Day Kalembe publicly took President Moi head-on
Mutuku Mwangangi @PitzPitah
The late former Kibwezi MP Richard Kalembe Ndile was an abrasive politician who never saw eye to eye with the late President Moi.
It was in August 1998 during the burial of the then Kibwezi MP Paul Sumbi, a Kanu MP.
At the time, Kalembe was in a political wing that challenged Kanu’s dominance in Ukambani.
He was then a member of Social Democratic Party (SDP) whose party leader Charity Ngilu had just challenged Moi in the 1997 presidential election.
Kalembe had earlier been elected through an SDP ticket as a councillor for Nguumo and was serving as Makueni Municipal Council chairman.
He was also in several lobby groups that campaigned against human rights and land-grabbing in the region.
At the time, the land on Mombasa Road had been grabbed and the ground was ripe for Kalembe to say it all to the president.
According to former Water minister Mutua Katuku who had been sponsored to Parliament by SDP, they were in Ngilu camp. He recounts how Kalembe took to the podium to give his speech.
“He told Moi there was a high-profile thief who had grabbed 32 acres of land at Kiboko Settlement Scheme which had been earmarked for a market, church and school and since he was the council chair gave Moi the allotment letter.
He went on to tell Moi he was using then Central PC Peter Kiilu to grab land meant for the residents”.
Kiilu, now deceased, was later elected as Makueni MP. During this time, it was an offence to talk about the president in bad light.
The courageous Kalembe further went on to criticise Moi’s regime for poor service delivery and lack of roads and healthcare services.
Moi, who watched pensively as Kalembe went on and on, was aggrieved by the remarks and ordered his immediate arrest, marking the start of Kalembe’s troubles.
“I was told to get into a Land Rover that was waiting. I asked them what I had done and yet I was just trying to help Moi get the thieves.
I was bundled into the vehicle. I cried out for help from councillors and MPs. Ngilu was also there.
I was hidden in Nairobi at a place called Sana Sana near Belle Vue. I stayed there for three days,” Kalembe told this writer in an earlier interview.
Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana recounted how he was forced to hide Kalembe in the ceiling of his house in Nairobi as police searched for him day and night. He stayed in Kibwana’s home for some time before matters cooled.
Katuku say he sneaked Kalembe away in his car and the following day, Moi dramatically ordered the dethroning of Kalembe as the council chair. He was also branded a highway robber in subsequent multiple arrests and unending prosecutions.
In one of the counts, the prosecution alleged he used to block vehicles in the busy Mombasa-Nairobi highway and, together with squatters, steal from them.
The firebrand politician would during this time partner with Kibwana and the late Nicodemus Mutuku with whom they formed Makueni Paralegal Network (MPN) which advocated for human rights through capacity building.
By 2002, he was facing nine court cases which were later dropped when he became MP for Kibwezi under NARC ticket.
Moi is not the only politician Kalembe irritated in his political career. He rubbed Deputy president William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga, former VP Kalonzo Musyoka and Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua and former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko the wrong way.
But all in all, Kalembe made fences quickly as he broke them. Makueni Woman Rep Rose Museo described thus; “Kalembe was big-hearted. He did not hold grudges”.
Machakos Senator Agnes Kavindu says of him: “When he returned to Kalonzo’s fold last year, he said he had come to replace former Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama who had parted ways with the Ukambani political kingpin.”
And former Machakos deputy Governor Benard Kiala described Kalembe as the “glue that united Kamba politicians”.