Fare Thee Well Michuki, The Last Of Principled Political Leaders
In a world where true and principled political leaders are fast becoming an endangered species, the late John Njoroge Michuki towered like a giant among minnows. While the world has been shifting to spineless leadership mode where the so-called leaders have reached a point at which they almost have to consult a pollster before deciding which side of the bed to get up on, Michuki was always resolute. Like him or hate him, Michuki was that rare political leader who did what he promised to do irrespective of whether doing what he considered right made him unpopular or not.
As a leader, he led from the front without seeking to be popular. Once he made up his mind on what path presented what he considered the greater public good, Michuki was unstoppable. Kenyans will remember and miss Michuki most for the great impact he had on public transport sector during the brief period he served as Transport Minister. When everyone said that Matatus were a law unto themselves and no one could instil any form of discipline in their business, Michuki said it could be done.
He was resolute in his resolve to instil discipline in the unruly Matatu sector. Conventional wisdom held that Michuki was on a Mission Impossible. But alas, Michuki pulled it off. He managed to get Matatus to install and use seat belts, speed governors and to cap it all, Michuki had those haughty Matatu drivers and touts wearing uniform.
Those who have worked closely with Michuki say he was ruthlessly efficient and result-driven. One key characteristic that separated Michuki from your average politician was that he did not let the court of public opinion sway him if he was convinced that he was on the right path. Take for instance his tenure as Internal Security Minister. Michuki came into that critical docket at the height of Mungiki menace.
He swiftly identified what the real issues and challenges were and moved into action. Once he identified Mungiki as a serious threat to national security, Michuki gave the police and other security agents unequivocal orders; use all means necessary to deal with the Mungiki menace once and for all. Among Michuki’s orders included a tacit approval for the police to shoot-to-kill. Naturally this did not go down well with civil society types. Fellow politicians—especially those from Michuki’s own Central Province where Mungiki is perceived to have a home base— too criticised Michuki.
The politicians took on Michuki not because of their love for Mungiki, but rather because they feared a political backlash. Michuki’s colleagues from Central Province knew that Mungiki youths wielded significant political influence in Central and as such did not want to antagonise them. For these politicians, it was okay to sup with the devil if doing so meant votes and popularity. Not so with Michuki. To him, things were either black or white, not shades of grey or other unrecognizable colours meant to shield political expediencies of the moment.
Michuki was undeterred. He saw in Mungiki a clear and present danger that threatened national security and moved swiftly to neutralise the group irrespective of the fact that a significant number of its members was from his home area of the larger Murang’a District. It is difficult to see who among the current crop of politicians would have moved with such resolute on a matter whose resolution was bound to make him or her unpopular right at home.
Most other politicians would have waffled, shuffled and skirted around the issue with a plan to ultimately circumlocute it altogether because they considered it politically inexpedient to take definite action. But Michuki was not one to equivocate. With clear political backing behind them, the police and other national security agents significantly managed to slay the beast that was Mungiki. Of course there were incidents of overzealous security agents getting carried away. But be that as it may, there is no denying that Michuki’s unwavering action on Mungiki saved many more lives.
Of course there was a dark side to Michuki’s take-no-prisoners approach to solving real and perceived problems. For instance, his defence of the infamous Standard raid as a “necessary action to avert a threat to national security” was clearly misguided. But again, the fact that as Internal Security Minister he defended the raid speaks volumes about the man’s character. Like him or hate him, he was not afraid to make tough decisions and stick with them without resulting to blame games as is customary with most politicians.
Again, when he was appointed Minister for Environment, Michuki took upon himself the tough job of cleaning up Nairobi River. Everyone thought this could not he done. But alas, the Michuki magic was at once again at work. Within a relatively short time, Nairobi River had changed from the dark oily and smelly sludge to a crystal clear river, just the way nature intended it to be.
In the ridges where Michuki was born, they have an adage among men of honour; they are people of Kuuga na Gwika (loosely translated, Kikuyu for someone who keeps his word or an action oriented person who follows his words with crystal-clear actions). Michuki was such a man. Without John Njoroge Michuki, we are poorer not just by one departed leader but in fact Michuki’s death marks a most significant generational change where principled leaders are sadly being replaced by straw men.
(Mwenda Njoka works with ZUKU TV and is the founder of Africa Centre for investigative Journalism)