the backdrop of strong anti-Jomo Kenyatta government sentiment in the region. PHILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Wilson Ndolo Ayah. The Makerere alumnus was first elected to Parliament, as MP for Kisumu Rural, in 1969, against the backdrop of strong anti-Jomo Kenyatta government sentiment in the region. PHILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Wilson Ndolo Ayah, who died on March 16 aged 83, was a flamboyant politician who defended the establishment with an almost religious zeal.

The politician will be buried in Kisumu on Saturday.

He had a frosty relationship with those who asked questions that did not please him or his seniors. No one was spared, but journalists and diplomats were the most affected.

I was once on the receiving end of his wrath for asking a question that he claimed embarrassed a president.

The Makerere alumnus was first elected to Parliament, as MP for Kisumu Rural, in 1969, against the backdrop of strong anti-Jomo Kenyatta government sentiment in the region.

This was the year Mr Tom Mboya was assassinated, and the opposition Kenya People’s Union banned and its leader, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, detained, all blamed on the Kenyatta government.

Together with Mr William Odongo Omamo, Mr Ayah was a member of a group of MPs from Nyanza who were seen to be in the camp that opposed Mr Odinga.

He could be moody and quick-tempered. When then Foreign Minister Robert Ouko, his political nemesis in Kisumu politics, was killed in 1990, President Daniel arap Moi appointed him to head the high-profile ministry.

Some time in October 1991, I was among journalists who accompanied the president on an official visit to Rwanda.

It was routine those days for reporters from various media houses to accompany the president on foreign trips.

As Foreign minister, Mr Ayah was part of the entourage.

The flight from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Koibanda Airport in Kigali was uneventful.

PLANE DOWNED

After landing at the airport, the presidential motorcade wound through Kigali streets to State House.

What disturbed me was that security all the way from the airport through the streets to State House was in the hands of heavily armed Belgian soldiers.

This was at a time then President Juvenal Habyarimana was facing agitation by thousands of Rwandan exiles, many of them in Uganda, to return home.

He opposed the return on the grounds that Rwanda was already overpopulated but many observers said he would have been forced to share power with the returnees, something he did not want.

Many of the refugees, including President Paul Kagame, who had fought in Mr Yoweri Museveni’s successful rebellion in Uganda, were openly talking of waging their own war in Rwanda.

At the end of the visit, Mr Habyarimana and President Moi addressed a press conference after issuing communiqués.

The Rwandan Foreign minister then asked if any journalist had a question.

I asked President Habyarimana what Belgian soldiers were doing in Rwanda. I added that I would hate to see British soldiers on the streets of Nairobi.

I could see Mr Ayah and other Kenyan ministers fidgeting in their seats.

Mr Habyarimana mumbled an answer, saying every country has treaties with foreign “friends” and the Belgian soldiers were part of “aid” to Rwanda.

It was on the return flight that a furious Ayah confronted me, demanding to know why I had “embarrassed” the President by asking such “an obnoxious” question.

My fellow journalists were dumbfounded but I never answered back. He said next time the President was going on a trip, the Nation would be excluded.

MOI DEFENDER

From JKIA, my colleagues, led by KTN’s Joseph Warungu, trailed our car up to Nation House on Tom Mboya Street, fearing that I would be arrested as Kenya was still under the intolerant one-party rule.

In 1994, Mr Habyarimana died when his plane was shot down in Kigali as he returned from peace talks, while the crisis caused by the Rwanda Patriotic Army, which had invaded from Uganda, escalated.

The mystery surrounding the downing of that plane has never been resolved 22 years on and its black box still remains in one of the European capitals.

It led to a monumental genocide and the rest is history.

And as Foreign minister, Mr Ayah is most remembered for defending the Moi government to the hilt against international pressure demanding a repeal of Section 2(a) in the old constitution, which made Kenya a single party by law.

Leading the onslaught at the time was the US ambassador to Kenya, Mr Smith Hempstone, who met freely with opposition crusaders.

Mr Ayah was to describe him as “a racist behaving like a slave owner in Africa”. And as Kanu chairman, Mr Ayah was among politicians who never wanted to hear anything about multi-partyism.

In Parliament Mr Ayah spoke out against the marginalisation of Luo Nyanza and argued that the region was part of Kenya.