Showdown in Sotik as Lorna is laid to rest
Published on June 21, 2008, 12:00 am
By Steve Mkawale and Vitalis Kimutai
Ugly scenes erupted at the funeral of former Home Affairs Assistant Minister Lorna Laboso, portraying post-election tension that continues to undermine the Grand Coalition.
Despite a large number of MPs arriving in a show of unity to bury their colleague who died in plane crash last week, hostile reaction to Justice Minister Martha Karua by mourners indicated post-election tension is still palpable.
|Assistant minister Margaret Wanjiru (centre) consoles Mina, a niece of Lorna Laboso, as her sister, Dr Joyce Laboso Abonyo (left), breaks down. Picture: LUCAS THUO/VPPS|
Karua was booed and heckled just after fellow Cabinet Minister Charity Ngilu left the podium after touching on the sensitive issue of the release of post-election violence suspects.
Laboso’s son, Marcos Kiprono and her mother Rebecca, attempted to calm agitated mourners who booed the minister, with the mother appealing for honourable and peaceful send-off for her second born child.
Karua, who embodies Government legal authority as the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, spoke after Ngilu had said those arrested were not the cause of the problem.
It is 13 days since Karua and other MPs had spoken at the same venue, at Manaret in Sotik District, during the thanks giving ceremony, marking Laboso’s election as Member of Parliament.
The drama at the funeral attended by Members of Parliament from both sides of the political divide belies the cracks that ran underneath despite efforts to display a united front.
Trouble started when angry mourners screamed and surged forward in an attempt to stop Karua from speaking.
Karua was twice forced to cut short her speech as thousands of mourners heckled over her stand on amnesty for suspects arrested following post- election violence.
Dignitaries who included Vice- President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi watched as the crowd humiliated their colleague.
Karua was invited to pay tribute to her departed colleague after Ngilu had addressed the mourners.
Ngilu apparently appeared to have worked up the crowd when she accused some of her colleagues in the Cabinet of working against the release of post-election violence suspects.
“Those who caused the problem are not the boys in jail, but leaders who are seated here with us and who have refused to have the suspects pardoned,” she said, amid applause from the crowd at Laboso’s home.
“If the youths will remain in jail then those generals (leaders) who called for mass action must also face the law,” said the Kitui Central MP.
Energy Assistant Minister Charles Keter, who was the master of ceremonies, to give her last respects to Laboso, invited Karua.
A section of the crowd started shouting her down as soon as she took the microphone. The jeers then turned into a chorus, with mourners surging forward.
Even attempts by Agriculture Minister William Ruto, Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode, Konoin MP Julius Kones, Rift Valley PC Hassan Noor and Keter to pacify the charged crowd fell on deaf ears.
It took almost five minutes for Ruto, speaking in vernacular, to calm down the hostile mourners before inviting Karua to resume her speech. He asked them to look at Laboso’s mother’s face, then dripping with tears, to know what they were doing, even if justified, was on the wrong day and occasion.
Jeers and heckling
However, matters went out of hand again forcing the Gichugu MP to eat humble pie and take her seat at the VIP dais. “Forgiveness must come from all of us and not just one side, the victim and the villain” Karua told mourners.
The jeers and heckling drowned the short address forcing the minister to take to her seat between Industry Minister Henry Kosgey and Livestock Minister Mohammed Kuti.
Ruto, who addressed the mourners immediately after took a swipe at the Grand Coalition Government, saying it is failing to meet the expectations of wananchi. He, like Ngilu, said ODM was still marching on and the power-sharing deal was just a pause in the bigger struggle to rule Kenya. He said it was unacceptable that the leaders of the Grand Coalition were being driven around in GK-plated vehicles as the youths who forced on the country the National Peace Accord languished in the cells. He said the situation was compounded by the fact that Mr Samuel Kivuitu, the chairman of Electoral Commission that oversaw the flawed election, was still in office “earning big salary”. He called for an end to what he called “selective justice’’, targeting given communities.
“We must as leaders agree when we formed the Government we left behind those who were together with us during elections,” he said.
“We changed the Constitution to legitimise the illegal government and the big boys shared positions leaving behind those who fought to defend democracy,” said the Eldoret North MP.
He said the suspects in custody must be released if the President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga agreed to share power. “We must accommodate those boys because we are the reason they are in custody,” he said.
The Agriculture Minister said leaders had destroyed the country by having two sets of laws. “We have made it look like the country has two sets of law, that for the rich and another for the poor. We have made a country where leaders do not pay taxes while the poor do. We must be honest,” said Ruto.
Mudavadi steered off the amnesty debate and instead eulogised Laboso as a great leader, a woman of strength and an inspiration to the girl-child.
Mudavadi also read a message of condolence from Prime Minister Raila Odinga who was out of the country on official duties. However ODM chairman Mr Henry Kosgey said members of the Kalenjin community had a right to speak out when aggrieved. He too talked of “selective justice’’ in the country.
“Lorna was a person of great compassion and a woman who fought against social injustices and always wanted people to live in peace,” Raila said, of the departed colleague.
Musyoka, who brought a message of condolence from President Kibaki, said Lorna was an “honest, steadfast and hardworking politician and a loving mother to her son, Kiprono”.
Musyoka said as his assistant, Laboso was up to to the task and ably represented him in many forums.
He said: “I was open to her as she was equally open and honest with me during the short stint we were together in the Ministry of Home Affairs.”
Musyoka, however, said his interaction with Laboso started some years back, when as a businesswoman she introduced him to floriculture.
House Speaker Kenneth Marende, Industry Minister Henry Kosgey and Kones demanded investigations into the cause of the plane crash be hastened and it should also be thorough.
Marende said the fatal plane crash that claimed the lives of former Roads Minister Kipkalya Kones, his bodyguard police officer Kenneth Bett and Laboso should be investigated.
“We can not keep losing industrious Kenyans in air crashes. It is simply not acceptable,” Marende said.
Kosgey said: “We need the findings of the crash made public as the accident was tragic and disastrous.”
Dr Kones said most MPs now fear using planes and instead preferred to travel by road.
“Let the findings of the crash be made public in order to confirm or dispel fears of foul play in the accident,” Kones said.
The Konoin MP said the public were keenly following the developments in the investigations into the accident.
“The question is whether Kenya’s airspace is safe. Whether the regulating authority is in charge? If the plane was in good shape, and was the pilot conversant with the terrain?” Kones posed amid cheers from mourners.
Cabinet ministers and MPs led by Kalonzo and Mudavadi travelled to the function in four helicopters while others went by road.
As the speakers eulogised Laboso, her only son, Marco Kiprono eight, sat by the coffin with his cousin Ted Abonyo and uncle David Laboso.
Kiprono, dressed in a stripped beige suit, black shirt and dark glasses seemed unaware of the gravity of the situation, and function as he happily played, joked and laughed with Ted as David kept whispering to him throughout the ceremony.
With the huge crowd that turned up for the ceremony, those who wanted to have a bird’s eye view of what was going on were perched on top of trees.
Dignitaries present included ministers Dalmas Otieno, Dr Sally Kosgei, Henry Kosgey, Karua, Ngilu, Prof Hellen Sambili, Beth Mugo, James Orengo and Wycliff Oparanya
Others were Chris Obure, Dr Mohamed Kuti, Samuel Poghisio, William Ntimama, Sam Ongeri, and Dr Naomi Shabaan.
Assistant Ministers included Kilome MP Harun Mwau, Charles Keter, Gideon Ndambuki, Asman Kamama, Bifwoli Wakoli, Peter Kenneth, William Cheptumo, Wilfred Machage and Orwa Ojodeh.
And other MPs present were Isaac Ruto, Benjamin Langat, Musa Sirma, Langat Magerer, Peris Simam, Fred Kapondi, Nderitu Mureithi, Stanley Githunguri, Eugene Wamalwa, John Mututho, David Koech and Johnstone Muthama.
Others were Cyrus Jirongo, Ababu Namwamba, Joseph Kutuny and Prof Margaret Kamar.
Also present were former MPs, permanent secretaries and other government officials.
During the service police officers in uniform and civilian attire had a hectic time controlling the huge crowd, which kept surging forward.
Rift Valley PC Noor Hassan, and Sotik DC Humphrey Nakitare led administrators and other government officials in the function.
Orange Women Democrats laid an orange coloured veil on the black coffin, shone to sheen, with a wreath of flowers laid on top.
Laboso’s portrait with her trademark smile was placed besides the sealed coffin which mourners were not allowed to view.
The eulogy was read by her sister Dr Joyce Laboso-Abonyo. Ruto and Keter alternated as masters of ceremony.
The late assistant minister’s mother, Mama Rebecca Laboso, said she did not know that when her daughter left home after the thanks giving ceremony two weeks ago, she hardly had 48 hours to live.
“I wonder if she would be with us here today had she not joined politics,” an emotional Mama Laboso said in her speech.
Dr Sally Kosgei who was very close to Laboso said: “Lorna was one of those who made me do things I never knew I would. I will miss my wonderful little sister whom I loved.”
Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s wife, Ida said: “Lorna was a real role model whose body is gone but the spirit lives with us.”
In the end it was the final send off for the MP of Sotik who made history as the first woman from the Kipsigis community to be elected to Parliament.
Kipkalya Kones who was with Laboso in the same fatal plane will be buried in his Bomet Constituency, on Saturday.