TRIBUTE TO DARIUS MBELA
In true Shakespearean fashion, I am here not to
bury Darius Mbela, but to praise him!
Starting with our epic musical combat at the Kenya Schools
Music Festival in 1977, I shall never forget how he,
as a private entrant, humbled me into third position
in that year’s Tenor Open Class category. The category
had attracted several entrants, including a Mr.
Bisamunyu who won first prize.
Although both Darius Mbela and I lost out in the
grueling annual contest, I, nevertheless, had instantly taken
a liking to him, acknowledging his mastery of the
vocal cords, originality and stage presence, in the
process. He had been a composer, trainer and a singer
of choral music at St. Stephen’s Church for twenty one
years in total. No wonder the man could raise his
voice to such high decibels!
His moment of glory as a composer came when the late
President Jomo Kenyatta passed on in August 1978.
Without further ado, Darius Mbela and his St
Stephen’s Troupe composed and sang the famous Kenyatta
dirges that dulled the national pain of losing the
founding Father. With this kind of soulful mourning,
it was not until several months later that the nation actually
felt the shock.
I had launched my own short-lived solo lyrical
adventure into the Music Festivals, as a break-away
act from the Alliance High School’s mass choir in
which I had been a regular member. Darius Mbela
himself had attended the School earlier, between 1956
and 1959. Interestingly, he left School the year I was
born; subsequently, as I joined the School in 1974, he
was already on his way to becoming Permanent Secretary
at the tender of 34.
As I faced this musical ‘Goliath’ under
highly sensitive acoustic settings at the KICC Hall,
I was not, strangely, unduly intimidated by his high
status of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of
Information and Broadcasting.. It must have been the friendly, disarming ‘school boy’ versus ‘old boy’ club feeling that always
unites ‘the boys’ from East Africa’s ‘Eton’ despite
the intense heat of competition. Incidentally, he once
pointed out to me, during a visit at his
Energy offices at Nyayo House sometime in 1996, that, he
and Prof. Anyang Nyong’o-also an Alliance old boy,
then on opposite sides in Parliament, could not fight
each other unnecessarily.
It was hard to ignore the man’s sheer industry in his
singular pursuit of excellence, even in his
extra-curricular activities, such as the music
competition. I later came to discover that while at
Alliance High, he had been a member of the renowned Outward
Bound Mountain School, during which time he climbed
Mt. Kilimanjaro in the late 50s.
In 1997, exactly twenty years after our musical duel,
during a funds-drive at the old School attended by several
prominent old boys, I heard my former boss,
Attorney-General Amos Wako naughtily introducing Hon.
Mbela in public as the only old boy so far who’ had
sang his way into Parliament!’ Mbela was then
Minister for Agriculture, Livestock Development and
Marketing. He had missed bullying the young Wako at
Alliance High only by a whisker, the latter having joined
the School in Form 1 in 1960, alongside Chief
Justice Evans Gicheru.
If truth be told, Darius Mbela would hardly have
maltreated anyone at School or in later life, judging
even from the way he treated his family and close
friends. After his late brother Geoffrey Mghanga Mbela
passed on in 1971, he fostered the latter’s daughter
Caroline and lived with her as his daughter. On my
part, he not only served me hot meals at his Nairobi
residence whenever I called in to consult him but he,
supported my fledgling Law Firm..
Many people whom he had helped in various ways along
his career path found him highly approachable. He
readily agreed to attend the first ever Fadhili
William’s memorial held at the Grand Regency Hotel in
February 2002. It turned out
that he had helped the late Fadhili, who hailed from
Mwatate Constituency, Taita to go to America in 1983.
Having first joined Parliament in 1988 as the Member
of Parliament for Wundanyi, Mbela was subsequently
appointed Minister for Lands and Housing the same
year. He subsequently held various Ministerial
portfolios for several years out of his fifteen-year
Parliamentary tenure, save for the strange, but
temporary sacking ordeal that he endured in late 1992,
whose decision was communicated over the 1 O’clock
news Bulletin. A similar fate befell many others in
those heady Moi days.
No sooner had Mr. Mbela just lost to Mashengu wa
Mwachofi in his first attempt in 1983, than he
immediately embarked on his quiet, but, serious
campaigns to capture the seat from the incumbent. In
the same way he had practiced his melodies to
perfection, he also literally rehearsed and
campaigned himself into Parliament. Talk of the man’s
I regret not having asked Mr. Mbela whether he had
anything to do with my late father’s brief,
controversial election as General Secretary of the
Docker’s Union in late 1965 to early 1966 when he
ousted Hon. Denis Akumu. My father was in turn
ousted by the late Juma Boy when a repeat election was
ordered in early 1966.. Darius Mbela, had been the Supervisor
of Elections in the Vice-President’s Office from 1965
to 1967. Significantly, he was in office during the
famous “Little General Election” that fatefully weeded
out Oginga Odinga from Power in 1966. Mbela had started
his career as a District Officer in 1962.
In later life, he confided to a friend of his, of a
naughty moment- while serving as a District Officer,
that he had sneaked in some cloves or ‘karafuu’ from
across the Tanzania border when it was illegal to do so,
without being detected by the’nosy’ colonial authorities.
The man, as we had come to know him, had become so
experienced that even after he had lost the Wundanyi seat
to Hon. Mwandawiro Mghanga in 2002, he continued
hoping, as before, to re-capture it in the forthcoming
General Elections, 2007. But as he licked his 2002
wounds, the Lord was thinking differently for, his
diabetic condition which was first diagnosed in 1987,
had become worse, resulting in kidney complications
from 2001. By early 2006, he suffered full renal
failure for which he was often in hospital.
Despite his quiet suffering, I was hardly surprised
when he invited me, in June 2006, to be Guest of honor
at Mgange Nyika, in a corner of Wundanyi Constituency
for a rural women’s electrification project. It was
during the height of Retired President Moi’s political tiff with
William Ruto in the runner-up to the 2005 Referendum. The latter, nevertheless attended the
ceremony in Taita, accompanied by a gang of other Rift
Valley political leaders, including Joseph Lagat- formerly of
Eldoret East. Although the ODM wave had then not
yet gained momentum, he had already appeared to side with
the William Ruto faction.
An old man from Wundanyi who regularly visits me in
Nairobi had observed, hesitantly, that, if he were
forced to choose, he would vote for grand old Darius
but, with reservations. He didn’t seem
to understand what Mr Mbela had forgotten behind in Parliament that
he badly wanted to return and retrieve! Otherwise, he
thought, without malice, that Darius needed to
rest and become part and parcel of the fledgling
Council of Taita-Taveta Elders that we have been
building into a strong Institution of moral and social
guidance to the Dawida community.
Although, previously, he had miraculously survived a
plane crash in North Eastern Province while serving in
the Ministry of Health; and had escaped from several
other vehicular accidents and tribulations during his
lifetime, it was always God’s will.
On Saturday, 15th September 2007, as I sat with
Retired Nairobi PC Stephen Mwakisha at a relative’s
wedding, news of Mr. Mbela’s arrival the previous day
from a month-long trip to India poured in. He had been
advised to return home to rest and regain his strength
first before returning to India for a major operation.
Hardly a week had gone by, however, before he was back
at the Nairobi Hospital for emergency treatment. He
finally succumbed the following Saturday, 22 September at 11am.He was 67.
After an illustrious public career spanning over 40
years, Grand Old Darius was as good as, if not better
than, some of the aspiring Presidential candidates that had tossed in the national political winds. May God rest his soul.
Voi City, Saturday, September 6, 2007