Saitoti’s elusive presidency

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.

Professor George Saitoti. Picture by Tom Maruko

Professor George Saitoti. Picture by Tom Maruko

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.


Maize discontent could spark chaos

The Kenyan government’s bungling of the maize crisis is not only a display of sheer incompetence by the national leadership, but is setting the stage for political instability and the eventual collapse of the state.

Agriculture Minister, William Ruto, has worsened maize shortages.

Agriculture Minister, William Ruto, has worsened maize shortages.

Massive discontent is growing among Kenya’s people because the government cannot ensure an affordable supply of maize to the poor. The goverrnment sold most of the maize to speculators.

Intelligence reports indicate that Kenyans are angry with a political class that divides the people along ethnic lines so as to exploit the suffering of the masses. The only reason why a rebel force has not emerged in Kenya is because of ethnic distrust perpetuated by politicians. Most Kenyans are slowly awakening to the tragic consequences of ethnic hatred and regret at having participated in ethnic cleansing last year on behalf of leaders that do not care about their plight.

A bitter election between Kibaki and Raila resulted in violence as both claimed victory. 1,500 died and half a million left homeless between December 2007 and April 2008 in tit-for-tat ethnic warfare between Raila and Kibaki supporters. After the election, the two men formed a coalition that is now the cause of weeping and gnashing of teeth in Kenya. Bitterness with the experience runs so high that people have vowed never to vote again.

Though its been a year since the violence, the economy has not recovered. Majority of the displaced cannot return to their former homes as political leaders continually incite ethnic hatred. However, these politicians are doing nothing to ease the hunger of their own ethnic groups. Instead, the ruling elite is wallowing in group sex orgies. Raila’s first born son is married to a woman from President Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group inspite of Raila mouthing anti-Kikuyu venom whenever he meets his supporters.

Kenyans have become so desperately hungry that families in the countryside are eating wild berries, grass and poisonous tubers. Kenya’s poor are going for three days without eating. Economic productivity has declined as hungry workers prefer staying in bed for lack of energy. Children are dropping out of school to help feed the family. Girls and women are plunging into the murky world of prostitution.

A woman admitted on national television to sending her teenage daughter to have sex in exchange for money to feed the rest of the family. The man of the house is bedridden, too weak to earn a living. The woman sells her daughter for 20 shillings a night (US $0.25). This cannot buy a loaf of bread.

The international community is fully aware of how a greedy political elite is plunging Kenya into destruction. Since 2006, the CIA has warned the US White House that Kenya is becoming a failed state. It was because of CIA intelligence that former US President George W Bush met Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete to discuss the likely effects of Kenya’s implosion on neighbouring states.

It is generally agreed in international circles that Kenya should not be allowed to fail. It is worth noting that Tanzania’s President Kikwete played a leading role in the formation of the Kibaki – Raila coalition ended months of ethnic bloodshed in 2008. With the Tanzania border being close to the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, Kikwete was worried about a huge influx of Kenyan refugees.

Kenya is host to the only United Nations office in a developing country. The United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON) coordinates relief, refugee, education, healthcare and development programmes not only for Africa but for Asia and Latin America.

Most diplomats posted to Nairobi are also managing their countries’ interests across East and Central Africa due to Nairobi’s central location in the region. Thus, Kenya is a prime location whose stability is vital to international institutions and foreign missions.

However, diplomats should stop living a lie. Unless there is drastic change in Kenya’s leadership, calamity will befall this beautiful East African country. The most optimistic statistics show unemployment hovering at well above 40%. Transport and communication infrastructure is collapsing. Electricity and water supply are erratic. Organized crime is on the increase as gangs affiliated to politicians extort protection fees from business.

The police are engaging in killings, abduction and torture of those challenging the ruling elite.In addition to killing over 1,000 young Kikuyu men, security officers have been implicated in the abduction and beheading of a journalist in Kisii. The journalist was exposing corruption rackets involving local police.

The country’s rulers are milking the national treasury dry with scam after scam. Money is wasted on obscene salaries that make the Kenyan president earn as much as the US President. Whatever remains is squandered in prestige projects that have no value to ordinary people. The Nairobi City Council is spending millions of shillings building water fountains as 60% of of the city lacks clean water. The government is purchasing an office block for Shs700 million (US $9 million) as it launches an international appeal to feed the starving.

To worsen matters, shortages in maize are caused by devious deals by Kenya’s ruling elite. President Mwai Kibaki’s associates, Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s family, Agriculture Minister William Ruto and legislators across political parties have been implicated in buying and holding large stocks of maize in the hope of higher prices. This will give them huge profits which they will use for campaigns in the 2012 general elections. William Ruto is said to have personally authorized the state-owned National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to release maize to prominent individuals.

As a result of these activities, maize prices are rising dramatically. A 2 kilogramme packet of maize flour is now selling at 100 Kenya Shillings (US$1.3). These prices are simply out of reach for a country where more than half the population is surviving on less than a dollar a day.

Ironically, while campaigning for the 2007 General Elections, Prime Minister Raila Odinga had waged war against Kibaki for not controlling rising food prices. Back then, a 2 kilogramme packet of maize flour was selling for Kshs65 ($0.8). Raila vowed that, if elected President, he would reduce the price to Kshs30 ($0.38). Though Raila did not win the polls and had to settle for Prime Minister his inability to do reduce food prices has shaken his core support.

A plan that Raila introduced late last year to provide subsidized maize to the poor has fallen flat on its face. Working with his political ally, William Ruto, Raila proposed two sets of maize flour: a government branded package that would sell cheaply and the usual commercial packaging that millers would sell at market rates.

The subsidy plan was politically driven after the Prime Minister was booed in his strongholds. There was no analysis as to the financial viability of the subsidy plan. With the failure of maize subsidy, the government need not worry about the World Bank and IMF breathing fire down their necks. But what is the fate of the ordinary Kenyan for whom the price of food is out of reach?

Prison warders mutiny sign of trouble

The mutiny by Kenya’s prison warders entered its 5th day today, epitomizing a nation lurching from one crisis to another.

Though less confrontational than they had been last week, Kenya’s prison guards harbor deep bitterness against the state over numerous failed promises in the provision of adequate housing, payment of allowances and generally better terms of service. The government, through Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, has threatened to prosecute striking prison warders while promising to address these grievances. Media reports indicate that several senior prisons officers have been questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department.

The Prison warder’s strike is an explosion of social discontent over the conduct of the State in the past three months. Kenyans have become disillusioned with the country’s leadership which is seen to sacrifice the lives of the poor for the purpose of seeking political goodies. And with discontent growing across the country, sociologists fear that worse is to come.

Unlike most of Africa, Kenya’s security forces are regarded as highly professional and have largely kept out of politics. The last time there was a mutiny of similar proportions was in August 1982, when junior officers of the Kenya Airforce went on a rampage on the streets of Nairobi and declared a coup. However, the coup lasted a couple of hours and was crushed by combined elements of the Army and paramilitary police. In 1964, just after independence, sections of the Army mutinied but the presence of British forces prevented the situation from getting out of hand.

The December 2007 General Elections that plunged the country into an orgy of looting and killings divided the country socially and politically. It is believed that these divisions have affected the security forces as well, with personnel professing split loyalties to either political faction. On the national scene, the country’s political leaders show little inclination towards creating a process of social healing.

As further testimony to the infighting wrecking the country, Kenya’s Minister for Labour said that his ministry should not be sidelined in seeking a solution to the prison department’s labor dispute. “I will not allow my ministry to be sidelined. As the Minister for Labour, I must be involved,” said Mr John Munyes.

The current situation in Kenya has all the ingredients that a coup-plotter could exploit. Indeed, had Kenya been any other African country, a coup (military or otherwise) would have taken place long ago. It remains to be seen whether the country’s leaders are awake to the crisis they have created or whether they are waiting for the tide to sweep them off the stage.

Raila, Kibaki defy Kalenjin politicians

President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga began today a series of tours in the Rift Valley aimed at reconciling warring communities after violence in January left thousands dead.

Kibaki and Raila made the trip in with Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka inspite of protests by Kalenjin politicians that their people were not ready to welcome back the hundreds of thousands evicted from the area.

During the January violence, Kalenjin evicted Kikuyu from their farms and businesses saying that they were reclaiming their ancestral lands. However, it happened that the Kalenjin supported Raila in his presidential bid in last December’s elections while the Kikuyu supported Kibaki. Thus the violence was both ethnic and political. Among the key aspects of the National Accord that created the giant coalition between Kibaki and Raila was the return of persons displaced by the ethno-political violence.

Raila finds himself in an awkward position because as Prime Minister, he is expected to champion the interests of all the country’s ethnic groups. Following violence against the Kikuyu in the Rift Valley, there were reprisal attacks against the Raila’s Luo ethnic group as well as the Kalenjin in the Central Province, Nairobi, Naivasha and Nakuru. Thousands of Luo were forced from their homes and are now camping in football stadia, churches and schools. In Nakuru, the Luo camps are just kilometres away from camps housing Kikuyu evicted from the Rift Valley. Therefore, Raila will have to work hard to ensure his own Luo people return to their homes and businesses as well.

Inhabiting the fertile highlands of the Western Rift Valley, the Kalenjin say their land has been occupied by outsiders. Since 1992, during the Presidency of Daniel arap Moi (himself a Kalenjin) clashes have erupted intermittently as a growing Kalenjin population demands more land for its youth. The ODM politicians opposed to the return of refugees to the Rift Valley do not want to appear as going against communal sentiments.

Moi stooges drive Kenya into ruins

Former President Daniel arap Moi (right) discussing a point with his ministers in this 1999 photo.

When a country has one leader for very many years, trouble is bound to erupt when that particular person leaves office.

The French Revolution is attributed in part to the lengthy reign of Louis XIV. Malaysian politics has been chaotic ever since Dr Mahathir Muhammad left after 22 years as Prime Minister. Indonesia has never stabilized since the fall of the late Suharto in 1998. The Congo is yet to regain its footings with the fall of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 after 32 years in power.

Kenya has been suffering the same problem since 2002 with the retirement of President Daniel arap Moi after 24 years of office. The country’s political leadership – both in opposition and in government – is confused. The country is rudderless and tottering on the brink of anarchy. There is no direction, only greed, vice and self-centeredness. The people are like lost sheep wondering in the dark crying out for salvation. But alas! Their cries are like the chirping of crickets outside a rich family’s home … One man is to blame for the current mess in Kenya. And that man is Moi.

All the political leaders we have today are nothing more than Moi stooges. Moi created them in his own image with one objective in mind: to protect him and to preserve the status-quo. Moi did not create this people to become innovative or creative or servants of the people. No! Moi created this people to become stupid, greedy, selfish, corrupt and uncaring. There were people that were right-thinking and creative and full of ideas. Moi corrupted them and those who were morally upright were eliminated or forced into exile.

There was a time when Kalonzo Musyoka would not shake hands with the opposition for fear of “contaminating” himself. Kalonzo was so loyal to his mentor that he had a whole district created to provide him with a loyal political base. Even as a presidential candidate last year, Kalonzo refused to criticize Moi and went out of his way to assure Moi of protection. According to the political grapevine, Kalonzo’s campaign was a beneficiary of Moi funds. But on this aspect, he is in plenty of good company.

President Kibaki (right) at a national function with the Chief of General Staff, Jeremiah Kianga.

President Kibaki (right) at a national function with Chief of General Staff, Jeremiah Kianga

President Mwai Kibaki served as Moi’s Vice President for 8 years. At that time, Kibaki said that President Moi’s KANU party was so strong that opposition was useless. In 1990, Kibaki left KANU to form his own Democratic Party which was notorious for its lucklustre nature. By 2002, thanks to a shrinking economy, Moi was so despised that voters gave their votes to Kibaki almost en-masse. Four years later, Kibaki was making deals with Moi. A few months to the 2007 elections, Moi gave Kibaki his endorsement as well as millions in campaign funds.

William ole Ntimama and Kipkalya Kones served their political patron well by evicting opposition voters from the Rift Valley. George Saitoti and Musalia Mudavadi were plucked from academic obscurity, placed in the Treasury, and presided over grand looting of the Central Bank. Infact, the only reason Mudavadi is anything is because his father, the late Moses Mudavadi, was a good friend of the dictator – Moi.

Najib Balala owes his political prominence to Moi. Actually, Balala’s story is quite interesting. Balala was mentored by a Moi court-jester, the late Sharrif Nassir. Moi, being the devious politician he is, groomed Balala to keep Nassir politically occupied. Later on, Balala fell out with Moi and joined Raila Odinga.

Raila Odinga in traditional dress.

Raila Odinga: this man spent so much time and energy fighting Moi that he became the monster he was fighting. Raila Odinga was detained by Moi in extremely atrocious conditions, subjected to extreme torture for his oppositionist leanings in the 1980s. But like the ancient tragedies, Raila became the very thing he was fighting against.

Like Moi, Raila does not tolerate opposition in his backyard. Democracy is a term used when its convenient to please the international community. Like Moi, Raila does not have a political ideology but latches onto popular sentiment for the sake of winning popularity. Like Moi, Raila neither has permanent friends nor permanent enemies (part of ODM campaign funds came from Moi clones such as Joshua Kulei). Like Moi, Raila is a populist prone to impromptu roadside announcements. Like Moi, Raila is more comfortable with the rural peasant than with the urban intelligentsia. Like Moi, Raila uses ethnic and racial prejudices to shore up his political support.

And, again like Moi, Raila would rather work with people he himself has annointed. In Luo Nyanza, majority of Members of Parliament are related to Raila by blood or by marriage. When Musalia Mudavadi decided to run for the presidency last year, Raila went to Musalia’s home in Vihiga and told the crowd that he had instructed Musalia to vie. He did the same thing in Eldoret when William Ruto was a candidate for the presidency. Is it a coincidence that most of the Moi stooges are with Raila?

William Ruto: the latest champion of democracy in Kenya. Moi may not be Ruto’s biological father but he is certainly Ruto’s political godfather. At least, people like Kibaki, Kalonzo and Saitoti had careers of their own before Moi brought them aboard his political academy. Ruto was a nobody before he met Moi. It was Moi that took him and moulded him into who he is today. It should come as no surprise that today, Ruto proclaims himself as leader of the Kalenjin. He is certainly following in the footsteps of his mentor for the Kalenjin leadership.

Ruto thinks that by evicting the Kikuyu from Eldoret, he will be establishing his credentials as protector of his people. Little does he know that he is getting into a trap designed by his political mentor.