How would you describe yourself?
I am a bit of an introvert; I think I enjoy my company a little too much (smiles), but I believe I am also an extrovert to some extent. I can be very vocal and determined. Growing up, I was the child everyone followed. I am driven by conviction, honesty and a genuine love for the people I serve. You got to stand for something, or you will fall for anything!
Give us a little glimpse into your childhood?
I am the son to Mama Agatha Maina Namwamba and the late Peter Namwamba Lwecheche. I can best describe myself as a child of many worlds. My dad was a bit of a nomad and so as you can imagine, we travelled a lot. I was born at the source of the great River Nile in Jinja, Uganda to Kenyan parents.
We stayed in Kampala for a while but moved to Nairobi during the height of Idi Amin’s reign. We also lived in Port Victoria and Eldoret at some point. I am the lastborn in a family of eight children — two girls and six boys. I was close to my mum and dad. The other side of being the youngest, however, is that you have to work very hard for your space and voice.
Which schools did you attend?
I attended Milimani Nursery (Eldoret), Port Victoria Primary School (Western) and Kolanya Boys High School (Teso North). I did my KCSE in 1992 and afterwards, I attended University of Nairobi where I did Law from 1993 to 1997. I later joined Kenya School of Law. I then did my Master of Laws Degree (LLM) in International Law at Washington College of Law, USA, and graduated in 2004.
When did you develop interest in politics?
Although I plunged into politics in 2003, the late Jaramogi Oginga’s book, Not Yet Uhuru, greatly influenced me when I read it in Class Seven. Not only was it my favourite book, but it also moved me to the extent that I enrolled in the youth ranks of Ford-Kenya when I was in high school.
I remained active at the university, where I was elected a student leader in 1996. In 2002, I joined the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). I remained active in LDP activities, including in the Diaspora during my postgraduate studies. I joined ODM in 2006. My bid for the Budalang’i seat in 2007 was a culmination of this political journey.
Did you always want to be a lawyer?
As a student leader at the university, I chaired the Kenya Law Students Society. There I met and interacted with top world leaders, including former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and US President Barack Obama. That is when I was convinced that I did not want to be a lawyer, but to work in the diplomacy field.
So after Kenya School of Law, I joined the University of International Relations in Japan. But as I was about to travel, our home in Nairobi was attacked and I was badly injured. I was emotionally traumatised and immobile for a while, and by the time I healed, I had missed my opportunity. I decided to join Public Law Institute in 1999. I think God intervened and re-directed my life.
What happened next?
Public Law Institute was Kenya’s first ever civil society organisation for public interest. We did litigation in public interest and cases touching on civil liberties. There, I also got to work under the late constitutional lawyer, Dr Oki Ooko Ombaka. He was not only an imminent lawyer but also the first chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission. He shaped me a lot and contributed to who I am today. I left the institute in 2002.
Why did you leave and where did you head after that?
I am independent and wanted to do things my way. I was still young and willing to take risks. Despite not having much, I started two things consequently: I founded The Chambers of Justice, a public interest trust that I ran as chief counsel until 2007. I also started a law firm — Ababu Namwamba Attorneys-at-Law. It was a struggle, but I was determined. I would work long hours from as early as 3am and as late as midnight. I put in long hours because it was my baby and in the end, I was rewarded. By 2003, it was running well on its own, enough for me to start something different.
You have made quite a name for yourself as a legislator. What are some of the highlights?
I believe I am among pioneers in public interest litigation for the voiceless and defenceless. In 2003, I secured a historic ruling in a constitutional case that affirmed the right of children living with HIV and Aids to attend public schools unfettered. Another one was in 2004 when I won a landmark legal battle in which my client, a Kenyan-born Pakistani, was wrongfully accused of terrorist activities.
You also have a foundation; tell us about it…
I began the Ababu Namwamba Foundation in 2003. It is a private charity that supports the education of hundreds of young Kenyans across the country. Currently, we support more than 200 children to get education — from primary to university and college.
I believe in giving back. If your palm is always folded, then you cannot hold much or receive anything. I was raised in a community set up where we shared everything. I am also a product of charity. I was the best pupil in Busia District after KCPE and I was awarded the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation scholarship.
How was your entry into politics?
At the time I decided to join politics, my career was doing well. It was not practical to leave a thriving career for politics, but I felt a calling I could not ignore. Although I have always loved politics, my entry at that time was not planned. A former classmate, Felix Omanyi, who I had not seen for ten years, approached me in 2003 and asked me to help revive the rice irrigation scheme in Budalangi where my mother was born.
At the time, the scheme had been dead for eight years. I had a meeting with the locals and heard gut-wrenching stories that moved me to action. I prepared a proposal to the Agricultural Finance Corporation and they gave me a loan. I also talked to National Irrigation Board and they loaned us water and seeds.
For fertiliser and excavation, I was forced to finance it from my pocket and borrow. The scheme has grown from 500 to 2,000 acres and we grow basmati rice. The people even call it Abusmati rice (smile). After the scheme’s success, I got involved in other community projects and that began my career in politics.
What do you do for fun?
When not scoring goals for Bunge FC, I love to watch my team Arsenal; I am a ‘Gunner for Life!’, so much so that I make sure I visit Emirates stadium every time I am in North London. I love gardening, sailing on the shore of lake Victoria and fishing. I also read and write a lot. I enjoy visiting museums and I never miss the wildebeest migration in the Mara.
Do you have someone special in your life?
Yes her name is Prisca. She is strong, loving, and loyal. We love and understand each other very well. She is the mother of my four children: Nkosi, Lulu, Tanya-Helena and Ababu Junior. Most people immediately gain considerable weight after joining politics. How come you haven’t?
I go to the gym from Monday to Friday. It is great for the mind. I also have a phobia for heavy weight.
I have many ambitious projects for Budalangi.