The man couldnâ€™t have died at a better time!
â€œContrary to the view that the death would further scuttle the ruling coalition, it has in fact created space for realignment by the politicians,â€ Ngunyi told IRIN.
In an interview on the repercussions of Wamalwaâ€™s death, Ngunyi said that if politicians of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) â€œplayed their cards rightâ€, the coalition would be â€œrevivedâ€ by the end of 2003. â€œ
Just as Jesus Christ died for us, Wamalwa has died to heal NARC,â€ he added.
Wamalwa, 60, died on August 23, in a London hospital after two months of hospitalisation. News reports gave the cause of death as â€œacute pancretitisâ€. He was said to have been hospitalised suffering from â€œvarious ailmentsâ€. He was MP for Saboti constituency in western Kenya.
As the Kenyan flag flies at half mast for the two weeks of mourning that President Mwai Kibaki has announced, the country is planning a state funeral for Wamalwa, who has been described by the local media as a patriot.
The body arrived in the capital, Nairobi, early on Wednesday, and the burial is set for September 6, at his home in the western town of Kitale.
â€œThe death is a real disaster for Kenya in the sense that Wamalwa was a balanced man who was not given to emotions,â€ Imre Loeffler, a political commentator for The EastAfrican weekly told IRIN.
But like Ngunyi, Loeffler believes that Wamalwaâ€™s death â€œcould turn the coalition back from the brinkâ€.
â€œNARCâ€™s curve of deterioration went up as Wamalwa got sicker and sicker over the two months he was in hospital,â€ he noted.
He warned that NARCâ€™s future could go either way. â€œGiven that the president himself is not 100 percent healthy, and Wamalwaâ€™s moderating force is no more, I can say that NARCâ€™s future is not certain,â€ Loeffler said.
NARC is a loose organisation comprising several political parties that came together in 2002 to field a single candidate against former president Daniel Moi during elections on December 27, 2002. President Mwai Kibaki assumed power in January when the coalition won the presidential poll with a huge majority.
Loeffler said a â€œpower vacuumâ€ in the country was most acute in February and March when both the president and Wamalwa were ill. Kibaki was hospitalised for two weeks in February.
â€œI simply cannot figure out whether our head of state is unwilling or unable to govern, his laid-back style is worrying,â€ Loeffler said. He added that the coalitionâ€™s performance so far was â€œrather disappointingâ€.
â€œMost Kenyan men are stuck in their puberty, and this applies to many politicians,â€ he said, adding that Kenyan women in politics had overall displayed more maturity and intelligence in the way they conducted themselves.
In the wider political sphere, Ngunyi sees Wamalwaâ€™s death as having a huge impact on the direction of the constitutional review talks underway in Nairobi, but which have been suspended for two weeks in honour of the vice-president.
â€œHis death reduces the pressure on Bomas II (as the talks are referred to). In fact, the political pressure that characterised the talks has become a slow puncture with Wamalwaâ€™s death,â€ he said. The talks are aimed at reviewing the countryâ€™s constitution to make it more democratic.
Prior to the resumption of the constitutional talks, there had been a lot of publicity on the creation of the post of an executive prime minister â€” this was to have been the topic of discussion at Bomas of Kenya this week, had the talks proceeded. NARC politicians are divided on the creation of a post of prime minister with executive powers.
Ngunyi explained that Kenyaâ€™s constitution, as it is, allows for the creation of a non-executive prime minister.
â€œIt is possible for the president to kill two birds with one stone,â€ Ngunyi said. â€œThe first stone being the appointment of a new vice-president and the second stone being the appointment of a non-executive prime minister.
â€œAnd then this would ensure that Kibaki kills one bird â€” political pressure â€” with two stones,â€ he added.
Given Kenyaâ€™s highly ethnicised politics, Ngunyi said, Kibaki would stabilise NARC, if he appointed a vice-president and non-executive prime minister at the same time.
â€œHe should appoint the two from the Luo and the Luhyia communities, this way he neutralises the threat posed by certain NARC actors to team up with the opposition Kanu and Ford-People parties to destroy the coalition.â€
NARC took power from Kanu in 2002 because the Kikuyu (supporting Kibaki), the Luo (Odinga) and the Luhyia (Wamalwa) came together to form a formidable force against Kanu which, although it had countrywide grassroots support, could not march the numerical might of the three communities that made up the NARC core voters.
For Kibaki to maintain an ethnic balance within NARC, the vice president, and the prime minister, if he decides to appoint one, must come from the Luo or the Luhyia to keep the coalition together.
Raila Odinga of the Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP) â€” one of NARCâ€™s major components â€” has shown signs of warming up to the opposition, although he has played down his meetings with opposition leaders. Observers note that if the LDP were to pull out of NARC, the coalition would crumble and fresh elections would have to be held.
Both Ngunyi and Loeffler were hesitant to speculate on who would take over from Wamalwa but they mentioned the names of key NARC politicians Raila Odinga (Minister for Roads and Public Works), Charity Ngilu (Health Minister), Mukhisa Kituyi (Minister for Trade and Industry) and Musikari Kombo (Assistant Minister for Planning and National Development) and Moody Awori (Home Affairs Minister).
â€œIf I were the president, I would be completely lost between Musikari Kombo and Mukhisa Kituyi for the post of vice president,â€ Loeffler said.
â€œAlthough if competence were a measure, I would definitely go for Raila.â€
At a lower level, Wamalwaâ€™s death also deals a blow to the Ford-Kenya political party which he headed.
It remains to be seen who will take over as Ford-Kenya chairman, and what, if any, bargaining power the individual will have in the coalition to influence the appointment of the next vice president.
Efforts to contact Ford-Kenya secretary general John Munyes failed as his office said he was out attending preparations for Wamalwaâ€™s burial.
Both Loeffler and Ngunyi were full of praise for Wamalwa as a man.
â€œAlthough I will not say the man was one of the greatest leaders as most Kenyans are now exaggerating, I can say that he was one of the most agreeable politicians we have had. He was consistent, and simple. What I liked most about him was his lightness of spirit,â€ Ngunyi said.
Kibaki is expected to name a vice-president after Wamalwaâ€™s burial.
After Wamalwa: Will NARC turn back from the brink?