How Saitoti’s early life shaped his rise to tower of academic and political prowess
Posted Friday, June 15 2012 at 22:30
The narrow, dusty road leading to Mama Zipporah Musengi’s house at Olkeri in Upper Matasia, Ngong, belies the palatial edifice one meets on arrival and is indicative of the journey her son, Prof George Saitoti, has travelled.
In school they called him a moving dictionary because he had mastered the entire dictionary, according to accounts of his classmates.
One of the richest Kenyans, his Ngong home was just one of his properties, which included three other homes in Lavington, Kitengela and Molo South, where he has a ranch.
His immense wealth was said to be in real estate and farming. Read (Saitoti was a 'team player')
He was a towering political figure, a business magnate and an intellectual giant, but his rise to the mercurial status he had acquired at the time of his death last Sunday in an air crash barely 10 kilometres from the home of his childhood was laced with struggle and shrouded in mystery.
Prof Saitoti’s year of birth, 1945, was a year of destiny, a tumultuous moment in world’s history.
The Russian Red Army won the Battle of Berlin and Adolf Hitler allegedly committed suicide; the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the United Nations was formed, marking an end to the Second World War.
In the words of Winston Churchill, who incidentally left 10 Downing Street, the UK seat of government in 1945, Prof Saitoti had been born into “this world of strife and storm.”
And while Churchill’s words were directed at Prince Philip, who had been born in 1948, the speech could have also been meant for Kenya’s Vice President of 13 years, who despite straddling the country’s political landscape like the colossus for three decades, his background is somewhat obscure.
Also despite being a breath away from the presidency, he suffered humiliation under then President Daniel Moi.
The height of this humiliation came at a meeting in his constituency where Mr Moi explained his reasons for overlooking him in his succession plans.
Speaking in Swahili, Mr Moi said: “Huyu makamu wa rais ni rafiki yangu. Lakini urafiki na siasa ni tofauti...” (The Vice President is my friend. But politics and friendship are two very different things.)”
The two top most politicians in the country’s face-off at Kasarani in March 2002 has been immortalised with the words, “there come (sic) a time when the nation becomes more important than an individual,” uttered by the then Vice President.
While official records gloss over his early life, interviews carried out by Saturday Nation point at the present day Dagoretti Corner as his birth place.
At the onset of the Emergency in the early 1950s, the family is said to have moved to Ngong in Kajiado to escape colonial persecution targeting the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru communities.
A retired senior official, who was one class behind Saitoti, says they lived in a gichagi, a crowded village where families that had moved to escape colonial oppression.
“It was in 1952 at the onset of emergency. Many families from around Nairobi converged at Olkeri, near Ololua outside Ngong. It was natural that we spoke Kiswahili rather than our individual languages,” said a former a senior government official.
Mr Samuel ole Tawuo, 64, who is a retired chief of Olkeri, says he was three classes behind Saitoti at Ololua Primary School where he espoused his academic prowess and leadership.