By SALIM LONE
When I congratulated Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo and asked for his daughter Kethiâ€™s email address so that I could write to her, he replied with his inimitable chuckle that I could have it since I was â€œan honourable man.â€
He went on to say he had been inundated with requests for Kethiâ€™s hand in marriage, but the compliments that amused him most were from women who wanted him to father a child for them.
Mutula was easily the wittiest man I knew, and he would invariably find an instant way to capture the spirit and meaning of a moment or an idea in a few simple words â€“ an invaluable skill for a political leader.
But he could also be infuriating. His vibrancy, his intellectual ferment, his astonishing courage and deeply independent thinking would routinely unsettle friend and foe alike.
But these were the qualities, which established him as a major national figure in just the eight years he lived since he achieved major national prominence in the 2005 referendum on the draft Constitution.
For most of the time I knew Mutula, he belonged to an opposing political party. But he was such a compelling person that I became as close to him as to ODM leaders I had known for decades.
However, I was definitely not a fan when I first met him in 2005, having just returned to Kenya after two decades in exile. Still feeling my way around our fluid political labyrinths, I had one particularly strong, albeit simplistic, belief – anyone connected to Kanu and former President Moi was best kept at a long distance.
But I had to swallow that anti-Kanu stricture when I joined the Orange camp as its spokesman in the campaign in that yearâ€™s referendum, given Kanuâ€™s important role in that struggle.
Nevertheless, I complained to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga that he should not be giving important Orange campaign statements I was writing to Mutula to read, since I believed choosing a former Moi confidante as a major face of the campaign was hurting the anti-referendum drive among the core reform community.
Raila laughed. â€œDonâ€™t worry.â€ he replied. â€œYou will soon see how important it is that we build Mutula. He is brilliant and is going to be a major player for reform in this country.â€
This turned out to be the case in the following years. Few political leaders contributed as much as Mutula did â€“ in intellectual depth, hard and committed work, and the most astonishing courage â€“to push the reform agenda, the new Constitution, and to upholding the rule of law, including fidelity to international treaties.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who as Kanu leader in 2003 first brought Mutula to national prominence by nominating him to Parliament, highlighted his commitment to principles in his condolence message.
That 2005 referendum campaign was one of the most electrifying periods in our countryâ€™s political history. It crystallised â€“ unlike the 2002 election â€“ the issues that we needed to build consensus on: devolution, land, marginalisation and the Executiveâ€™s power. The campaign also became the crucible for the emergence of a new Kenyan leadership.
Not only Mutula but also Uhuru and Deputy President William Ruto emerged as major national players.
Orange had created a brand new national team, which overwhelmed President Kibakiâ€™s narrowly-constituted administration by seven provinces to one margin, catapulting Raila to the countryâ€™s political front runner.
That campaignâ€™s final impact was to be felt eight years later, when all its four leaders would contest the 2013 presidential election â€“ Uhuru and Ruto versus Raila and Kalonzo.
Mutula was also instrumental in that campaign helping me understand the complexities of reform in Kenya.
It was in fact that campaign, which made me realise how important it was to harness all the countryâ€™s major political currents if reform was to have wide acceptance that is indispensable to its success, because it would ensure its sustainability.
In that regard, my involvement in that campaign turned out to be a Godsend as it brought together virtually the entire new cast of younger leaders with whom I became friends â€“ friendships which survived the many political realignments that took place.
My friendship with Mutula gained new impetus after the 2007 election, when President Kibaki appointed him to the Kofi Annan negotiations team. Subsequently, we spent a week together in Geneva in 2009.
I was part of the Governmentâ€™s delegation to the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council debating the report on extra-judicial killings by Prof Philip Alston.
There were ministers from both sides of the coalition â€“ including Prof George Saitoti, Amos Wako, Amason Kingi and James Orengo. Current Foreign Affairs Cabinet nominee Amina Mohamed and I were to do the drafting of the statement.
Such were the dissonances in the grand coalition then that despite the official attacks on the Alston report, the Governmentâ€™s formal position still had not been determined.
This was left to the ministers in Geneva under Mutulaâ€™s guidance as Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs. Mutula brilliantly treaded multiple fault lines on this super-sensitive issue, and with Orengoâ€™s help, developed a consensus to accept the Alston report while challenging aspects of the rapporteurâ€™s mandate.
Mutula began as a pro-establishment strategist and ended up as a reformer â€“ when in fact most politicians follow the opposite trajectory.
He will live long in our hearts for contributing immensely to Kenyaâ€™s democratic development, but there is so much more he was destined to achieve had his life not been so tragically cut short. There is no doubt he was going to be a central player in determining the shape of politics in the run-up to the 2017 elections.
â€“â€“ The writer was former Prime Minister Raila Odingaâ€™s spokesman and adviser.