SECOND LIBERATION HERO

Charles Rubia and the politics of ingratitude

Machiavelli noted, 'He who builds on the people, builds on mud.'

In Summary
  • You would think that anyone who had sacrificed as much as he had, would thereafter have an easy ride into parliament.
  • But that was not to be the case. He lost his old seat, Starehe constituency, in Nairobi in the 1992 election.
Charles Wanyoike Rubia
Charles Wanyoike Rubia
Image: COURTESY

The Hon Charles Rubia who died earlier this week lived to the ripe old age of 96. And as such, his life has many lessons for posterity. But perhaps none of these lessons is quite as sharp as its illustration of just how ungrateful the Kenyan voter is.

This is a lesson all aspiring politicians should bear in mind; and which all elected leaders who have experienced the ups and downs of Kenyan politics will already be keenly aware of.

For as Machiavelli noted, “He who builds on the people, builds on mud”.

Back in 1991, when the agitation for a return to multiparty democracy was at its peak, three Kenyans stood out as being the spearhead of this movement: two of them, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, were former cabinet ministers; the third, Raila Odinga was a famous “rebel” as the man who had allegedly been behind previous attempts to uproot the autocratic government of President Daniel Moi, reportedly by unconstitutional means.

There were of course others involved, and many who made sacrifices, but these three stood out insofar as they were judged by the Moi-era police state to be the biggest threat to its dominance, and were punished proportionately with prolonged detention without the benefit of a trial.

But by then the struggle for “the Second Liberation” was well and fully underway, and unstoppable. It was part of a continental wave of such political protests demanding the opening up of political space, and for free and fair elections.

Where Rubia was luckier than most, is in that he was an independently wealthy man. If not for this, he would have been just one more of the many “retired” political leaders who also at some point contributed to the process of democratisation and paid a steep price for this, who are now to be found agitating for fairly modest sums to be paid to all who ever served as MPs, as a kind of pension.

So in time these men were released even as parliament, more or less on instruction from Moi, legislated for a return to multiparty elections.

You would think that anyone who had sacrificed as much as Rubia had, would thereafter have an easy ride into parliament. But that was not to be the case. He lost his old seat, Starehe constituency, in Nairobi in the 1992 election.

You would think that his service to the nation would have merited an immediate nomination to parliament on any of the main opposition party tickets after his loss at the ballot box. But that did not happen either.

Finally, you would imagine that he would all the same be showered with state honours and other forms of recognition worthy of a national hero. But apart from the honorary doctorate conferred on him recently by Murang’a University, no such honours were forthcoming.

 

All in all, while it is understandable that President Moi was not likely to reward a man who had been such an agonising thorn in his flesh for so long, there can be no such excuse for the political establishments of President Mwai Kibaki (who succeeded Daniel Moi) and of our current president, Uhuru Kenyatta. Both treated Rubia very shabbily.

Where Rubia was luckier than most, is in that he was an independently wealthy man. Indeed, as early as the 1960s, he was already some kind of tycoon, holding directorships in several prominent corporations.

If not for this, he would have been just one more of the many “retired” political leaders who also at some point contributed to the process of democratisation and paid a steep price for this, who are now to be found agitating for fairly modest sums to be paid to all who ever served as MPs, as a kind of pension.

Most Kenyans view this kind of agitation with contempt and say that those who voluntarily opted to seek elective offices have no business now asking for any form of pension.

All this reminds us of perhaps the most famous extract from Machiavelli’s The Prince, in which he warns aspiring leaders to look at men as they are, and not as they ought to be:

“…this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children…when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you.”