BWANA DAWA'S SHENANIGANS

Moi ranted about Too, forbade blockbuster story the year

Fulminated about Bwana Dawa and called him a threat to national security.

In Summary
  • The man who ruled Kenya with an iron fist for 24 years, told me the man who had been his confidante and bosom friend had become a traitor.
  • He cited Too’s association with the likes of John Dhlakama, the leader of Mozambique’s Renamo rebels, as well as similar rebels in Burundi, Zaire, Angola and Sudan.
A military procession escorts the coffin carrying the body of Kenya's second president Daniel arap Moi towards Nyayo Stadium for a public funeral service on February 11, 2020.
A military procession escorts the coffin carrying the body of Kenya's second president Daniel arap Moi towards Nyayo Stadium for a public funeral service on February 11, 2020.
Image: ENOS TECHE

One Saturday in the September of 2000 Daniel arap Moi robbed me of a story I thought would make the selling front page of the Standard on Sunday, a newspaper that I had edited for eight years.

My banner headline would have either been “Moi exposes Mark Too as security threat” or “Moi links Mark Too to enemies of Kenya”. The weekend paper would have sold out.

A furious head of state had just before mid-day called the newspaper, then headquartered on Likoni Road in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, demanding to know why The Standard had ignored his instruction that the Standard Group should never carry a story mentioning one Mark Too.

That Saturday a story of hardly 10 centimetres in depth had been published mentioning Too at a function in Uasin Gishu. Moi had hit the roof after reading the story.

There was nothing worth talking about in the story. The chief subeditor might have either picked it to fill some space or simply because the subject of the story was a former chairman of Lonrho East Africa, which at the time owned the oldest newspaper in the country.

I had dismissed the telephone operator as a bother when she alerted me that Moi was on the line and that he wanted to talk to the senior-most editor. I had never talked to the president before and I found no reason for him to call me when he would have used his subordinates to do so.

Actually, he wanted to talk to editor-in-chief Ali Hafidh, but the boss was nowhere to be found.

The president shouted on the phone: “Who am I talking to?”

“Mwaniki,” I replied.

“Why did you write about this man? He is a very dangerous man.”

“Which man, Sir?”

“Mark Too. I had said that nothing should be written about him. He is in your paper.”

The president was particularly mad with the man nicknamed Bwana Dawa for antagonising Burundi, a country with which Moi was said to be doing “very rewarding” business.

Moi harangued me for close to an hour. He spoke non-stop. I had heard that he is initially irascible before softening towards the end of his monologue. And it came to pass.

The man who ruled Kenya with an iron fist for 24 years, told me the man who had been his confidante and bosom friend had become a traitor. He cited Too’s association with the likes of John Dhlakama, the leader of Mozambique’s Renamo rebels, as well as similar rebels in Burundi, Zaire, Angola and Sudan.

By so associating with such “undesirables”, Mark Too had jeopardised Kenya’s relationship with friendly nations in a region where Moi was held in high regard.

The president was particularly mad with the man nicknamed Bwana Dawa for antagonising Burundi, a country with which Moi was said to be doing “very rewarding” business.

Moi continued to expose his then former friend’s alleged misdeeds in and out of the country.

Meanwhile, I was taking notes, copiously. After all, I had an exclusive from the horse’s mouth.

When I sensed that Moi had eased up, I asked him: “Sir, do you want us to publish all this?”

“Oh no. What did you say your name is?” he demanded and continued after I had repeated my name: “I only wanted to alert you on how dangerous this man is and why nothing should be written about him.

“He is a threat to national security and to Kenya’s good relations with her friends.”

He added that the man had been kicked out of Lonrho for worse reasons.

He did not elaborate and I did not try to find out. After all, the departed head of state rarely entertained questions, especially from journalists he was not familiar with.

I also did not want him to remember that I was responsible for the publication, earlier in the year, of the story on the Muoroto slum demolition in which several people died and scores of others were injured.

The first indigenous Kenyan to chair Lonrho East Africa was the urbane and suave Udi Gechaga, son-in-law of President Jomo Kenyatta, and Uhuru Kenyatta’s brother-in-law. He was dropped soon after Moi took over. His replacement was Mark Too, a barely literate villager from Daniel arap Moi’s Rift Valley backyard.

For that, I alongside group managing editor Mitch Odero and general manager Francis Githui, were arrested and only freed many hours later after worldwide condemnation of Moi’s onslaught on press freedom.

I was also the editor who exposed the police onslaught on Second Liberation warriors on the first Saba Saba day as other media houses (except the Nation much later in the day) ignored that Nairobi was burning.

Moi had, by informing me of the shenanigans of Bwana Dawa, and ordering me not to write about the expose’ denied me a splash.

LONRHO

Lonrho is a London-based conglomerate extensively involved in among others, agribusinesses, vehicle dealerships, hospitality, logistics and warehousing, mining, media, real estate and construction.

Under the late Tiny Rowland, Lonrho, which former British Prime Minister Edward Heath once described as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, became the largest and most widely established company in post-Independence Africa.

“Tiny” picked those he knew had direct access to the powers-that-be as chairmen of local branches of his business empire. The company’s best-known units in Kenya included The Norfolk Hotel, Mount Kenya Safari Park, Toyota Kenya, Eatec, Bruce Trucks and the East African Standard.

The first indigenous Kenyan to chair Lonrho East Africa was the urbane and suave Udi Gechaga, son-in-law of President Jomo Kenyatta, and Uhuru Kenyatta’s brother-in-law. He was dropped soon after Moi took over. His replacement was Mark Too, a barely literate villager from Daniel arap Moi’s Rift Valley backyard.

Too was a quick learner and he soon became a common fixture in business and political circles. He used his position to squeeze financial resources from Lonrho, which he generously gave out during Moi’s many harambees.

He at one time fell out with Moi but was soon rehabilitated politically and nominated MP. He would in 2002 be prevailed upon to resign to pave the way for Uhuru, who would be in that year’s general election as Kanu’s presidential candidate.