The story isn’t much what State House releases as official dispatch. It is in what never comes to the public limelight. These are some of the incidents State House shall never confirm or deny ever happened.
Kiarie wa Mbugua is a familiar name in Kiambu county. It’s the name of a famous businessman who died sometimes back.
Many knew Kiarie wa Mbugua or Kiarie wa Njoki to be a businessman and coffee farmer. But many others knew he did other things that angels in heaven weren’t happy with. To the latter, the man was Kiarie Muiici (Kiaire The Thief).
During the reign of President Daniel arap Moi, authorities made an attempt to close in on the businessman. Threatened, he secured an appointment with the President, who he knew well, to go and explain his innocence. He carried with him a briefcase loaded with land title deeds and logbooks to prove all he owned was legally acquired. But in the briefcase was also his licensed gun, a Ceska pistol.
State House security didn’t bother to screen the old man and he got to the President’s office with all his cargo. With only the two of them in the room, the businessman pulled out his bundle of documents together with a pistol which he carefully placed on the table.
According to a former Commissioner of Police Bernard Hinga, now deceased, who told me the story, the President almost choked on his coffee after finding himself all alone in a room with an armed man — moreover, one who was widely thought not to walk the straight and narrow path. Moi reportedly concluded the meeting in a hurry and promised the businessman he’d have the police stop harassing him.
Outside the State House building, the businessman didn’t know what hit him as dozens of presidential guards literally “airlifted” him and took him to an isolated room for interrogation.
In the meantime, his vehicle was searched by bomb experts and towed out of the State House compound. He was set free hours later after pleading his innocence by arguing that his pistol wasn’t loaded and he’d no bullets with him, meaning he had no intention to make use of the gun, and that he happened to have the pistol with him that day because it never left his briefcase.
Get out of my office else ...
Police boss Hinga, too, had his share of drama with State House. Not long after Moi’s ascension to power, the President had summoned and expressed displeasure at the senior policeman’s work.
Hinga, an ally of departed President Jomo Kenyatta, who had all along seen it coming, asked for early retirement. But Moi, who always liked to have the last word, declined the offer and asked him to stay on until told the way forward in the coming weeks.
But even as they were talking, the President already picked his replacement — GSU Commandant Ben Gethi — who was instructed to go to police headquarters at Vigilance House and occupy the Commissioner’s office.
Back at his office from State House, Hinga found a new police commissioner seated at his desk. The exchange of words wasn’t friendly: “What are you doing in my office?” Hinga demanded. When Gethi said he had been instructed by the Head of State to move in, the beleaguered boss opened his drawer and pulled out a loaded pistol.
“Look here, I am just from State House and the President didn’t mention anything of the sort,” fumed Hinga. “To me what you have done is gross insubordination and you have one minute to leave my office or I will shoot you dead!”
The GSU man knew better than to argue and hurriedly left for State House to seek further instructions. In the meantime, the sacked Commissioner packed his personal effects as he waited for the inevitable. Soon after, the President telephoned and ordered him to vacate office with immediate effect.
SCENE FROM HOLLYWOOD
Some time in late 1980s, British wheeler-dealer and rogue tycoon Tiny Rowland made to broker resumption of Kenyan diplomatic ties with Libya which had been severed in 1987.
Kenya had accused Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi of funding political dissidents to topple Moi. As part of the deal, Gaddafi would make a thank-you gesture by putting a million dollars in a secret account. The money would be at the disposal of Moi to “donate” to a “project” of his choice.
Subsequently, Gaddafi dispatched his special envoy, one Moussa Goulle, to Nairobi with a cheque reportedly worth $100,000 (Sh10 million at current exchange rates). The balance of $900,000 (Sh90 million) would be wired to the secret account immediately the announcement to resume diplomatic ties with Libya was made public.
On the day the announcement was to be made, Gaddafi’s envoy, Tiny Rowland, and Moi’s “Mr Fix-It” Mark Too, were holed up in a room at Nairobi’s Norfolk Hotel waiting for the big “announcement” to be broadcast in the seven o’clock evening news. In the meantime, State House kept calling Rowland, imploring him to ask Gaddafi’s man to go ahead and wire the money as the “announcement” was sure to come.
But Gaddafi’s envoy wouldn’t budge until he saw the white smoke. It was a typical scene from a Hollywood movie where a Mexican drug dealer, briefcase in one hand and a gun in the other, meets American Cowboy at the border, also with his own briefcase stashed with dollars and holding a gun. Not trusting the other, neither the Cowboy nor the Mexican wants to make the first move and let go of the precious briefcase!
Come 7 pm, there was no announcement. Mark Too, who knew the game at play, kept urging Gaddafi’s envoy to wire the money but to no avail. Come the 9 pm prime news, there was still no announcement.
After two days of waiting, Gaddafi’s man flew back home and no money was wired. But there was no refund for the 10 per cent down-payment!
Rowland, too, once had his own comedy with State House. One day he flew to Nairobi with a suitcase stashed with 100 pieces of neckties from one of his high-end clothes stores in London. He wanted to give 20 or so of the neckties to the President and the rest to assorted functionaries who were in positions to do the British tycoon a favour here or there.
At State House, Rowland showed the neckties to the President and asked him to pick what suited his taste.
“I like all of them and will keep them!” Moi reportedly replied. The tycoon had to order another consignment of neckties for the rest of his friends but this time round took the wise precaution of not first showing them to the President.
Another hallmark of Moi’s State House was that he rarely agreed to have any letters written or signed in his name. One-time State House comptroller and former Cabinet minister Franklin Bett once told me how difficult it was to get Moi to agree to have a written record of what transpired at State House. He told me: “I would write a letter and place it on the President’s desk only to find it at the same place I left it. Moi wouldn’t append his signature on anything unless it was extremely a must.”
Bett gave up one day after an angry President chided him: “The problem with you,” the President reportedly told him, “Is these letters you keep writing. How many letters did you find here written or signed in (Jomo) Kenyatta’s name?”
In the worst-case scenario, President Moi would disown his own signature! One-time Head of the Civil Service Philip Mbithi told me of an incident when the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) chairman Richard Leakey went to the President with a copy of a title deed signed by the Head of State for KWS land grabbed by developers. Leakey threatened to resign his position if the illegal allocation wasn’t revoked.
According to Mbithi, Moi gave the famous green signature one look and shouted: “This is perfect forgery. It can’t be my signature!”
Banging the table in pretended fury, the President ordered on the intercom: “Tell Mbithi and the CID (Criminal Investigations Department) head to be here right away!”
Within minutes, the civil service boss and the CID head, Noah arap Too, were in the President’s office.
“I can’t allow this to happen!” Moi shouted at the two as he banged the table even harder. “I am giving you two up to six in the evening to arrest the crooks involved. Failure to do that, you’re jobless!”
Hours later, Mbithi telephoned the CID head to find out how far he was gone with the investigations.
“What investigations? That’s the President’s signature and he knows it!” replied the CID head.
“So what do we tell him when he asks?” Mbithi wanted to know.
“I can assure you he won’t ask”, replied the CID head. “That matter went out of his mind immediately we left his door. It was all a show to make Leakey not quit his job!”
Being vague was also one of Moi’s best “defence” mechanisms. He’d rarely be found uttering words that would later be used against him.
Just before he left office in 2002, some State corporations irregularly banked money with a crooked financial institution known as Eurobank, which later collapsed resulting in loss of taxpayers’ money.
Upon Moi’s exit from power, the culprits were charged in court. One day I happened to chat with one of the accused and asked him what was the inside story in the scandal. He told me the money had been deposited at Eurobank on implicit directives from State House.
“Then why don’t you tell the court as much?” I asked. I can’t!” he replied, “The directive wasn’t openly stated, let alone put in writing!”
According to the besieged parastatal head who spoke to me, this is what happened. One morning, he and his colleagues were invited for breakfast at State House. They found the President chatting with directors of the collapsed bank.
As they took breakfast, the President kept repeating that he wanted them (the bank directors and the parastatal chiefs) to work together. However, not even once did he mention the bank or say what he wanted them to work together on.
“Now should I go tell the court the President told us to go and work together?” the cornered parastatal head told me. “His lawyers might ask me what makes me think he meant we work together by depositing at the bank? May be the President meant we start a poultry project to rival Kenchic, or he meant we venture into export business to sell snake oil and dog meat to the Chinese!”