Reborn under multiparty system, Saitoti found personal liberation
Posted Monday, June 11 2012 at 20:00
In a sojourn in journalism nearly as long as Prof George Saitoti’s career in politics, I interacted only intermittently with the fallen Internal Security Minister even as I kept a close eye on his activities.
The last time I met Prof Saitoti was last December when we shared the stage during the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Conference hosted by Mr Kofi Annan at Nairobi’s Crowne Plaza.
As we exchanged pleasantries, I was struck at how at ease he was, a stark contrast to the Moi years when he often seemed afraid of his own shadow.
It was like Prof Saitoti had spent a great deal of time and energy as Moi’s Vice-President fighting the forces of reform, and ironically had been freed by the very same forces he so vigorously countered.
In Kenya, where ethnic affiliation, loyalty, obedience, trust and deep personal links matter so much, no President entrusts a powerful docket to just any minister.
From President Kenyatta on to President Moi and then President Kibaki, the Provincial Administration and Internal Security docket has only been given the minister one can trust with his life.
It is the police, the intelligence services and the entire national security machinery. It is the Provincial Administration with its tentacles stretching from Nairobi to every nook and cranny in the country.
It is a vast officialdom of the colonial era system of command and control that Kenyatta and Moi described as their eyes and ears.
When President Kibaki appointed Prof Saitoti to the all-powerful docket, it was a sign that the man had grown to command a central role in the government.
That triggers in my mind a rather bizarre encounter in 1992. I was working with The Weekly Review, and I drove deep inside Kajiado North Constituency to cover Prof Saitoti at a campaign rally.
His address deep in rural Kajiado, where he needed the help of a Maa language interpreter, was dominated by an angry denunciation of opposition leader Mwai Kibaki. I sensed that there was something personal.
When Prof Saitoti realised that there were journalists witnessing events, he went apoplectic.
He angrily summoned his aides demanding to know who had called the Press.
His harried personal assistant Samson ole Surtan, who has since died, tried to plead with us not to write anything on the rally.
The plea was to no avail, but I saw at first hand the insecurity and paranoia that ruled Prof Saitoti’s life even as he wielded great power and authority in the regime of President Moi.
Another interesting encounter was shortly after the 1997 election when President Moi inexplicably dropped Prof Saitoti as VP, but left the post vacant.
I was with The Economic Review at the time, and had gone out for lunch with some colleagues at the Minar, an Indian restaurant at The Mall, in Westlands.
Seated in a curtained-off alcove was Prof Saitoti with close allies, including businessman Jared Kangwana and former MP Kipng’eno arap Ng’eny.