This Man, Najib Balala
From those early days as a young man, he stood to be conspicuous wherever he went; even as a person he has a very pleasant personality. He is handsome (what the local community called a “natural attractiveness”). From the very beginning he has never been a fundamentalist – he is seen as a moderate, educated and westernised person. Even when other Arabs were being sent to local schools his family took him to Kakamega High School. He later went to Harvard University.
At Kakamega High School, Balala related well with the institution members that were not Muslim. This is not to say that he has not been loyal to his faith. He drives his inspiration from his beads. Balala speaks fluent Luhya and loves chicken. Although his favourite food is Biriani, he has had to go slow on the dish since it is quite fattening. The former Ag. Labour Minister has special praise, almost awe when he speaks about his old school. One cannot mistake his nostalgia. “Kakamega High School taught me to be an independent thinker. To appreciate different cultures and understand that there is no difference in humanity, in diversity.”
Najib Balala is a Monday child. He was born on an early Monday morning at Kikowani in Mombasa at the Mosque. This explains why he loves Mondays. His father died before he was born having suffered from Leukemia. He has always referred to his mother as a strong woman. “She was only 30 years and never remarried. She protected us (we were six siblings, four boys and two girls). She was a very poor woman. I am very proud of her. Her upbringing is very well cultured. Her honesty is the key to our upbringing,” he told the writer in a past interview. Balala is the last born of his mother. Being poor and fatherless always inspired him to work hard and change society. He is a down to earth person who drives himself around even though he has access to a driver.
Balala, 45 is a family man and rather proud of his family. “After work, I sit with my children. If I don’t give them time, they will lose personal touch. My timing is unpredictable due to the nature of my political work so I spend quality time with my family,” he said.
He first cut his teeth is politics as Mombasa mayor and later as Mvita Member of Parliament and Minister for Tourism. From the start, his family was against his joining politics and he struggled alone.
His mantra is the need to start developing leadership that is honest and trustworthy and to have a mechanism to block leaders who take advantage of communities because they are more vulnerable and who think they can buy people. His greatest achievement is in the tourism sector where he introduced tourism as part of Corporate Responsibility and turned the economic sector around. He has never ceased to be a darling of the media since he always gives interviews without a fuss and always picks his calls even in the middle of a meeting.
He is highly respected within the Muslim community and never misses a function at the Mosque. Balala is accepted among Muslims who are rich, poor and middle class and by non-Muslims who are also of the same status. He is also said to be a darling with women who are the majority voters at the Coast. Before his sacking a few days ago, he was a bossom buddy of Kenya’s Prime Minister, Raila Odinga until recently when they started following different political paths. He once described Raila as the only person who seemed to fight for the rights of Muslims.
Excerpt from a past interview. Copyright Omwa Ombara.