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Two Presidents, Two Power Symbols And One Hopeful Man
Kenya’s first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, raises his flywhisk at a State function
In the first generation of Kenya’s leadership, Mzee Ngila artistically conceptualized leadership in a simple flywhisk and a wand (fimbo). This he presented to Kenyatta way before he was crowned the president. During Moi’s era, it was a white wand that he presented to the man while he was still vice president, and now in Kibaki’s term that has been dogged by a string of calamities, it is a wand, a walking stick and a carving. This is what he hopes the President will accept as a symbol of power.
When Mzee Ngila presented a flywhisk and a wand to Kenyatta in 1961, little did he know that the man was set to be the first president of Kenya and that the flywhisk was to be Kenyatta’s symbol of authority.
"I had followed the trials of Kenyatta in the hands of the British rule with a lot of bitterness," recounts Ngila who adds that in Kenyattta, he had seen a strong visionary who could lead the country into independence. "When he (Kenyatta) was finally released, I decided to give him something that would scare away the oppressive colonialists who were masking his leadership that would lead his people out of the chains of colonialism".
In the Kamba community, leaders are protected by magical scepters, which also turn into symbols of political authority.
But here was a leader who had a huge following but did not have any leadership baton to carry along in his political rallies.
When the man who has traveled across Africa on an artistic odyssey got a whiff of Kenyatta’s visit to Kamukunji grounds, then only a few meters from his Gikomba based workshop, he had to do something. He purposed to attend the meeting with a humble gift for his idol.
Accompanied by the then veteran politician Paul Ngei — now deceased — Kenyatta addressed a poorly attended gathering at the grounds, before mingling with the crowd. This presented Muthoka with an idea opportunity to meet the man who was later to head the country and present him with what seemed a perfect way to celebrate his heroism.
Made of horsetail and a simple wooden handle, the magical flywhisk was designed to scare away the then insensitive regime. "When you throw the flywhisk into the air, just like flies, the colonialists will create way for you,’ instructed Muthoka upon offering the gift to Kenyatta.
Whenever Mzee Jomo Kenyatta swayed his white flywhisk before shouting his trademark slogan Harambee during political gatherings, the crowds would go roar.
A jovial former president Moi with his baton
This always left a smile on the lips of this man who designed the flywhisk. "Even though I was not able to meet the man later, I was always so pleased to see him address people swinging the colorful flywhisk," says the man who was born during the First World War.
Unlike in the case of Moi who later offered the man Sh100,000 for his gifts, Kenyatta did not get back to him. But Ngila is still full of praise for Kenyatta. He says, "I gave him the gift to spice up his leadership. It was not supposed to be in return for anything," says Ngila who adds that Kenyatta was still searching at the time he offered him the gift.
A craftsman with a soft spot for elected politicians in leadership positions, Ngila watched Moi’s steps during his stint as vice-president with keenness. One thing struck the artist. In those times, Moi walked around with a black Maasai fimbo that Ngila did not like.
This prompted the man who had earlier fought in the Second World War where he picked his artistic skills to make a white baton fit for a man of Moi’s status.
Then, game hunting was still legal and a common sport. Back in Muthetheini village in Kambaland, the man came across an elephant carcass from where he carefully extracted its white tooth.
This was to be the raw material for the Fimbo he presented to Moi.
Though not very sure with dates, Ngila says that he presented the wand to Moi in 1968 at a public meeting in Kariorkor.
"I wanted the man to look bright in white as opposed to the dull black that he was carrying."
Unlike later days when Moi’s security details became so tight, in those days, it was easy access to Moi. "In any case, we had just got our independence and were still celebrating it with our leaders," he recalls.
So famous and mysterious was Moi’s baton that several myths were weaved about it. It also inspired a very interesting song Fimbo Ya Nyayo by the famed Dr Urthur Kemoli that was always played during national holidays through the Moi era. Just as intended by Muthoka when he designed it, the baton is personified as the leader to prosperity in the song, with the composer talking about its popularity in poetry that caresses the ears.
But as this happened, Moi’s ascension to the presidency, was met with discontent from some quarters.
In 1982, the old man took another step to add to the artistic definition of Moi’s rule. He carved an eight feet long giraffe that symbolized clear foresight amid threats. "Like a giraffe, I envisioned a situation where Moi would be able to look around and notice his detractors from very far," says Muthoka who was accompanied to State House by the late Mulu Mutisya to present the gift.
But when a coup attempt was staged a day after his presentation, Ngila became a worried man.
In his mind, he saw Moi reflecting on the presentation and even making the conclusion that the man in his giraffe had ill motives. He also saw reprisals and regretted why the coup attempt had to happen after their visit.
But that did not come as the coup was crushed soon after.
Today, the man whose posture and smartness seems not to match his age — he claims to be 92 years old — has fond memories and a 5,000 acres piece of land to show of his meeting with Moi. Just as he blessed Kenyatta and Moi during their rein, Ngila is back in town with a gift for Kibaki. For the last one month, he has been meeting top Government officials trying to access the president.
But why the bother?
"Kibaki’s term has been a tough one. I have been watching the political on-goings in this country keenly and I feel that our president needs to assert his authority." According to the artist, every leader must be given space to run through his term; he must lead from the front. "He is a good leader, but around him are people hell-bent to run with his term."
To secure his term, Ngila has already presented his gift items to a senior Government officer, and is in town waiting for a date with the President.
These gifts include a walking stick, a wand and a carving of a lion that should symbolize the President’s authority in the country.
The walking stick is engraved with an image of a lion on the head, a family and a policemen ready for combat. " Just like when the lion roars, I want people to listen to Kibaki’s word when he roars," says Ngila on the design.
Besides presidents, there are other leaders who have benefited from the artist’s magical batons.
Mulu Mutisya, who until his death, was the leader of the Akamba was presented with a table that had two lions to symbolize headship in a jungle, CharityNgilu, the Member of Parliament for Kitui Central has a leadership necklace that should define her as the leader in Kitui. Kalonzo Musyoka was also given a gift to lead when he was still a minister in Moi’s government.
Interestingly, Mzee Ngila is not yet ready to present any of the current leaders from the region with the rod to lead the rest of Ukambani.
"I want to keep this one a secret. I don’t want to say anything as at now," he says.
With the man are several contact cards from people he claims come to him looking for blessings before they venture into politics. They include Lang’ata MP Raila Odinga whose contact card has his former title as the minister for Roads and former Cabinet ministers Kalonzo Musyoka, and Achilo Ayacko. Mzee Ngila plunged into the world of arts early in life. This was after fighting in Ethiopia, Somaliland and Burma where he came face to face with successful craftsmen.
When he arrived back home, he went straight into carving before moving to Nairobi where there were better prospects.
But this did not stop him from venturing further afield. In his quest for a better price for his work, he found himself stepping from one country to the next. This journey took him through Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, Congo, Rwanda, Burudi before coming back to his backyard through Uganda during the Mau Mau war.
Source: The Standard