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January 21, 2019

G-Spot: Even ‘useful idiots’ should know familiarity breeds contempt

Former Jubilee Party vice chairman David Murathe gestures during a press conference in Nairobi on January 6
Former Jubilee Party vice chairman David Murathe gestures during a press conference in Nairobi on January 6

Shortly after the turn of this century, I was working as a reporter in the Sunday Nation and often contributed to the political news. At that time President Uhuru Kenyatta was the leader of the opposition.

Never quite comfortable with dealing with journalists directly, Uhuru had certain people from his so-called “kitchen cabinet” or inner circle that we journalists turned to when we wanted to know what the leader of the opposition really thought about an issue.

One of them was David Murathe. Many of us journalists had Murathe’s mobile number and would occasionally meet up for a drink to chat about affairs of the day, while getting a good idea of what Uhuru was really thinking or, more precisely, what he wanted the press to know.

Politicians need a David Murathe or two around them. They can be used, for instance, to put out test balloon statements to help judge which way the political wind is blowing, or to help the principal to maintain plausible deniability.

Intelligent journalists should be aware of this role and I must say that in our dealings, I often got the sense that Murathe was exaggerating just how close he was to his leader, hoping this would impress reporters.

Late last year, I confirmed to myself what I had always suspected. I was in Nairobi to attend a funeral where the President and his family, as well as leading political figures, were also in attendance.

For whatever reason, Murathe arrived at the church later than his principal, and his struggle to position himself as close to the President as possible was thwarted, somewhat comically, at every turn.

First he marched straight to the front pew on the left, where the President and other dignitaries were sat, listening to the service. His attempt to jovially greet the President was angrily rejected and he was shooed away.

When he then tried to squeeze himself into the pew across the aisle, he was coldly informed that it was reserved for the deceased’s family and that he should sit elsewhere.

Murathe tried his luck a couple of rows behind where the President’s mother Mama Ngina was sitting, but she gave him a withering look, and he was forced to seek accommodation elsewhere.

Watching this pantomime, I figured that as the President and his mother publically put him in his place, it was fair to conclude that the personal closeness he always touted to the media was indeed exaggerated.

I can’t say what is really going on with Murathe’s resignation from his post in the Jubilee Party, or whether this is effectively the end of his career as a political windsock.

However, I can suggest that Murathe ought to have read a great little book called The Kenyatta Succession, about the current President’s father and the intrigues surrounding his final exit.

In that book, he would have found advice reportedly given by the old man to a group who tried to block the then Vice President’s route to State House: “Mburi iguthinjwo ndionagio kahiu” (You do not show the knife to the goat you intend to slaughter).

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