How to restore the trust Nkaissery inspired

Friday July 14 2017

“Nobody dies naturally in Kenya.”

This is what a friend told me after the sad news broke that Major-General (rtd) Joseph Nkaiserry had died.

His death caused unease. What happened, how, and why so close to the elections? 

I vividly remember Gen Nkaissery's towering figure and his serious, but also cheeky and jovial personality. 

In photos, he made ordinary people look like dwarfs; in meetings, he commanded respect and professionalism; in the field he was strong and resolute; for the civilian his military demeanour felt threatening; and for us lawyers, his firm, result-oriented behaviour appeared dictatorial.

General Nkaissery had come into the Cabinet at a difficult time. His intolerance for nonsense had won him the President’s deep respect and that of the whole government, the opposition and all Kenyans. With Nkaissery, we all felt a little bit safer.


His death, barely a month before the elections, was greeted with suspicion and mistrust. Was he poisoned? Witchcraft? Assassinated? All sorts of theories have been canvassed in place of what might simply have been a heart attack, the heart of a responsible man giving way to strenuous pressure, or any other undetected sickness.

Twitter conspirators immediately saw mischief and anyone who dismissed them was labelled naïve, ignorant or simply stupid.

What did the post-mortem examination reveal? That was my first question. Perhaps I fall under the latter category, for I find conspiracy theories extremely simplistic and superficial.

Evil spreads in disordered ways where there is no hierarchy, no concert of wills, but simply some level of evil in most hearts. Evil gets out of hand when those hearts find themselves in a position of responsibility.


Why are we so worried that Nkaissery has died? It's not his wealth, his inheritance or his beauty, but the profound fact that he represented the trust and security we had lacked for many years. With Nkaissery's death, our trust also died a little.

Following the death of his Interior Cabinet Secretary, President Kenyatta made a shrewd move.

Gen Nkaissery's trust could only be kept by another equally trusted man and this could only be Dr Fred Matiang’i, the firm hand that changed education and brought the national exam system back to sanity, who delivered where most remained irrelevantly dormant. 

At the background of our woes is mistrust. Cheating in Kenya has moved to a new level, where now we do not believe anything and anyone, but rumours: “I was told, it seems, I know someone who saw, I hear that...”

Most people do not realise that we have some of the best and most comprehensive election laws on earth. The Elections Act, the Election Campaign Financing Act, the Election Offences Act and the Political Parties Act, could be cited as accurate and amazingly efficient, and they are all bound together by the Constitution. The IEBC has also released step-by-step guidelines.

Still, mistrust is our problem. Cheating and stealing has turned many of our excellent laws in spiritless papers.


We seek to regain trust and we seek this trust in specific performers, because our institutions are weak. We have given IEBC an uphill task, that of delivering credible elections. But ‘credible’ comes from the Latin ‘credere' or 'credibilis’, which means ‘believe’.

If we mistrust the system, we cannot have credible elections. We have already rejected the results a priori, from the start.  

Election opinion polls tell us the country is sharply divided in the middle. The matter is too close, and both sides lacks convincing arguments to swing the vote.

A close election with low trust levels is a recipe for violence, which is what we hoped Gen Nkaissery could deal with efficiently and effectively.

Now that Gen Nkaissery is no more, Dr Matiang’i will do the work to maintain peace and stability. But his task will be impossible if the two key institutions involved do not do their part heroically well.

One is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). We need to trust the IEBC and this trust will be safeguarded by reliable, fast and accurate results transmission. To do this without the mainstream media will be impossible.

The second institution is the Judiciary. Every judge should seriously consider the sacred duty of holding the country together. We are now amid an absurd ordeal of ballot paper tenders, and the matter has been highly politicised.


The matter is currently sub judice, before the courts, and thus little should be said about it. However, public participation is not an end in itself, but a means to something else, that is democracy.

Democracy is the highest form of public participation, and public participation should not be used to undermine it.

But we do not trust anybody, and everything is suspicious; the death of a politician, the printing of ballot papers, the composition of the IEBC, the candidates, the other voters...everyone seems to be a thief.

As my sister Betty always reminds me, “We failed to understand that politics do not turn candidates into thieves. It is your vote that turns a thief into a politician.”

It is perhaps this fact that makes Franz Kafka’s sarcastic remarks a reality, “An idiot is an idiot; two idiots are two idiots. Ten thousand idiots are a political party.”

Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi