He is undoubtedly a brilliant, well accomplished personality who oozes power wherever he goes. With lots of help along the way, he has worked hard to get where he is. He is a formidable political strategist in possession of vast financial reserves. But somehow, the presidency eludes him.
The latest obstacle to Saitoti’s presidential bid is the damning report by United Nations Special Rapporteur Mr Philip Alston, which blames the Kenya Police for killing thousands of youths. As the Minister for Internal Security since January 2008, Prof Saitoti was firmly in charge as police battled protesters and ethnic militias following the disputed elections of December 2007.
Unfortunately, Prof Saitoti has vowed to continue police operations against the Mungiki sect. This is likely to worsen the kind of illegal police executions that have attracted the wrath of the United Nations.
Incidentally, Saitoti is taking the flak for widespread torture and executions that began when fellow cabinet Minister, John Michuki, was in internal security. Back in 2007, Michuki promised death for anyone suspected of belonging to Mungiki. Today, Michuki is earning accolades as Environment Minister while Saitoti takes the blame for Michuki’s ruthless orders.
Perhaps that is the problem with Saitoti: he is just too loyal to the ruling establishment in spite of his tribulations on their behalf. As Minister for Finance from the 1980s up to 1993, Saitoti looked the other way as personalities appointed by President Daniel arap Moi shamelessly looted state coffers.
The Goldenberg scandal, where the government paid billions of shillings for fake gold and diamond exports, is a blot on his career. Indeed, most Kenyans associate Saitoti with Goldenberg even though it was Moi’s baby in cahoots with the intelligence chief and close allies. Saitoti’s successor at the Ministry of Finance, Musalia Mudavadi (now Deputy Prime Minister) inherited the Goldenberg affair and paid billions but little mention is made of this fact. So interlinked is Saitoti with Goldenberg that he might as well change his first name from ‘George’ to ‘Goldenberg.’
Despite being Vice President for 12 years, Professor Saitoti never captured the popularity of Kenyans. His fortunes were tied to ex President Daniel arap Moi in ways that made him appear like Moi’s puppet. Saitoti was actually doing quite well as Professor of Mathematics at the University of Nairobi but Moi took him by the hand, introduced him to politics and elevated him at astounding speed.
A common political story says that Saitoti was so poor that he drove an old, beaten up Volkswagen Beetle. After his encounter with Moi, he suddenly crossed the valley of poverty and therefore owes his riches to Moi. The story was probably encouraged by Moi, whose meagre formal education made him insecure with Professor Saitoti. It is because of inferiority complex that Moi gave himself the title, “Professor of Politics,” to counter Saitoti’s Professor of Mathematics.
Moi appointed the mathematics professor as Finance minister in 1983. According to Kenya’s constitution, a cabinet minister must be a member of parliament, so Moi gave Saitoti a direct nomination into the legislature. At the next elections in 1988, Moi prevailed on the Member of Parliament for Kajiado North constituency to step down for Saitoti.
In 1989, Moi fell out with Vice President Josephat Karanja and appointed Saitoti in his place. Saitoti eventually became Moi’s longest serving Vice President until he was considered a potential successor. Saitoti survived so long under Moi because of his unswaying loyalty. Saitoti never said a bad thing about Moi and even when the opposition posed a serious challenge in 1992, Saitoti stuck with his political mentor.
As it turned out, Saitoti had bet on the right horse and Moi won multi party elections in 1992 and 1997. However, Moi began seeing Saitoti’s loyalty as a pain. After the 1997 elections, Moi refused to re-appoint Saitoti and the Vice Presidency remained vacant for 14 months. In early 1998, while Moi was shopping for vegetables in Limuru, he suddenly announced that he was reappointing Saitoti as Vice President.
To add salt to injury, Moi told the crowd that a Vice President was not important and that it would not add food to peoples’ plates. Moi’s exact words were:
“I have given you a Vice President like you have been asking … now I will wait to see whether it will increase the amount of maize meal in your kitchens.”
Later, Moi told a rally that there was no presidential material in his cabinet. This was a humiliating blow to Saitoti and other KANU stalwarts, including Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi.
In 2002, Moi turned his attention to his latest catch – Raila Odinga. Raila had joined KANU from the opposition after a dismal performance in the 1997 polls. Saitoti felt betrayed that, despite his loyalty, Moi was cosing up to an opposition defector. But this was not the end of the story: for in the same year, Moi abandoned Raila and chose Uhuru Kenyatta as presidential successor. Moi argued that Saitoti was not fit for the presidency.
The KANU front runners including Saitoti, Raila and Kalonzo jumped ship and joined opposition leader Mwai Kibaki in an alliance, At the 2002 polls, KANU was resoundingly defeated by the Kibaki, Raila, Saitoti and Kalonzo alliance. Saitoti shifted his loyalty from Moi to Kibaki.
In 2009, after 6 years of dedicated service to Kibaki, Saitoti was elected head of the largest pro-Kibaki outfit, the Party of National Unity (PNU). However, a United Nations report might kill Saitoti’s ambitions.
According to United Nations Special Rapporteur Mr Philip Alston, the Kenya Police created death squads to exterminate members of the outlawed Mungiki sect. The death squads reportedly received orders from senior police commanders. Alston recommended the dismissal of the country’s Attorney General and Police Commissioner but his report did not question the extent to which the political leadership was involved. Saitoti’s vow to continue the war on Mungiki will surely cast him poorly in light of the Alston report.
Will Saitoti ever make it to the presidency? He has several advantages in his favor. He is hungry for it. Nobody makes it to power without a burning ambition and sense of calling. He has the financial capabilities to mount a long-drawn campaign. He has the right contacts among Kenya’s business, religious and political elite. Saitoti has also made good friends across the world.
However, Saitoti is unpopular among the Kenyan masses. Little is known about his family while his personal history is rather hazy. Saitoti is too stiff: he is rarely seen in public without a suit. His statements are measured, designed to show loyalty rather than provoke debate. Saitoti does not appear on television or radio talk shows.
Kenyan politics is filled with characters who have done much worse than Saitoti. The present 42 member cabinet is a collection of convicted fraudsters, thieves, killers and sex predators. Saitoti has never been convicted of theft let alone other heinous crimes perpetrated by his colleagues who, interestingly, are hugely popular.
Saitoti needs to talk more to the Kenyan people about his presidential bid. He needs to become his own man and shake off the image of aloofness that he is known for. He needs to give more information about his family and about his past.
If he doesn’t do these, he will not connect with the voters.
Filed under: Analysis, Politics Tagged: | daniel arap moi, george saitoti, goldenberg, kajiado north, kalonzo musyoka, KANU, kenya, kenya african national union, kenya police, mungiki, musalia mudavadi, mwai kibaki, nairobi, Philip Alston, raila odinga