Sunday, Mar 01st 2015

Beware Of Your Friends My Beloved

Saturday, March 3, 2012 - 00:00 -- BY MUGAMBI KIAI

My dearly beloved King:

The sad demise of the two distinguished wazees (elders), John Michuki and Njenga Karume in the last week has struck hard. At this time, we should soberly and dispassionately reflect on some of the great lessons from their lives and careers.

Here is one: although it is said that in politics there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests, it is also very true that one only knows another by the friends they keep. Look at how, for instance, the late Michuki enhanced the Kibaki government’s reputation by how he dealt with the menace of matatu indiscipline. Or how the police shoot-to-kill policy that he presided over as Minister for Internal Security also damaged the Kibaki government’s human rights credentials? Did not the late Karume lament that the damage to the initial NARC coalition government was because there were no sober minds to advise President Kibaki differently on how to deal with the infamous MoU?

Similarly, as your loyal subject, I would like to point out that your very own reputation will be enhanced or undermined by the friends you keep. Lately, you seem to have taken to intense political intimacy with William Samoei Ruto. Now, I cannot say that I am surprised by this given the predicament you both face before the International Criminal Court.

But, my dearly beloved King, please allow me to offer you a different perspective. Despite the short-term prospects of political reward that would seem to immediately accrue from close friendship with William, the longer-term reality is that it will definitely burden, strain and substantially diminish your reputation and legacy.

William was one of those who, as members of the Youth for KANU 92 (YK 92) group, reputedly were conduits of the money that the Moi-KANU regime hurriedly printed in its bid to stave off political competition from the nascent opposition political parties in the 1992 multiparty elections. I’m not making this up: please read, for instance, Godwin Murunga and Shadrack Nasong’o’s Kenya: the struggle for democracy. Are you prepared to shoulder this kind of reputational baggage due to your new friendship with William

Do you not recall William’s stated view about the burning of the Kiambaa church during the 2007 post-election violence despite all the first-hand testimony and empirical evidence that showed otherwise?

William is reported to have said that the cause of the Kiambaa church fire was “An accidental kitchen fire during preparations for lunch.” However, witness testimony and credible evidence, such as found in Waki Report, showed that this incident “was the deliberate burning alive of mostly Kikuyu women and children huddled together in a church in Kiambaa on 1 January 2008. They had sought refuge in the church following a 30 December attack on their village of Kimuri, bordering Kiambaa.

According to reports, including witness testimony, mattresses and blankets were set ablaze with petrol and thrown into the building while mothers and babies who were trying to flee the inferno were pushed back into the church. Kikuyu men attempting to defend their church and loved ones were hacked to death with machetes, shot with arrows, or pursued and killed. The death toll for this horrific incident was 17 burned alive in the church, 11 dying in or on the way to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, and 54 others injured who were treated and discharged."

There was even more disturbing evidence showing why we have to carefully reconsider our new-found friendship with William. When he was the Minister for Agriculture, William published Kenya Gazette notice (No. 5262) of May 21, 2009 which stated: “In exercise of the powers conferred by section 34 of the Coffee Act, 2001, the Minister for Agriculture appoints …Hellen Chege Njue (Ms), to be member of the Board of Trustees for the Coffee Development Fund, for a period of three (3) years, with effect from 29th April, 2009.”

By some curious quirk, William and two others were at that time was facing a case of fraud where it was alleged that Ms Njue was the finance manager at the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) when Sh272 million was paid out for plots in Nairobi’s Ngong Forest.

Listen to what the Nairobi Chief Magistrate Gilbert Mutembei had to say: “The prosecution failed to produce in court the then finance manager Hellen Njue to give her evidence on how she paid out the money. It is, therefore, clear that none of the accused ever received any money from KPC. The prosecution has failed to prove its case thus all the accused persons have no case to answer.” While it is still unclear why the prosecution failed to produce Ms. Njue as a witness, I would submit that - from a rule of law perspective - William’s appointment of her to the board of a parastatal in his ministry is in these circumstances not endearing.

Of course, there is the case of William leading the “No” vote against the new constitution. That is a matter for another day my dearly beloved king. However, beware, in this new dawn it is incumbent upon you to exercise your authority in a manner that “promotes public confidence in the integrity of…[your] office.” I would submit that this also includes how and with whom you publicly conduct your friendships.

Mugambi Kiai is the Kenya Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA). The views expressed in this article are entirely his own and do not reflect the views of OSIEA.