My first contact with Senator Godfrey Gitahi Kariuki was in 1980 when I was in Class 6. My primary school was just three years old. Our farm, Salama, had been bought from a colonial farmer, a Mr Nixon in early 70s, through the assistance of the then Assistant Minister for Lands and Settlement and the Laikipia West MP, G G Kariuki. GG had come to see the progress of Salama Farm and commission the school and the construction of a dispensary. His hosts were the directors of Salama Farmers’ Company, with Mukira Gathekia as the chairman, Mburu Kugeria as the treasurer, and J. B. Ndung’u as the long serving secretary. My father, John Mwangi Iribe, was vice-secretary. I remember GG donated 300 iron sheets for the construction of staff houses for the school. After the occasion, there was a moment of refreshments and that is when I shook GG’s hand, itself a momentous occurrence to a school boy given GG’s national stature then as the powerful Minister of Internal Security and Provincial Administration.
I later joined Mwenje Secondary School, where GG’s shadow loomed larger than life. He frequently visited the school. His elder brother, Mr Waigwa, a Senior Chief, was a board member. He had many relatives in the school. Most of the students were sons and daughters of people he helped resettle. He paid fees for many of the students, some of whom I know and relate with to date. This school has given Kenya the current DCI, Mr Ndegwa Muhoro. After secondary school, it took close to two decades before I met GG again.
By the time GG and I met again, I was already a university lecturer, and he was still in politics. He had upgraded his formal education — having dropped out of school at Form 2 when his Independent School was closed down by the colonialists — and he now had a Master’s degree in International Relations. He had also written his autobiography, Illusion of Power: Fifty Years in Kenyan Politics. I was trying to understand his life because I was going to review this autobiography in a radio programme. It is during these meetings in his then office at Four Way Towers that I got to penetrate his mind and discover an intelligent, humorous and patriotic man nicknamed ‘elephant.’ This “elephant” was evident not in his stature, not even on his gold ring which had one engraved on it, but in his mind, soul and heart.
After reviewing his autobiography, I called on him again with the intention of inviting him to the station. “You have built me to the heights of a skyscraper!” he told me once I got into his office. His story had reverberated in Laikipia. One two-hour session was not enough to interact with the people who called in and it became necessary to host him for a second session. He was at his best when interacting with the electorate. It is at around this time, while having lunch at a city hotel, that he deluded me and my fellow intellectuals for giving politics a wide berth and immersing ourselves in “unnecessary theorising.” “Your local areas need you people; go back and emancipate the people there,” he advised in his usual soft spoken manner.
I was to later meet GG many times at the University of Nairobi as he soldiered on with his PhD research. We would have long sessions discussing scholarship and he would often joke: “I will soon have a PhD like you, but different from yours, mine will be spiced with a lot of practical experience.”
Well, this came to pass in December 2015. It was a very fulfilling moment for him, having rejected honorary PhD degrees several times. Incidentally, even after earning his PhD, GG did not even once change to Dr Kariuki.
In one of our chance meetings, GG suggested that if his autobiography were to be translated into Kiswahili, it would reach more people than the English version. He challenged me to do it and I picked up the gauntlet. His plan was to finance the publication through the East African Education Publishers, where the original version was published, or to get rights to do it elsewhere. Well, this is one of his dreams that he left unfulfilled.
While I have completed the translation: Njozi ya Mamlaka: Miaka Hamsini Katika Siasa za Kenya, the book is yet to be published. I trust this dream will come to fruition.
GG had great confidence in Kenya and always wished the country well. His pet subject was peace. He abhorred insecurity and was always greatly disturbed that his own county was time and again the theatre of insecurity.
In my opinion, the best send-off we can bestow Hon Dr Godfrey Gitahi Kariuki is to maintain peace in Laikipia County and indeed the entire nation, especially in this electioneering season.
Fare thee well GG.
Prof Iribe Mwangi, a linguist and author, is the Chairman of the Department of Kiswahili, University of Nairobi and the CEO of Almasi Language Consultants. [email protected]