Jillo Falana: Birth of IPPG and how I saved Kenya from plunging into bloodshed

Former Saku MP Hon Jillo Falana during the interview with the Nation at his home in Marsabit on September 7, 2020.

Photo credit: Jacob Walter | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Falana’s name is hardly ever mentioned among the nationalists who fought for the expansion of democratic space in the country.
  • Falana first ran for political office in 1988 when he lost, only to be elected on a Kanu ticket four years later.

Prominence is an aspect best measured based on circumstances. Every single era brings with it individuals who have had many apparently insurmountable problems to overcome.

In all leadership spheres, influential leaders are considered to be the ones who seek solutions to thorny issues or those who arouse others to seek the solutions.

Kenya’s struggles for democracy under former president Daniel arap Moi’s 24-year reign saw the rise of a breed of leaders who were determined to bear the burden of liberating the nation.

Jarso Jillo Falana, 77, a former Member of Parliament for Saku constituency (1992-1997), remains one of the unsung heroes of Kenya’s second liberation.

Falana’s name is hardly ever mentioned among the nationalists who fought for the expansion of democratic space in the country.

Fondly known as JJ or Simba in political circles and in his backyard, Mr Falana recently narrated to the Nation his eventful journey in politics and how he helped shape the country’s political destiny.

Falana first ran for political office in 1988 when he lost, only to be elected on a Kanu ticket four years later.

During his five-year term as a legislator, he won the heart of his party leader and was nominated the Deputy Chief Whip in the Eighth Parliament.

“So unnavigable was Moi’s inner circles that only a chosen few earned the trust of the President’s confidantes and powerbrokers such as JJ Kamotho, Nicholas Biwott and Prof George Saitoti,” Mr Falana says.

In 1992, Kenya held its breath as the nation teetered on the brink of bloodshed as hostility between the then ruling party Kanu and the opposition escalated.

Mr Falana recalls that even in the National Assembly, there was so much hostility between members of the ruling party and the opposition MPs.

The opposition demanded constitutional reforms before the 1997 General Election.

It was at that point that Falana resolved to reach out to the opposition in an effort to initiate talks, a responsibility many of his peers were unwilling to undertake.

Avert bloodshed

Falana first approached the then Opposition Leader Mwai Kibaki who at first half-heartedly welcomed the idea, claiming that Mzee Moi could not be trusted.

When Parliament convened the following day, he approached Ford-Asili leader Martin Shikuku who also reluctantly welcomed the idea of pacifying the nation.

After collecting 90 signatures from across the divide, the talks were ready to begin.

But when word reached President Moi, he wasn’t amused and promptly summoned Mr Falana to State House.

Wewe nasikia umeanza kazi gani huko Bunge? (What is this I hear about your dealings with the opposition in Parliament?)” an angry President Moi asked him.

Mzee, mimi nakusaidia (I’m just trying to help you fix things),” he responded.

To which the President retorted: “Nani alikuambia unisaidie? (Who told you I need your help?) Let me not find any fault in your dealings.”

Through the initiative, Falana reconciled Kanu and opposition MPs, despite the resistance from Moi’s inner circle.

Former Saku MP Hon Jillo Falana during the interview with the Nation at his home in Marsabit on September 7, 2020.

Photo credit: Jacob Walter | Nation Media Group

In September 1997, the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) and the National Convention Executive Council (Ncec) came into being and Parliament formally adopted constitutional reforms intended to avert bloodshed ahead of elections expected to take place in December the same year.

Indeed, greatness is not the preserve of any one individual. Many have made great contributions that went unchronicled in any historical annals.

The changes provided for the repeal of laws that, by then, gave room for detention without trial, and approving the extension of Kenya's electoral commission to incorporate members nominated by the opposition.

Additionally, the changes provided for equal access to State media by the opposition and the ruling party Kanu.

Legislators from across the political divide voted to give a constitutional commission two years to review and make amendments to the constitution.

Mr Falana has been praised by many politicians as a man of the people, someone who shared their concerns and who had faith in their ability to be the agents of change and the makers of history.

Constitutional reforms

Through a combination of acumen, persistence and courage, he transformed himself into a political master of his time. His masterpiece of political and strategic planning enchanted even his political rivals.

Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, in his new book Constitution-Making from the Middle: Civil Society and Transition Politics in Kenya, 1992-1997, which was released in March 2015, describes Falana as one of the most liberal political leaders who ever served in the Moi regime.

The book has also extensively outlined constitution-making in Kenya and how the Moi regime outmanoeuvred and bypassed the forces that were clamouring for constitutional reforms in Kenya in the 1990s.

Falana also recounted how he tabled a motion on the Goldenberg Scandal after extensively investigating the dealings of a company owned by wealthy businessman Kamlesh Pattni.

He attributes his success to fearlessness and forthright leadership principles. The former legislator says his achievements were largely inspired by his wife Khalima Jarso, whom he termed as his most trusted general.

Falana has three daughters and two sons, none of whom he would wish to join politics. He says Kenyan politics is today dominated by crooked and self-serving leaders, many of whom have bought their way into leadership.

Falana says he remains at the beck and call of his community members who constantly consult him on a wide range of issues.

ODM leader Raila Odinga is part of his wide circle of friends.