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With funerals, the deceased’s wishes must be paramount

Sunday August 4 2019

Ken Okoth

The late Kibra MP Ken Okoth. He has left a blueprint for other leaders to follow. I doubt he would be amused by the family quarrels that broke out after his death. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GITAU WARIGI
By GITAU WARIGI
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Why is it that ugly dramas must always erupt whenever a prominent person has died? All of a sudden you hear disputes over choice of burial place, obscure spouses crawl out of the woodwork, and of course there are the usual fights about property and inheritance. It is unseemly.

PUBLIC BRAWLS

From accounts of those who knew him, Kibra’s Ken Okoth was a very hardworking MP, an inspirational leader – and a good man too. I hear he was also a meticulous person who carefully planned for his departure from the time he knew he was dying from cancer. I doubt he would be amused by the family quarrels that broke out after his death.

The contrast with the concurrent, trouble-free funeral ceremonies for Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso could not have been starker. I subscribe to the view that it is the proper thing to do to follow the deceased’s wishes. If he desired to be cremated, so be it. Respect his wish.

If it is deemed there are cultural impediments to those wishes, it’s best they are resolved within the family, away from screaming newspaper headlines. Public brawls between family and so-called clan elders don’t do honour to anybody, particularly the person we want to give a dignified send-off. Culture is not static. It evolves. That is true of every community.

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, who described himself as a friend of Okoth, introduced a fresh twist about a love relationship between the MP and a woman called Anne Thumbi. Sonko did so at a public memorial for Okoth attended by his Kibra constituents at the Nairobi Girls School. Out of the relationship a son was born called Jayden Baraka. The governor also disclosed that through his friendship with the MP, he nominated the woman to become an MCA of Nairobi County (which is odd, for I thought political parties do the nominations).

It’s okay for Sonko to raise the issue of the young boy and the fact that he deserves recognition as Okoth’s biological son. My problem was with the forum. Some matters are very touchy, especially when uttered carelessly in front of the legal wife. If Okoth wanted the story of another woman in his life kept secret, then Sonko owed it to his friend to keep it that way. It’s not his responsibility to sort out family dysfunctions that are not his. Alternately, if the matter concerned him that deeply, he should have put it across in a more agreeable and private way – ideally through the relatives – rather than at a very public function.

It has not been indicated that Ms Thumbi was legally married to Okoth, other than being an intimate partner with whom they got a son. That is why she quickly went to court to win the recognition she believes she and the boy deserves. It has been suggested that the MP left a will in which he provided for the son, whom he loved. Shouldn’t that be enough? Not all women who have children out of wedlock are as fortunate to have the children taken care of when the lovers they cohabit with die.

SECRET LIAISONS

A magistrate then granted Ms Thumbi an injunction stopping the burial or cremation of the late MP until a court case on the matter of Jayden’s paternity was heard and determined. Ms Thumbi’s fear was that if the cremation went ahead the chance would be lost to match Okoth’s DNA with that of her son. But this fear is misplaced: Samples are normally taken from the body and preserved for tests before cremation takes place. It wasn’t necessary to block the funeral when the DNA issue and the question of child support (which most people believe is at the bottom of this saga) will be dealt with later.

I agree with former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s observation at the memorial service that our courts should learn to be circumspect and avoid wading into every controversy, more so family issues. There are times when it is wise to act as arbitrators rather than be seen to be fanning family squabbles.

Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo also stepped into the controversy by vowing to sponsor an amendment to the Marriage Act to compel men to make public all their children born with their “mpango wa kandos.” The intention may be good, but I wish her luck in trying to pass her amendment in the male-dominated Parliament. And in case Ms Odhiambo doesn’t know, there are women who may not necessarily want their secret liaisons publicised.

Happily, all’s well that ends well. On Friday, the court lifted the order barring the cremation after a consent agreement was entered by the feuding parties. It was also agreed that DNA samples be taken to prove Jayden’s paternity, and that the boy be fully involved in the funeral ceremonies. The private cremation took place Saturday in Nairobi, as per Okoth’s wish.

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