Dr Bonaya Adhi Godana came from a very poor background and how he managed to beat all odds to become a legislator left many puzzled. His Gabra community was barely known beyond Marsabit District (now known as Marsabit County). The former herdsboy’s struggle to go to school and eventually become a distinguished lawyer before ending up as a people’s representative won him the admiration of many.
Godana’s appointment marked the first time since independence that a Member of Parliament from Marsabit had been made a Cabinet Minister. The country was keenly watching the young MP who had been assigned the Foreign Affairs docket, especially because of his brilliant contributions in Parliament.
At the time of his appointment, the relationship between Kenya and Ethiopia, countries that had traditionally been allies in the Horn of Africa, had begun to deteriorate following claims of the presence of members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in Kenyan territory. The Kenya Government found itself in a delicate situation – both the Gabra and Borana communities who occupy Moyale and other parts of Marsabit are Oromo speakers. As such, they share names and have even intermarried over the years. These intercultural relations made it difficult to differentiate between Kenyans and Ethiopians. In violent encounters with Kenyan security forces, there would often be casualties, which provoked anger from local leaders, especially politicians, who denounced such incidents as they blamed the Government for failing to protect its own citizens. The porous border was also a transit point for smuggling small arms and light weapons.
To calm this situation, President Daniel arap Moi chose Godana as an indigenous member of Marsabit and a distinguished lawyer with a PhD in international law as he was conversant with the politics of the Horn of Africa.
Godana was first elected to Parliament in 1988 to represent the newly-created North Horr Constituency, which was carved out of Marsabit North during a review of constituency boundaries in 1986. With his knowledge of law, the sharp-witted MP was quick to study parliamentary rules and procedures in his first stint in Parliament, and he stood out as a knowledgeable debater.
As a renowned lawmaker and diplomat, Godana continued to work to establish peace between the two communities even after Moi retired.