A character in the 1990 BBC political drama The House of Cards says of wheeler-dealers, buccaneers and functionaries who infest corridors of power supplying all manner of political labour to parties and politicians: “A politician needs a wife and other people; regrettably, a man of state needs helpers to do his bidding … even unwitting pawns who don’t know who they serve …”
President Uhuru Kenyatta has no shortage of helpers, but few display the bravado, brashness and, lately, a penchant for taking a rare irreverent dig at Deputy President and Jubilee deputy party leader, Dr William Ruto, as Mr David Murathe does.
In old communist Russia, these ranks of political labourers were called the apparatchik, non-professional, non-specialist, but ever available and ready for deployment on any political assignment.
Their most valued credentials beside loyalty are that they must harbour no known or expressed aspirations for higher office.
They are never deployed to any of the top echelons of party leadership as chairmanship or secretary-general, party leader and deputy leader, the cadres reserved for potential national leaders.
Kenya’s political anthropologists and biographers are yet to study and document the role of unelected informal players in contemporary Kenya state, who seem to pack so much political heft and influence in government actions at various phases of Kenya’s post-independence political evolution than elected leaders, but are not accountable to the public.
Last Wednesday, Mr Murathe chose an opposition-organised event at Mbale Stadium, Vihiga County, hosted by his old college mate at the University of Nairobi, Musalia Mudavadi, to launch the most scathing attack on Dr Ruto’s presidential ambitions.
In what sounded like a valedictory speech, he essentially said Ruto’s days of calling the shots in the house of Jubilee was an illusion, Jubilee had its owners, and the jury was still out on their preference of Kenyatta II successor.
It was a loaded statement that seems to have taken even Ruto's staunchest opponents by surprise.
As one of the close allies of President Uhuru Kenyatta, many will be hard put to separate Mr Murathe’s sentiments from those of the big man.
For those who know him, Mr Murathe never has illusions where his loyalties lie, and who his heroes are.
He is known to use phrases in discussions about politicians’ penchant for ambiguous utterances, but his was not ambiguous by any measure.
When, in 2016, current Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi seemed keen to assert himself inside Jubilee’s top leadership after small affiliate parties, including his Alliance Party of Kenya (APK), dissolved to join Jubilee, Mr Murathe told him with a curt retort: Jubilee is no Party of National Unity (PNU) where Kiraitu was secretary-general).
In the second term of retired President Kibaki’s term (2008-2013), an amorphous appointment was made of retired civil servant, Mr Stanley Murage, as a powerful “policy adviser” based at State House in addition to the State House Comptroller.
Mr Murathe remarked at the time: “That is the office I want when Uhuru is President.”
He may not have been appointed policy adviser, but his bravado and recent provocative statements throw broad enough hints about the latitude he enjoys.
His behind-the-scenes activities in Jubilee, its predecessor, The National Alliance (TNA), and his ability to criss-cross between political spaces at personal and political levels on errands for his buddy cuts the portrait of a trusted loyalist.
Few ask questions about who sent him when Mr Murathe shows up at funeral meetings, wedding committees or political events of entities perceived as Uhuru rivals.
Once in 2007, Kalonzo Musyoka and Dr Julia Ojiambo were holding a delegates conference at Kasarani sports stadium.
Suddenly a Kalonzo ally, Mr Gideon Ndambuki, found his way to a social joint where Murathe was and breathlessly asked: What can you do?
Apparently, Mr Kalonzo and Dr Julia had difficulties with delegates’ allowances and didn’t want a fallout in front of media cameras. Mr Ndambuki and Mr Murathe drove off together.
On President Kenyatta’s axis of politics, Mr Murathe has come to symbolise the counterweight and political checkmate to Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Jubilee Majority Leader Aden Duale, who symbolise Dr Ruto’s proxy attack dogs, especially on knotty issues.
To his credit, Mr Murathe’s steadfast loyalty to President Kenyatta long before and after he assumed power has never been in doubt, so much that few personalities are sought after by newshounds to give the President’s political pulse of things whenever they cannot get an official State House dispatch.
If they ever differed over things Murathe says on his behalf, the President, his family members and aficionados have never contradicted the former Gatanga MP for things he says on their behalf.
Once when Uhuru seemed partyless for some time after bolting out of Kanu in 2009, Mr Murathe was asked what party he supported.
Without batting an eyelid he shot back: My party is Uhuru Kenyatta.
President Kenyatta, Dr Ruto and Mr Murathe come a long way, politically, and it is significant Mr Murathe never sought an elective party office unlike his two buddies. Even the one he holds currently is interim.
As an unelected interim Jubilee Party vice-chairman, Mr Murathe is the only Jubilee office bearer who displays audacity to publicly criticise his deputy party leader and Deputy President on matters normally few Jubilee elected leaders would touch on publicly.
An unwritten rule since President Kenyatta assumed power on a Jubilee flagship in 2013 is that no elected leader from his Mt Kenya base ever mentions Dr Ruto’s name negatively in public, until the President himself invented the term “tanga tanga” in relation to Dr Ruto and his lieutenants.
Mr Murathe is the first senior Jubilee official to explicitly mention the DP’s name and brazenly tell him off on the matter of 2013 pre-election Kenyatta II succession pact, that is supposed to have obligated President Kenyatta to mobilise his Gema base in support of Ruto’s presidential ambitions in 2022.
Lately, Mr Murathe has also been keeping the company of former Jubilee bigwigs whose careers were sunk at the disputed primaries in May 2017, and who blame the Deputy President for their predicament.
In his book, Illusion of Power (2001), a long-serving parliamentarian, the late Geoffrey Gitahi Kariuki, (popularly known as GG), grimly described his party, Kanu’s pervasive disregard for rules, decorum and expectations and lack of any semblance of concern for political morality or consequences, thus:
“Those who succeed in criminally acquiring and maintaining their power, at whatever cost, are forever haunted by the fear of losing their soul-deadening harvests.
"No doubt, extreme megalomania and the desire to hold onto power regardless of consequences for millions who look up to their leaders for guidance in creating a better life, are the most crucial factors that have stifled Kenyan’s democratic development …”
Among questions that have been raised in social media reactions to Mr Murathe’s affront on the DP is if he is among entities Mt Kenya voters look up to for leadership in the current political discourse.
A strange silence has met his provocative statements, especially in Mt Kenya region, where he may have calculated to trigger a chorus of public statements against the DP as politicians normally do upon receiving the cue.
Despite repeated public jibes at the DP, the soloist is yet to inspire a chorus in response. The question is: Is the silence speaking to the message or the messenger?