Remembering Prof. George Saitoti and Orwa Ojode
Death, they say is the only guaranteed aspect of life. Everything else in life is negotiable and can change at any moment. But as long as you’ve been born, there is a 100% guarantee that one day you will have to go and meet your Maker.
Of course this certainty that from the moment we are born we begin our eventual journey to death does nothing at all to lessen the sting of death. It thus behoves each and every one of us to exist and live in this world in a manner that when we finally die (as we all must); those left behind us will have something positive to say about how the departed lived his or her life in a manner that enhanced the lives of others.
The death last Sunday of Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti, his able Assistant Minister Joshua Orwa Ojode their bodyguards and pilots came as a great shock to a country that is yet to come to grips with critical challenges surrounding our national security.
I did not know very much about Orwa Ojode apart from what I read about him in the papers. Nevertheless, even from that distance, it was evident that Ojode was passionate about his work.
Despite being just an assistant minister, Ojode went about the ministerial duties with gusto; passion and zeal rare even among fully-fledged cabinet ministers, let alone assistant ministers!
Evidently, Ojode was a man who loved his job and did his best to make a positive difference on whatever national security issues that were brought his way, especially on the floor of the House.
In the case of Ojode’s boss, the departed Internal Security Minister Prof. Saitoti, I had the privilege of knowing a little bit more about the man and his passion, thanks to a couple of odd meetings here and there as well as sharing some mutual friends.
Like every one of us, Saitoti too had his weak points and blemishes. Many will remember him and his name in relation to the Goldenberg Scandal. It was during his watch as Minister for Finance—at the height of Moi’s regime in early 1990s—that the Goldenberg Scandal was born.
Under a dubious gold export compensation scheme, some fly-by-night wheeler-dealers with strong State House links siphoned billions of shillings from public coffers under the pretext that they had exported gold and brought into the then much-needed foreign exchange.
But truth be told, it was after Saitoti left the Treasury—and was replaced by Musalia Mudavadi—that the Goldenberg Scandal gained momentum leading to even more billions being siphoned out of the system.
Nevertheless, for some strange reasons, this fact (that more money was lost via Goldenberg Scandal during Mudavadi’s reign than during Saitoti’s) has never stuck on Mudavadi.
But Saitoti on the other hand spent a great deal of time trying to cleanse himself of the Goldenberg Scandal. He even got himself cleared in a court of law but again for some strange reasons, the public remained sceptical. That is a cross Saitoti had almost become accustomed to carrying.
When President Kibaki named Prof. Saitoti the country’s Education Minister after the 2002 General Elections, Saitoti took his job with passion and was to a large extent the critical cog that ensured the success of the Free Primary education at the time.
And when President Kibaki named Prof. Saitoti the Minister for Internal Security and Provincial Administration, again Saitoti fitted in the new job like a hand in a glove.
It is in his last posting—as Internal Security Minister— that Kenyans shall forever remember Saitoti for the role he played in trying to ensure that country enjoyed peace. He was firm and resolute when it came to defending Kenya’s territorial integrity. While other politicians prevaricated to suit the political exigencies of the moment, Saitoti was firm and clear.
And when Kenya decided to send troops in Somalia to deal with the threat posed by the Al Shabab terrorist group, Saitoti was at hand to provide the underlying principle behind the military.
“Our territorial integrity is threatened. We have serious threats of terrorism and we cannot allow this to continue at all. What this means is that we are going to pursue the enemy wherever they may be, even in their own country,” said Prof, Saitoti.
While in Mombasa last week before the fateful flight, Saitoti was once again in his element; speaking without pandering to the immediate political needs. His Mombasa speech was almost prophetic. Said he: “Kenyans do not want violence during elections (or any other time). Kenyans want the freedom to choose their leaders in an atmosphere of peace. That is the kind of legacy we as leaders ought to strive for.” Less than 24 hours after these words, Saitoti was dead. So, what kind of a legacy does Prof. George Saitoti leave behind?
Judging from the reactions of Kenyans to Saitoti’s death, it is apparently clear that many Kenyans regarded Saitoti as an effective minister. A minister and a politician who made a positive difference in the country. That is the kind of a legacy GS—as he was fondly referred to by close associates—leaves behind.
The best we can do to honour the departed Minister and his assistant would be to hold general elections devoid of violence. For now, fare thee well GS, you did your part, now it is our turn to do ours.
(Mwenda works for ZUKU TV and is the founding director of Africa Centre for Investigative Journalism)