alexa Echesa: Allegiance to Ruto made me lose Cabinet slot - Daily Nation

Echesa: Allegiance to Ruto made me lose Cabinet slot

Sunday March 17 2019

Rashid Echesa

Deputy President William Ruto (left) and Mr Rashid Echesa enjoy a past rugby match in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

IBRAHIM ORUKO
By IBRAHIM ORUKO
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SHABAN MAKOKHA
By SHABAN MAKOKHA
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Rashid Echesa was appointed Sports Cabinet Secretary early last year under a cloud of questions about his academic credentials and character.

After a dramatic one year, he was recently dismissed by President Uhuru Kenyatta with rumours swirling earlier on about his exit.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Nation, Mr Echesa claims he was sacked because of his support for Deputy President William Ruto, and addresses claims that he is linked to fraudsters facing charges in court for impersonation and printing fake currency.

The controversial politician also opens up on his relationship with the President, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli.

What do you consider your biggest achievements during your one year in Cabinet?

When I took over, we had no football stadium worth its name. I made it my first priority to explore ways of improving the existing facilities.

We now have Kasarani, Nyayo (in Nairobi), and Kinoru (in Meru) as some of the pitches that can host international matches.

The qualification of Harambee Stars for the 2019 African Cup of Nations after 15 years is another of my achievements.

In athletics, Kenya topped the medal table at the 2018 World Youth Championship in Finland — and my ministry helped secure the rights to host the event next year.

Then there was the initiative to return the Safari Rally to the World Rally Championships. Similarly, I tried my best to bring sanity into amateur boxing.

When I came in, the sport was a war zone, literally. I arbitrated and it’s only a matter of time before they hold unified elections.

The same was the case in cricket where I did my best to bring the parties together. I did all this despite sports being one of the most underfunded sectors.

Tell us about the underfunding …

As you know, the Sports Act 2013 had established the National Sports Fund that is now being repealed. I made it my business to ensure that the fund was operationalised.

I had to fight vicious wars with some entrenched interests at the National Treasury who do not want to see sports developed.

I can confirm that the first batch of Sh4 billion was credited to the Sports ministry’s account on Tuesday (February 26), a few days before I was shown the door on Friday (March 1).

Are you suggesting you were fired because of this money?

I have not been given official communication by State House on why I was fired other than the Executive Order that revoked my appointment.

I have kept on pleading with the President to clear the air and explain why he fired me. I am being asked questions by my supporters and I have no answers.

However, I can confirm that the National Sports Fund was one of the problems.

In the absence of an official explanation, why do you think you were sacked?

Politics. I was sacked because of my unflinching support for Deputy President William Ruto. I am a victim of the 2022 succession politics.

There are those who are uncomfortable with my closeness to (Dr) Ruto and they will do everything to separate us.

I am supporting Dr Ruto for 2022 because he got me out of ODM to support President Kenyatta in 2017.

We did our best under very difficult circumstances in western Kenya and ensured Jubilee emerged victorious.

But there is speculation that you were sacked because of links to the seven men charged with fraud after impersonating the President to obtain Sh10 million from a businessman. There have also been screenshots on social media of purported conversations between you and some suspects found with fake currency.

I don’t know those people and I have never met them. I saw the screenshots circulating on social media, but they were fake.

Claims that I am their accomplice are also false. If this were true, I would be in jail by now given how some people have worked hard to have me sacked.

They would have arrested me — Rashid Mohamed Echesa is not above the law. If it’s true that I am linked to these people, why haven’t the police summoned me? Linking me to those men is propaganda.

What about the Sh32 billion fake money recovered from a residential house in Ruiru. Does the house belong to you and are you part of the “wash wash” (fake money) syndicate?

Like I have just said, if this truly was my house, the police would have summoned me to record a statement by now. They haven’t.

I have also not been to Ruiru for a long while. The last time I was there was way back in 2002 during the Inter-Service Boxing Tournament (having represented Kenya Prisons) — and I have never owned a house there.

I repeat, I am not above the law and the police should come for me if they think I am in any way connected to the group.

The State has the machinery to know the owner of the house and all those involved in this shady business. They should tell the country who owns the house.

Why then do you think you have been singled out?

I have no idea, but it’s all about politics. As I said, I am being victimised for supporting Ruto.

What are you doing to clear your name?

I have been forced to engage lawyer James Namatsi. We are privately investigating the matter after my name was adversely linked to these people, and the findings so far are shocking, proving the police are hiding something.

Mark this: The charges were changed from defrauding to intent to defraud. Why, if these things are true? And they were given Sh100,000 bail.

How could people facing such dangerous charges, including impersonating the President, be given such light bail terms?

The manner the police have handled this matter leaves a lot to be desired.

Incidentally, it is even claimed that one of the accused persons was also a key actor in the Ruiru fake money syndicate.

Since these suspects are supposed to report to Muthaiga Police Station every week, why has this person not been arrested?

They also say the fake currency amounted to Sh32 billion, how did the police count that kind of fake money in hours? Some things are strange.

But Mr Joseph Henry Waswa, one of the accused in the “fake Uhuru” case, claims to know you personally. Why would he lie about this?

What you forget to say is that in the same press conference where he made the claims, he also mentioned Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula as among the people he regularly speaks to.

In fact, he even said (Mr) Wetang’ula is his mentor and that he speaks to (Mr) Lusaka regularly.

Truth be told, he is a boy we all know as a politician and businessman from western Kenya. He runs a pub, owns rental houses and a boutique.

If there is anything he does on the side, I wouldn’t know. If the link to him was the basis of my sacking, then why haven’t Lusaka and Wamalwa been fired? Why me? The DCI should come clean on this issue.

How was your relationship with President Kenyatta during your year in Cabinet?

I will always be grateful to the President for picking me from 45 million Kenyans into the Cabinet.

Our relationship was great until the handshake with Raila Odinga (on March 9, 2018), when the President’s mood suddenly changed.

Sad as it is to lose the flag (Cabinet position), I am not and will never be bitter. As the Luhya say, I ate from the President’s palm and I can only be eternally grateful for the unique honour.

Early this year, there was a picture of what appeared to be President Kenyatta giving you a tongue-lashing at the home of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. What was that about?

The view that the President was reading to me the Riot Act was a figment of people’s imagination.

We had a very good time with the President and Mr Odinga at Jaramogi’s home. What you saw was not a quarrel.

The President was concerned about the sorry state of national mausoleums generally and wanted to know what we could do to improve the situation.

Obviously, the cause is underfunding of the ministry. The President was telling me to develop ways of seeking a greater allocation in the budget to ensure that the monuments are well taken care of.

You seem to have no time for Mr Odinga. Do you think he had anything to do with your sacking?

I have nothing personal against Raila (Mr Odinga). If I have thrown a harsh word in his direction, it’s just about politics.

I must say that before the handshake all was well in government. But his arrival in the government through the handshake changed things for the worse.

He appears to have cast a spell on the President. We have since seen an extremely angry President, who rarely laughs, is always moody and ready to quarrel — all because of the handshake.

I blame Raila for this. He took away our joy in government.

What was your lowest moment during your time in the Cabinet?

From the first day, there was no peace in the Cabinet. The President was never the same person …

I can tell you with the benefit of hindsight that the CSs are not sitting pretty. They are not settled, always worried about being told off in public and possibly being sacked. Everything changed with the handshake.

It is interesting that people like you who are close to the Deputy President are always complaining about the handshake. They blame Mr Odinga but not the President. Why do you think the President is silent about the grumbling?

He has his good reasons for the silence. But I can assure the public that those of us who support Ruto are not leaving the government.

We shall not allow people to gatecrash into an administration we worked hard to put together and push us out.

We shall fight hard to defend our position. We are going nowhere and they should expect the fight of their lives.

What about suggestions that you were too arrogant and had a bad working relationship with people at the Sports ministry?

That is not true. I worked well with everyone at the ministry. I was loved because I did not interfere with people’s work.

In fact, when the sack finally came, some members of staff shed tears. They could not believe that a Cabinet Secretary who had worked so well with them was leaving.

You also seem not to have kind words for Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli. Why?

Atwoli is a nobody. I don’t want to waste time discussing him since he has never held an elective political post.

He twice contested the Butere and Khwisero seats and lost by wide margins. I have no respect for him as he appears to be unhappy with my achievements.

He has also been talking ill about what I own. From where I sit, he doesn’t believe I can stand on my own without reference to him.

Just like Mr Atwoli, you have also never held an elective post. You also contested in Mumias West in 2017 and lost …

That is true, but I lost narrowly. If you consider the party I was using to gain entry to Parliament (Jubilee), you should praise me. Contesting on Jubilee Party in western Kenya was (not easy) …

There are those who consider you a violent man. Do you think this is a fair assessment of your character?

It is the most unfair thing said about me. I have never been charged in any court of law for violent conduct. Those who are pushing around the claims should feel free to come out and say what they know and my offences.

The only time I was arrested was when we had a scuffle with Governor Wycliffe Oparanya in Mumias in 2017. But that was politics. I am a law-abiding citizen.

Did you enjoy your time in the Cabinet?

Yes, so much — and I also learnt a lot. I will never forget the exposure it gave me. I don’t know whether I will ever serve in the Cabinet again, but I am left with good memories of my time at the apex of government. I have stories to tell my grandchildren.

What next for Mr Rashid Echesa?

I am a politician. I am also young and time is definitely on my side. It’s back to the drawing board - kujipanga (to strategise). Who knows, I could as well have those academic papers that people keep talking about by 2022.