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Leaders eulogise Nyagah as peacemaker, diplomat

Saturday December 19 2020

Mr Nyagah was 72 when he died of coronavirus at Nairobi Hospital last week.

Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group 

IN SUMMARY

  • Members of the former ODM Pentagon said they largely relied on Mr Nyagah’s power of persuasion.
  • The only ODM Pentagon member missing at the burial, which took place in Kamutungi village, was Raila Odinga. 
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The role played by former Cabinet minister Joseph Nyagah in the search for peace during the 2007/08 post-election violence was revealed during his burial in Gachoka, Embu County, on Saturday.

Members of the former Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Pentagon said they largely relied on Mr Nyagah’s power of persuasion to close ranks in the 39-day mediation that would see President Mwai Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga end their dispute that had claimed more than 1,000 Kenyan lives.

Apart from Mr Odinga and Mr Nyagah, the other members of the ODM Pentagon were current Deputy President William Ruto, Mr Musalia Mudavadi (now Amani National Congress – ANC – chief) and Mr Najib Balala who is the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife.

Mr Nyagah was 72 when he died of coronavirus at Nairobi Hospital last week.

Joseph Nyagah burial

Deputy President William Ruto chats with Norman Nyagah during the funeral service of former Cabinet Minister Joseph Nyagah in Kiamuringa, Mbeere, Embu County on December 19, 2020.

Photo credit: DPPS

The only ODM Pentagon member missing at the burial, which took place in Kamutungi village, was Mr Odinga. 

His condolence message was delivered by Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o. 

Mr Balala recalled how efforts to resolve the disputed presidential election faltered during the talks led by former African Union chairman and Ghanian President John Kufuor, himself and Mr Nyagah. 

“We were young and vibrant and wanted what was right. We did not want to be compromised. President Kufuor requested I and Joe not to stay away from the meeting because we were straightforward. Mudavadi, Raila and Ruto met him, but the talks collapsed,” Mr Balala said.

Diplomatic skills

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The Tourism CS added that under the leadership of Mr Odinga, the Pentagon campaigned against the 2005 constitutional draft put forward by President Kibaki and inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the government.

“He helped us remain together during the referendum talks. The coming Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) plebiscite should not be divisive. This is the best way to honour Joe,” the CS said.

Mr Mudavadi said Mr Nyagah insisted that all parties talk in good faith and seize the chance to end the suffering and uncertainty that has plagued Kenyans.

“Joe was a diplomat. He ensured we remained together. But he was also witty and had a great understanding of the ‘deep state’. He would tell you things about state operations until you learnt that what you saw was not necessarily what you got,” The ANC leader said.

Mr Odinga said Mr Nyagah’s diplomatic skills came in handy when he joined the ODM Pentagon in 2007 and ended up as a minister in the coalition government.

Joseph Nyagah burial

Pallbearers carry the casket of former Cabinet Minister the late Joe Nyagah to the graveyard at his Gachoka home in Embu county on December 19, 2020.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group 

“He was equal to the task when made Cooperatives minister. His decision to work with ODM at a time Mt Kenya was solidly behind the Party of National Unity shows the kind of person he was,” Mr Odinga said.

Dr Ruto appealed to Kenyans to strive to build a consensus, adding that the conversations on the BBI referendum should be seeking to unite the country and not creating divisions.

The DP, who read the President’s speech, said being accommodative of one another would lead to good ideas giving way to better ones.

“As a country, we have what it takes to carry everybody into the future. We must endeavour to stick to that calling under all circumstances,” Dr Ruto said. 

“Let us not be too hard on one another. Let us build consensus. When we get hard enough, we only create a scenario of one side wanting to outshine the other.”

Mr Nyagah’s children said he died of Covid-19 after spending a month in hospital.

“My father was strong and walked for 10 kilometres every morning but coronavirus took him in just four weeks. That is when we realised the disease is real,” his eldest son Mwaniki Nyagah said. 

Suffered cardiac arrest

Former Kamukunji MP Norman Nyagah said his elder brother suffered cardiac arrest several times, all lasting four to five minutes.

Mourners were told that the former minister wanted to join the military in his younger days, a dream that did not materialise.

“Perhaps, that was the reason he contested the presidency when he was 69. It was probably the only way he could be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” Mr Mwaniki said. 

There was no public viewing of the body as Mr Nyagah had directed before his death. 

He insisted that he should not be buried in new clothes and that his body should be laid to rest next to his grandfather’s grave, facing the hills of Mbeere.

Joseph Nyagah burial

Pallbearers place the casket of the late Joe Nyagah on the grave at his Gachoka home in Embu county on December 19, 2020.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group 

Mr Nyagah is survived by two wives, Margaret with whom they had two sons, and Esther, with whom he had a daughter.

Former Permanent Secretary Bill Mayaka also addressed mourners. He said Mr Nyagah recalled how difficult it was to convince his father Jeremiah to allow him marry Margaret, a White woman.

He added that his friends and family were equally shocked at Mr Nyagah’s decision to marry an African woman who was the same age as his sons.

“I had a lot of time to reflect in my last days. I hardly had time for my family, supposedly because of my career. For this, I regret. If I had to live again, I would get my priorities right. Needless to say, God puts us on this Earth for a reason. In order to fulfil that assignment, it needs to have a better understanding of oneself and God,” Mr Mayaka read the message written by his friend.

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