William Ntimama: The champion of Maasai rights is dead!

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BY KIPCHUMBA KEMEI
newsdesk@reporter.co.ke

The former long serving Narok North MP William ole Ntimama is dead. The former cabinet minister died on Thursday night shortly after retiring to bed in his Narok Motonyi home.

Family members said Ntimama, 87, died peacefully after a busy day. The octogenarian who was abrasive and a dare the devil politician has been battling ill health for close to 25 years. A close family member said he had a battle with diabetes since late 1980s.

During his last days he had difficulties in waking up when seated and walking, forcing his aides who were always near him to assist.

“He had a busy schedule on Thursday meeting people and giving financial assistance. He was jovial. Little did we know it was his last day,” said a member of the family who declined to be named because the family was yet to appoint a spokesperson who will give details of his last days and funeral arrangements.

Shortly after the death that has shocked the entire Maa land where he was respected and considered its spokesperson, close relatives and friends within the neighbourhood were informed before rushing to view the body and condole the family.

Accompanied by his wife Dorcas, daughter Lydia and close relatives, the body was taken by road to Nairobi’s Lee Funeral Home where it will be preserved as funeral arrangements gets underway.

The former Heritage Minister and the immediate Narok North MP who belonged to the Nyangusi age set, now the top most in the Maa community attended Ole Sankale Primary School in Narok before proceeding to Kahuhia Teachers Training College.

On leaving college, he taught at Ololulung’a DEB Primary School in Narok South before moving in the same capacity to Ole Sankale which was then a Government Maasai School.

He later joined the colonial administration to become a Division Officer (DO). Ntimama who was blessed with 7 children, served as colonial DO in Marigat and Kabarnet in now Baringo County.

On leaving the provincial administration, he became a clerk with the defunct Narok County Council between 1956 and 1957.

He later joined politics by first becoming the county council chairman from 1974 to 1983. He was also the chairman of the National Housing Corporation and the defunct Kenya Farmers Association (KFA).

In 1988 after years of ambition to enter into active politics, he offered himself for election as Narok North MP where he won through the infamous queuing system (mlolong’o).

He beat his arch rival Justus ole Tipis who was a powerful Internal Security Minister in the government of President Moi.

He was first appointed Marketing and Supplies Minister and later held other cabinet portfolios even in the retired President Kibaki administration.

Ntimama knew Moi and a few Tugen personalities including the famous Chesire family when he was in Baringo County, a relationship he cultivated that later saw him win the former head of state heart and later sent Tipis to political Siberia.

In 1976, he was among the proponents of change-the-constitution that sought to bar vice presidents from succeeding presidents in the event of their ill health and incapacitation.

He was a wheat, barley and dairy farmer who owned three parcels of land measuring about 600 acres in different parts of Narok. He drew respect from Tanzanian Maasais. He was a friend to the late John Sokoine and Edward Lowasa, both former Prime Ministers of the East African country.

Whenever he called a community meeting, the Maasai of that country used to attend, a feat that made him to be feared by operatives in the Moi government.

In 1994, he together with other community leaders attended a United Nations Indigenous Peoples conference in Geneva.

The combative politician whose middle name was controversy and who never shied from speaking his mind will be remembered in 1992 shortly after the advent of multi party democracy for telling the so called immigrant communities in his backyard to “lie low like an envelope” lest they were cut down like the Ibos of Nigeria during the Biafra war.

Shortly after that statement, about 3, 000 families were evicted from the Enoosupukia, a forest he claimed was a water catchment area under the trust of the local county council.

He was one of the biggest news makers in recent years, a fact that made him the darling of the press.

“Whenever he called a press conferences we were always sure it would either be the lead story the following day or at least a front page copy. He never used to mince his words or later recants his statements,” says Joseph Kimani, a former correspondent for the Daily Nation in Narok.

Kimani who covered most of his meetings adds: “He is last breed of politicians who stood by what they say in public and in private.”

In the later years of the Kanu administration, he fell out with Moi reportedly at the behest of Julius Sunkuli, a former Internal Security Minister who he never used to see eye to eye with because of his
untamed influence in Maasai land.

“He became powerful and influential to his community to the point that he could not be tamed or told off. Sunkuli together with Stephen ole Ntutu, now the Narok Senator wanted to call shots hence need for Ntimama to be isolated,” says Jonathan Nalangu who worked with him when he was Local Government Minister.

In 2014, he unsuccessfully tried to defect from ODM to the Jubilee Coalition but was reportedly barred from accessing state house by United Republican Party operatives who were worried that the move would have precipitated defections by Maasai leaders from the party, rendering it useless in the region.

Early last month, he together with Senator Ntutu, his younger brother Patrick, the Narok West MP and who is eying the Narok gubernatorial seat, Johana Ngeno, the Emurwa Dikirr MP, his daughter Lydia who will be vying for the Women Representative seat and a host of leaders opposed to Governor Samuel Tunai met the president at state house and affirmed support for the yet to be launched Jubilee Party.

The president later visited Narok where he asked leaders to work together for the sake of the welfare of the people. He galvanised community leaders to bolster the election of Memusi Konchori on ODM ticket for Kajiado Central seat after its holder Joseph Nkaiserry was appointed Interior Cabinet Secretary.

His demise is a blow to the president and his party bid to have the community that has been supporting the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga party since 2007 to change its mind.

“Uhuru had banked on him to deliver the community votes. He will now have to go back to the drawing board to look for an alternative,” says Jackson Saika, the chairman of the Maasai Professionals Association.

Alex Magelo, the Nairobi County Assembly speaker says Ntimama was a community hero and its undisputed spokesperson and asks the community to remain united even after his demise.

“The community has lost a son and a true hero. To me he was like a father and a political mentor,” says Magelo who adds that he will be given a hero’s burial at a date to be announced by the family.

He asked all communities in Narok to live in harmony, saying a new Maasai leader will be unveiled later. Two weeks ago, when attending a wedding ceremony in Narok, the late politician who championed the conservation of Mau forest, called on communities living in Narok to co-exist peacefully, vowing to strive to unite them.

In the last General Election, his daughter Lydia unsuccessfully contested the Narok County Women Representative seat on ODM ticket. In the elections, the deceased lost to Moitalel Kenta who was his friend and chief campaigner before falling out with him.

In 1995, at the behest of some Kanu insiders, he teamed up with veteran politician John Keen to give the then vice president the late George Saitoti a hard time in national and Kajiado County politics.

But in 2002, when Moi chose President Uhuru Kenyatta to succeed him, he teamed with those opposed to the idea to support Saitoti who shied from contesting the presidency before throwing his support behind former President Mwai Kibaki.

“He was a strict person who wanted things done the way he liked. He was a political operative who never say die,” says Joseph Kayoni, a former Narok county council clerk who Ntimama taught in primary school.

Hassan Kamwaro says he died when the community wanted him most, adding he was to shepherd it to “the promised land” in the next year’s General Election.

“We had laid strategies with him to have the community support the government next year for it to reap the fruits of development. His untimely death has hit us below the belt, forcing us to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

Ntimama who will probably be buried at his Motonyi home just outside Narok town is survived by four children.

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