Chief Kuaima Riruako - The Journalist's Friend

09 Jun 2014 11:50am
By Charles Tjatindi

GOBABIS, 09 JUN (NAMPA) – The Namibian nation is in mourning - OvaHerero Paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako, a giant amongst giants, is no more.
The imposing figure of this great leader of the Herero people will be highly missed by many in the various facets of Namibian society, from high-ranking politicians to the ordinary man on the street.
Some never quite comprehend the large following by his subjects, but those who were privy to the chief's leadership style and attributes know exactly what made him the revered leader he was.
He was practically worshipped by his subjects and many others, and yet he remained firm in his approach to matters that affected his people.
Journalists knew Riruako as a man who answered only to his own questions - he would give you questions he would want you to pose to him, and then answer to them in his own manner.
Although he was a stern disciplinarian, he had the unmatched ability to carry out such task with so much diligence one would think he was praising you instead. That was the mark of a true leader.
As a journalist, I once approached him for an interview on a concern that some community members at his home village of Okahiokaapa in the Aminuis Constituency had with the manner in which he had allegedly drilled a borehole at the village. Having interviewed the community members, I asked the chief to respond to some allegations.
He looked at me and ask me; “Oove omwatje ua une ngumondjipura nao?” (Whose child are you to ask me such question?).
I wanted to inform the chief at that moment that I was there as a professional and not as somebody's child. I wanted to put my foot down and make the chief feel my presence. But I just couldn't. One look at his imposing, yet humble figure, reminded me of whom I was dealing with.
I found myself listening to the chief narrating my entire family tree to me, while I sat on the ground (on his instruction) in front of him. At the end of our interview, he insisted I call him 'uncle', for that is what he was to me according to the family tree he had painted.
He was indeed a rare breed, and his ascendance to the throne of paramount chief speaks for itself.
Riruako rose to prominence in 1978, when he was appointed paramount chief of the Herero people following the death of erstwhile OvaHerero leader Clemens Kapuuo.
As if giving truth to the Ghanaian proverb that states “He who is destined for power does not have to fight for it”, Riruako's election as chief came in his absence at a time when he was in exile in the United States of America.
That was the beginning of a lifetime journey which saw Riruako standing up on many occasions to fight for the OvaHerero. Amongst his prominent contributions to his people were the gallant efforts he put forward in securing the return of OvaHerero skulls from Germany. The skulls were taken there during the period preceding the genocide of 1904-08, apparently for scientific purposes by German imperial leaders who were in Namibia at the time.
Having been chosen to lead in a lineage of leadership spanning over 142 years, and one which had been preceded by prolific OvaHerero leaders such as KaMaharero, Samuel Maharero, Hosea Kutako and Clemens Kapuuo, was not going to be an easy task.
Riruako however made the task look ordinary, owing largely to his sense of leadership through which he considered all amongst his subjects to be equal.
His witty, yet insightful contributions in Parliament will be amongst the attributes most missed by the Namibian nation. It was easy to lose count of how many times the Speaker of the National Assembly had to call the chief to order.
But in the end, even he too would give up and let the chief has his way. That is when journalists like us would get our pens ready, for we knew the chief would spit venom - the good kind.
In former American President Harry S. Truman's words, “I never did give anybody hell. I just told them the truth and they thought it was hell”. Riruako was no different.
For a man as outspoken as he was, he had few adversaries as he drew support from far and beyond the realm of the OvaHerero nation.
Go well, Uncle, until we meet again. You have been a true inspiration and your legacy shall linger for generations to come.