Letters from TZ

Death, where is thy sting?

There’s a girl I’ve known since the first grade. We grew up together. Her mother and I were from the same community. Her father is a Dane who has lived in Africa for much of his life. That notwithstanding, he moved the family to Denmark just after my friend and I were done with Grade 8. They left Kenya for Horsens, a quiet Danish city, about 170km west of the capital Copenhagen. And with her mother and brothers, have been there ever since.

Many years have passed and it has been a long time since we last spoke. So I was stunned when last Friday, at about 11.30PM, she sent an email saying that her mother had passed after a long battle with cancer. “It was quiet and peaceful, but it’s hard and we miss her,” she wrote. It was heart breaking to read. More so because, my friend who had cared for her mother all through her illness, now had to plan her funeral.

She barely had any energy left but found herself having to imagine what her African mother would have wanted for a funeral that was going to happen on Danish soil. “We Scandinavians plan our funerals in advance, so it’s a bit difficult organising Mum’s service because she never told me what she wanted,” she wrote. It struck me that even after being in Denmark for 20-plus years, Mum remained African in her attitude toward death. She didn’t speak of it. Not even as it hung over her life like a dark cloud.

In some ways, my friend was blessed to be by her mother’s side in the last few months of her life. But anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer will know that that blessing is the most bittersweet thing. It is not easy to watch someone who was so full of life, waste away to the very point of death. When death does come, it leaves a stain that marks its survivors for life. You are never quite the same again.

As I received this news, my sister was enroute to Uganda, travelling with a good friend who is also very ill with cancer. The doctors had advised that the best place for her friend to be was at home in Uganda, with her family. My sister has been at her side for much of the illness, experiencing that sour goodness that life serves up when death beckons. It is the kind of happy sadness that is reserved for those whose lives cancer has marked for life.

While all this was happening, news broke that Mutula Kilonzo, former Kenyan minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and newly elected Senator for Makueni was found dead in his up country home. Suddenly. Just like that. No wasting away. No long illness. No nothing. Just dead and gone forever. It was shocking to hear. Rather than being stunned into silence, among ordinary Kenyans the conspiracy theories began forthwith. Everything pointed to the usual suspects but juicier stories were told about Mutula the man, the 12 million T-shillings he spent every month to feed his adopted lions, his penchant for the ladies and the unique relationships he had with this wives. Another friend was tickled by the predictability of it all, specifically the women in Mutula’s life. “When an African man dies, women always come out of the woodwork! Someone should do a study about it. Or a play. It would be fascinating to watch,” she said. Indeed.

But for all Mutula’s perceived faults and peculiarities, he did give life to a daughter who will match his legacy achievement for achievement, and surpass it by miles. Diana Kethi Kilonzo was thrust onto the world stage as counsel for Africog, during the petition proceedings that were initiated by the Cord Coalition, disputing the results of the March 4th general election. Her finessed but completely unaffected submissions before the Supreme Court were reminiscent of a young Mutula, a man who friends say, rarely lost a case. In his daughter’s defining moment, he was less lawyer and more proud papa, as he watched Ms Kilonzo take on the establishment with fervour and fearlessness. In the raising and mentoring of one of Kenya’s finest legal minds, the late Mutula made his greatest contribution to the nation. May he rest in peacefully in that knowledge.