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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Beyond Expectations

I have known Njenga Karume for a long time - as a matter of fact, since I was a child. My mother was his secretary for many years. Often, when at his Cianda House office in town, I would marvel at the numbers of people that would gather to see him. All kinds of people, a veritable hotpot, a mixture of tribes, races and ages with a myriad of issues.

And he would make time for them all. Equal time. No, the rich man in the dapper suit with a business deal was not more important than the old wizened woman in the tattered clothes seeking school fees for her grandchildren. They were all treated alike. This is what impressed me most about Karume. 

There are great lessons to learn from his rags to riches story, captured in his book Beyond Expectations. There are also many lessons to learn from his political career that spanned decades, including his involvement in the struggle for multiparty democracy and the search for a new constitution. But, for me, the greatest lessons from the life of Njenga Karume are captured in the simple appreciation of, and empathy with, all people.

A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to interview Karume. We rushed to his Cianda home in Kiambu with the crew and by chance the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, came to pay Karume a courtesy visit. Odinga spoke of a relationship that went back many, many years. Of instances in politics where it was personal relationships that held things together. He spoke of his father, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga's  relationship with Karume, and also of his own relationship with Karume too. After this there was a lovely Church service and it was time for my interview. Everyone was very concerned that he was tired and he was in pain, but nevertheless he sat for the interview.

I asked him what his greatest life lessons were... He said, wealth is not everything, "you cannot eat from two plates at the same time... We must focus on serving the nation." He went on, "When we were young, we did not think about tribes or wealth, we just thought about Kenya. How could we free Kenya? How could we build Kenya? We need to go back to that." 

I thought that was profound. He added that the older generation should come out more to share these messages with the youth. I wished I had done that interview much earlier but I was still glad to have it then. Several hours later I was devastated at the office when I was told the tape had some issues, we spent hours trying to salvage the footage but it was no good, it was unusable. 

I humbly requested another sitting and he accepted. But the next day he was so tired, there were scores of people visiting with him and I knew it was just not going to work. We started the interview but after a few minutes I cut it short. He needed to rest. He is resting now.

To his family I can only say thank you for sharing Mzee with us for so many years. He was a people person and a person of the people. To young people struggling to make it in Kenya today, let me try to summarize the lessons I have learnt from Karume...

Think not of oneself but of the bigger picture, the greater justice, the greater good. In building a better society you secure your future. 

Build strong genuine networks they will be integral to your personal growth and development. 

Treat all people alike, they are all children of God. 

Finally, as Rudyard Kipling says in his poem IF - you must seek to talk with crowds but keep your virtue, and walk with Kings nor lose the common touch.

RIP Mzee Njenga wa Karume.

20 comments:

  1. Beautiful tribute Julie. It's a shame that your last interview with Mzee was not usable, but it is wonderful that you got to spend some time with him and can share his words of wisdom. My take-away from this is: "You cannot eat from two plates at the same time... We must focus on serving the nation."

    Peace and blessings to his family and friends.

    May God give you all the strength to celebrate his life and heal from this deep loss.

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  2. Thanks Julie for tha Karume's lessons to us as young people ,may his soul rest in eternal peace.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this, Julie. :)

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  4. Thankx Julie for the tribute,
    Great man he was, we've lost a man who always thought of his own fellow Kenyans,we will miss him greatly
    May the Lord give his family peace that they need at this difficult time.May his soul rest in eternal peace.
    He has fought a good fight let us live by his steps.

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  5. Live as long as you will, for verily you must die. Love whoever you wish, for one day you shall taste its separation, and do what you will, you will be rewarded accordingly.

    Imam al-Ghazali

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  6. very wise words from the late Njenga Karume., indeed we should treat all people alike, for we are all God's children.

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  7. That's a good reminder to us all.We need to work for the better of ourselves and others.With God we will make it too.May he rest in peace.

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  8. Julie - lovely blog i must say. Would still like to see the unusable video. It may be unusable by media standards, but why not air it with a caveat that the quality is not good. Id love to see it as a kwaheri to an individual who treated all as equal. Kindly reconsider.

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  9. thanx for the share,i never new much about njenga but through this i even feel like i know him more.may he rest in peace........

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  10. Thanks for these kind and genuine tribute. May he Rest in peace.

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  11. julie thanks for that eulogy,may his soul RIP

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  12. Indeed there are great lessons to learn from his rags to riches story, captured in his book Beyond Expectations. There are also many lessons to learn from his political career that spanned decades, including his involvement in the struggle for multiparty democracy and the search for a new constitution. But, for me, the greatest lessons from the life of Njenga Karume are captured in the simple appreciation of, and empathy with, all people.

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  13. Read his biography 2 years ago and i believe he was a great man of his generation.

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  14. Good read Julie however the Odinga bit just ruined it. Come out clear and say you support him other than using Karume's death to advance your agenda. Otherwise good read.

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  15. It's the end of the day already, been a long one but thanks so much for all the feedback, somehow it feels like you have all spent some time with me today, I appreciate that :o) thanks for your kind words Zawadi, Terri and Dexter.

    Mohammed, what a profound quote, I would love to use it sometime soon, appreciate your sharing it with us all :o)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Virginia and Muigai, God is good all the time :o)

    Glen, wish we could even use a few seconds but I assure you it was in terrible shape, I was so frustrated but I believe God has a reason for everything :o)

    Thank you for sharing Alice, Jim, Mumo and Fred, appreciate it :o)

    Jamo, politics is not the alpha and omega...God is. Kenyan politics is just a small factor in a world of issues that we must confront and resolve... Besides, I thought the recent word on the street was that I support Uhuru, or was it Saitoti? Lol! Bottom line ndugu, I represent the voice of Wanjiku, period.

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  16. This is an interesting post Julie and thanks a lot. Mzee Njenga Karume can serve or will serve as an inspiration to many.

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  17. Great post Julie. Very befitting of a great man. I remember meeting your mum on several occasions at Cianda. She also knew my late father very well when he used to visit often... May he rest in Peace. His work was done well on earth!! Proud of you Julie...

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  18. Thanks very much for the feedback Kenyan :o) bless you. ... @David thank you so much, I remember your Dad very well, I interviewed him a few times - he was a great person, well spoken and a real gentleman in a world where there are so few left! I hope you and your family are all well. Warm regards and blessings to them all :o)

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  19. what an absolute load of nonsense. i had the misfortune of meeting this thug of a man through your equally thieving husband

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  20. I really cried when I heard of his death, it was like loosing your own Father. Just like you Julie, I knew Njenga Karume since I was a kid and I used to marvel how humble, and people-oriented he was, and I remembered having lunch with him with my family just before I left Kenya for America. I was blessed to meet him, and I will cherish the advice he gave me for the rest of my life!

    R.I.P.
    Njenga Karume

    Your Friend,
    Daniel Chege.

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