GLAD TIDINGS

How Mudavadi man with 49 siblings got Treasury job

CAS speaks of his large family, days of missionary work, and strategy to help turn the tide for Kenyans

In Summary

• Eric Wafukho says his value system is built around servanthood, hope, accountability, people, and environment.

• New CAS reminisces life and times when growing up in polygamous family of 50 children, 60 cousins. 

Treasury CAS Eric Simiyu Wafukho during an interview with the Star in Nairobi, Tuesday, February 23, 2021.
NEW MAN Treasury CAS Eric Simiyu Wafukho during an interview with the Star in Nairobi, Tuesday, February 23, 2021.
Image: MOSES ODHIAMBO

It takes a village to raise a child, the proverb goes.

For newly appointed Treasury CAS Eric Simiyu Wafukho, the village was his father’s home. Or how else would you describe a family of 50 siblings, 60 cousins and 10 mothers?

Wafukho was born to his father’s third wife, the eighth of his 50 children.

He says the life of struggle from his large family, which had political challenges, shaped him to be more understanding.

The CAS is no stranger to political machinations, having sat in the laps of big names such as Masinde Muliro and Moses Mudavadi – Musalia Mudavadi’s – father while growing up.

His father, former councillor William Wafukho, who also served as Trans Nzoia county council chairman, used to host Masinde and senior Mudavadi for talks on resettling Africans at Independence. Senior Wafukho was manager of ranches that traded as the Orion Group.

On the day of his appointment by President Uhuru Kenyatta, he was about to take an early rest after day-long campaigns in Kabuchai and Matungu by-elections when the news hit the airwaves.

He had accompanied ANC leader Mudavadi, who had been joined by Wiper boss Kalonzo Musyoka, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula.

Wafukho was the team’s technical expert tasked to explore development issues in the respective constituencies.

His job was to get a picture of what the new MPs could realistically deliver in a short time to the 2022 General Election.

He was also to design how Ford Kenya and ANC would overcome voter apathy, the influence of national politics in the polls, and map cash needs for the campaign.

Tired and with the urge for early checkout, he asked a colleague to bid goodbye to the bigwigs who were meeting at a private residence for dinner.

But before the runner stepped out of the car, a barrage of congratulatory calls began to stream in on his line – which he first thought had to do with the meetings.

It was until unusual callers rang his line—people outside political circles, friends in the private sector and in government—that he realised something big was cooking.

His brother showed him a screenshot showing Uhuru had appointed him as National Treasury Chief Administrative Secretary.

“Initially, I thought it was a dream until the security opened the doors to the private home. I was ushered in and told I could not retire early as I was now an important person,” he told the Star in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

“That was an interesting evening because the people I had revered from a distance were now embracing, hugging, and giving me counsel,” Wafukho said.

What encouraged him more, he said, was that Mudavadi, whom they had worked with closely and put tight plans for 2022, released him.

“He said the country needed me. His word was, ‘Go serve your God and your country’. That was a very great step of patriotism and loyalty to the country,” he added.

On seeing that a flight the following morning would be challenging, a team was assembled to drive with him to Nairobi that very night.

This was for him to attend the swearing-in, which had been scheduled for 10am the following day without fail.

That was an interesting evening because the people I had revered from a distance were now embracing, hugging, and giving me counsel.
Treasury CAS Eric Wafukho

Even so, the phone calls kept coming in, with over 736 messages in tow, some from people he had lost contact with for 10 years.

“The dilemma was which one to respond to or not; and how to control the nature of the conversation. There are those who saw me as their saviour while some were asking for jobs, others for business.”

Others wanted to offer him security, including those he was not on good terms with.

“I realised that appointments have a way of healing relationships, restoring lost connections and creating new sets of problems.”

To him, the appointment changed his story, especially for his father, whom he had once disappointed by joining missionary service instead of looking for a well-paying job after leaving university.

Wafukho was born and raised in Trans Nzoia, schooled there and graduated with a first degree in Mathematics at the University of Nairobi.

He then proceeded to Makerere University to mentor and coach students before leaving for the United States for a while.

The CAS boasts of 30-year experience in corporate and volunteer organisations. He says he became a CEO at 29 years in Jamaica.

He was the country director for World Relief and later Campus Crusaders of Christ.

He had a stint as senior leader at World Vision on development programming and has consulted for over 100 European entities, including the Global Fund.

These experiences, he said, earned him the title of “Mr Strategy”; and he has written 16 books on leadership and governance.

But all has not been rosy for him.

At one point, Wafukho had to drop out of Bungoma School for a year for lack of school fees, shortly after he was selected for an exchange programme in the US on account of his high IQ.

He had been also selected, with a schoolmate called Abdi Mohamed, to skip classes and help Form 4 students with physics lessons.

“We walked around as resident geniuses. Whenever I was number one, Abdi never collected his exam card. The year I was to skip classes, Abdi proceeded to write the exams.”

He said it was after the headteacher went looking for him that he returned to class as a candidate and topped in the national exams.

His A-level at Njoro High School was not a smooth ride as he skipped classes for months after his books were “stolen by a friend and held as exhibits”.

He was asked to repeat but declined and later topped in the mock exams.

Wafukho says the life of struggle from his large family, which had political challenges, shaped him to be more understanding.

He was born during the independence era, and grew up in a white man’s home, hence hails himself as a son from a highly political family.

“I used to see my dad working with leaders. I was the one carrying snuff for Masinde Muliro and I was sitting on his lap as they discussed leadership issues.

“I saw my dad working with Mudavadi senior to help bring Africans to Trans Nzoia ranches. I got to see my father work with President Jomo Kenyatta to make it possible to transfer land from British to Africans,” he said.

Wafukho, a father of three, adds that his father was proud of him, and carried his report cards to the family businesses, among them a bar, for bragging rights.

He said the old man used to pull out the report card and tell his friends how he (Eric) did well at school.

“I used to stay with him until late and accompanied him to his farms. At times, I would miss school as our farms were far apart and I never knew where I’d spent the night.”

He told the Star that despite the huge number of their family members, “there was no reference of stepmother or step-brother”.

“Our father went further to help us love our cousins whom he was raising. He gave them land. I have grown in a highly social environment where lessons of love, community, leadership, and sacrifice were engrained in me.”

On his relationship with Mudavadi, Wafukho says their close interactions date back to 1990s when the ANC leader was Agriculture minister.

"I admired how he was conducting his affairs in the country. I observed what he spoke and stood for. I had known the family but we had not been that close."

The CAS says he watched the former VP when he declined a nomination slot after losing in 2002, on exoneration in the Goldenberg probe; later in 2005 during the referendum that birthed ODM; in 2007 when the ANC boss was 'rigged' out of ODM flagbearer elections and at negotiations for the National Accord.