alexa Sunkuli back to legal practice after stint in politics - Daily Nation

Sunkuli back to legal practice after stint in politics

Sunday November 3 2019

KANU

Former Cabinet minister Julius Sunkuli. About two decades ago, he was seen as a powerful government official who used his position to shield himself from prosecution. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

 NYAMBEGA GISESA
By NYAMBEGA GISESA
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As we walk through the streets of Nairobi from his Hazina Towers offices, Julius Sunkuli cuts the image of a simple man.

We are heading towards Parliament, where he intends to gatecrash a meeting of former MPs to which he had not been invited.

That Mr Sunkuli has a controversial past is not in doubt.

About two decades ago, he was in the news as a suspected rapist, was named in an alleged murder plot, and seen as a powerful government official who used his position to shield himself from prosecution.

His Hazina Towers office, where he granted the Sunday Nation an interview, is a far cry from the grandeur of government.

“I am now back into legal practice,” the former minister, MP, ambassador and magistrate said as we started the interview. Here are excerpts:

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SN: What have you been up to since your humiliating defeat in 2002?

Julius Sunkuli (JS): I came back and took over the law firm that I had established many years ago with Evans Monari and Ken Ogeto, the current solicitor general.

It used to be known as Sunkuli, Ogeto and Monari advocates.

Since then I have done a number cases notable among them defending Moi from Malcolm Bell, the white farmer who claimed the Kabarak land.

I have also recently graduated from the UK with a master’s degree in Medical Law, a rare field in law.

I now hope to concentrate on handling matters dealing with medical negligence.

SN: What did you do before you joined politics?

JS: I was a magistrate based in Kericho. I was sucked into politics as a result of handling cases involving land disputes and human rights.

The Moitanik and Uasin-Gishu clans were having issues with the Siria clan over a parcel of land in Masurura. I joined politics as a liberator of the two clans.

I went on to serve as MP for Narok West and Kilgoris constituencies from 1992 to 2002.

Surprisingly after my win, in 1993, at the age of 31 years, I was appointed as an assistant minister in the Office of the President in charge of Interior Security and Provincial Administration.

At the age of 37, I was appointed the minister in charge of Public Service and Defence.

SN: How was it chairing the national defence council at such a young age?

JS: It was interesting. One of the fascinating matters was how to deal with General Daudi Tonje, who was very liberal.

That man was a great reformer. He wanted a liberalised military. He was on the verge of changing the locations of military barracks, which he believed had been set up by the colonialists with their self-interest in mind. I worked hard to stop some of his proposals.

But together we managed to carry out various reforms among them a rule that a woman cannot command a unit that had men.

SN: Any other tough assignment as minister for Defence?

JS: The negotiations to free Kenyan soldiers who were on a peace-keeping mission in Sierra Leone were not easy.

The soldiers were kidnapped by rebels from Foday Sankoh’s Revolution United Front (RUF).

But we later on came to discover that Liberia’s President Charles Taylor was also involved in the kidnapping.

President Moi sent me there with a delegation to negotiate their freedom. It was a defining moment for me but also the start of my tribulations in my political career.

SN: Which tribulations are you talking about?

JS: When I came back to Kenya, instead of a victory parade, I had to handle accusations that I had raped two teenage girls, and later on that I was responsible for the death of Father John Kaiser.

I believe that the accusations were created by colleagues in the Cabinet who were unhappy about my success in freeing our soldiers.

Later on, a public inquest cleared me from allegations that I participated in the death of Father Kaiser.

I have been out of Parliament since 2002, and no one has ever confronted me about the rape allegations or the death of Father Kaiser, yet at that time it was claimed that I was too powerful to be prosecuted. What about now?

SN: Which were your toughest moments when serving Moi?

JS: During the push for minimum reforms ahead of the 1997 General Election, I was tasked with presenting proposals from the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) to the President.

The toughest proposals were two: first, reducing the powers of chiefs by repealing the Chief’s Authority Act and enacting the Chief’s Act.

Second, reforming laws on sedition and other laws that made it easy for the government to arrest critics.

There was a feeling that Moi would never agree to the two proposals. People were afraid of even mentioning the proposals to him.

This was one of the loudest ways of telling the government to liberalise. But when I informed him, he had no issues with the proposals.

SN: Did you also cry as you watched the helicopter fly Moi out of State House after Kibaki’s win?

JS: Personally, I didn’t cry. But I saw many others do. It was a sombre mood.

Although we had lost the election, we were more empathetic towards Mzee Moi because we didn’t know what the new government would do with him since the opposition had taken over power with a lot of bitterness.

For instance, my successor Chris Murungaru did not want me to hand over to him. He just took my office without ceremony.

SN: But you still went on to serve in the Kibaki government. Why so?

JS: With time, Kibaki and his people adopted a conciliatory tone away from the initial hostility.

In October 2009, President Kibaki appointed me as the ambassador to China.

He gave me the responsibility of improving trade ties between Kenya and China. I initiated the influx of Chinese firms and traders to Kenya.

SN: Any political regrets?

JS: My greatest political regret is vying against my younger brother in the Narok senatorial race in 2013.

We just didn’t lose politically but we lost face. No one should ever go to a political contest with his blood brother.

SN: You worked with Mr William Ruto in the failed 2002 "Project Uhuru", any advice to the Deputy President ahead of the 2022 elections?

JS: The DP should be careful not to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors. He has started his campaigns too early. He should stop the campaigns and lead by example.

He should also not appear as if he is rebelling against the President. Rather, he should be humble and support the President’s economic, social and political agenda, including the Building Bridges Initiative.