Francis Nyenze easily switched between humour and being serious

Thursday December 7 2017

Francis Nyenze

Francis Nyenze, who died on December 6, 2017, being sworn in as Kitui West MP on August 31, 2017. He had an oxygen tank. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By JOHN NGIRACHU
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On August 31, as MPs were being sworn in, Francis Mwanzia Nyenze strode into the National Assembly’s chambers dragging a small oxygen tank.

The 60-year-old third-term MP had lain low for a while and some outside Kitui County could not remember that he had been re-elected in Kitui West.

The swearing-in was a quick affair and, after shaking a few hands, he left Parliament without talking to journalists.

He would, however, return a call from this writer soon after and volunteer information about his ailment, saying he had contracted pneumonia a week before the elections and put on oxygen support by doctors.

“Now they are weaning me out of it and at least I can stay for a day,” said Mr Nyenze. “Before, I could not stay for an hour.

“I came for the swearing-in and I wanted Kenyans to know that I have not been well and they need to pray for me.”

OXYGEN TANK

However, he was emphatic that the oxygen tank was not a necessity as such, saying he had figured that having it would help him to jump the queue.

That was partly true and the concern was evident as one of the sergeants-at-arms volunteered to carry the tank, despite the fact that it had wheels, and MPs showed a lot of concern for the former Minority Leader.

Mr Nyenze needed not have worried about the queue though as MPs were ranked in seniority and he was high up on the list. His name had actually been read out.

The “confession” of a plot to jump the queue was, however, characteristic of Mr Nyenze.

He easily switched between humour and being serious.

SING AND DANCE

On Parliamentary retreats, he would pick up a guitar and sing and dance with ease at the end of a day of tough deliberations.

In the twilight months of the last Parliament, he made a habit of surprising both his opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) colleagues and Jubilee Party rivals.

In April, soon after the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) gave direct nominations to selected candidates, he said that was bad for democracy and had effectively killed the proposal for joint Nasa nominations.

“I think these are the highest bidders. They are giving to people who have mostly contributed to the party. These are people who give money to the party,” he said.

“If it were Wiper doing that, they would be condemning it,” said Mr Nyenze. “Now, because they have done it, joint nominations will never be there.”

ULTIMATUM

Just a week before, Mr Nyenze had caused a stir when he issued a seven-day ultimatum for the coalition’s coordinating committee to hold a meeting to decide on a presidential candidate. 

He was among those who loudly demanded that ODM and Nasa leader Raila Odinga honour a 2013 agreement with his later-to-be-running mate Kalonzo Musyoka and let the Wiper party leader be the opposition’s presidential candidate.

The man who served as Environment and then Sports minister in Daniel arap Moi’s last term as President did not hold back despite being in the same coalition as ODM.

RABBLE-ROUSER

Mr Nyenze was seen as playing the role of rabble-rouser for Wiper within Nasa and did not falter, calling up individual journalists to state his position – and apparently telling each that he trusted them and was certain they would transmit his message unfiltered and uncoloured.

Off the record, the former minister would also tell journalists that he did not mind Uhuru Kenyatta being President because they were friends from their time together in Kanu, where they both served as ministers under Moi.

LEADERS MOURN

Following his death Wednesday, House leaders mourned him as a man who always spoke his mind.

“Francis Nyenze was a soft-spoken man but he would stand by what he thought. He was a nationalist. He was always on the side of what is good for Kenya. Some of us sometimes we spearhead party interests,” said Majority Leader Aden Duale.

Minority Leader John Mbadi had similar things to say about his predecessor.

“He would listen to you and if convinced, change his mind, which is rare with some of us leaders,” he said.

“We know how he became Leader of Minority and that is how he was able to get the confidence of a majority of us for the last four and a half years,” he said.

MINORITY LEADER

When Mr Nyenze was appointed Minority Leader, the opposition was exploring means to get Mr Musyoka to the National Assembly after losing in the 2013 General Election. The former Vice President was to take the position from Mr Nyenze but the plan to get him into Parliament collapsed as it was not legally possible.

Majority Whip Benjamin Washiali said Mr Nyenze’s death had given him the opportunity to wonder why good people die.

“If I was given an opportunity to choose who is to go, I have a number of candidates here. If I was given an opportunity to choose between Nyenze and some of my colleagues here, he would still be alive,” he said.

Mr Nyenze was born on June 2, 1957.

He went Kyome Boys and Kagumo High School and then graduated from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Design in 1984.

He obtained a Masters of Business Administration degree from Moi University in 2005.