Sunday, October 12, 2008



OCTOBER 12, 2008

By Vincent Bartoo

He is at a political crossroads, just like the party to which he belongs, yet maintains a convincing faÁade of self-confidence.

He may not have wavered as an individual but his party, Kanu, which steered the country to independence, is unsure which way to go, on the face of shifting political alliances and realities.

Yet, he remains one of the undisputed kingpins of the party.

Meet Ezekiel Barngetuny, a master storyteller, and retired President Moi’s "funny man" known to tickle the former head of State to tears.

His entire political career casts him as a man who is best described as a rib tickler and master of spontaneity, which is also his hallmark.

That is best exemplified by the fact that he left school, which he had joined at the age of 12, to be recruited into the military, which he left to get married when he realised that "I was getting old".

Barngetuny, also known as "bloody hell" as his close friends call him, has been the face of Kanu in Nandi for so long that any discussion of the party in the Rift Valley without his input is incomplete.

It is 9.00 o’clock when we arrive at his home to find supporters at the gate booking appointments to see him.

One would be forgiven to think it is the home of a Member of Parliament.

We are also put on the waiting list as the strict security guard manning the gate informs us that Mzee is still asleep, recovering from a bout of flu. An hour passes.

"Blali hell, dunia yote inataka nini hapa (bloody hell, what does the whole world want here?)" is his abrasive yet humorous way of welcoming his guests when he eventually emerges. .

He is fond of the words "blali hell", a phrase politicians and supporters alike have come to use as a nickname for him.

"Mimi napenda blali hell kama nyinyi, tunaongea, tunatukanana, tunacheka, halafu kila mtu anaenda kwake. (I like people like you, we talk, abuse each other [politically], laugh then everyone goes his way)," he says as he joins us where we are seated.

We sit with him under a tree as Kanu supporters and officials wait for him in a waiting room built specifically for delegations.

Barngetuny explains that he has not been feeling well since he arrived from by-elections campaigns in Sotik and Bomet where he had gone to drum up support for Kanu candidates.

Kanu life member

"We were winning Bomet. If they did not just rig (Nick) Salat would have been MP," he retorts. As if reading our minds, he quips: "Ama mnafikiri Kanu imekufa? Kanu iko imara kabisa (Or you think Kanu is dead? Kanu is going strong)."

Barngetuny then declares that he is in the party to stay and would remain a Kanu life member. "Kanu is the only party I know that is national. The rest are regional and tribal. Their leaders are just tribal chiefs," he says.

Barngetuny tasted post election violence when he decided to go against the grain in Rift Valley Province. He paid a price for supporting President Kibaki’s re-election.

"Youths burnt 1,000 acres of my sugarcane, 40 acres of tea and 500,000 tea seedlings. They also stole my cattle," he says.

But the attacks, he says, did not sway his political leaning or influence him to ditch Kanu. "You can bet I will still be campaigning for Kanu in 2012 when we plan to field a presidential candidate," he adds.

A witty politician, Barngetuny would calm angry ODM crowds, leaving them in stitches as he pleaded with them to allow Kanu campaign meetings go on.

One such incident occurred in Mlango area of Eldoret South Constituency where he had invited former President Moi to address a Kanu rally.

Former President Moi (in white shirt) admires goats during one of the famous goat auctions at Kimalel Primary School. The auctions were always organised by Barngetuny.

Angry ODM youths vowed the meeting would not take place and even threatened to beat up the organisers. But when Barngetuny arrived, he pretended not to know the crowd comprised ODM youths and went on to shout ‘Harambee’ while waving the one finger Kanu salute.

The youths shouted back ODM. But Barngetuny went on: "Hiyo ni mzuri kabisa, turudie tena, haya harambee! (that’s very good, let’s go again, okay, harambee)."

After several repetitions, the youths burst out laughing after realising the politician was pulling their legs. After they had calmed down, Barngetuny asked the youths why they were so obsessed with this thing called ODM, to which the youths replied with laughter: "Iko kwa damu mzee (It is in the blood old man)."

Unfortunately, news of the volatile venue had reached Moi who cancelled his trip. "You know Moi does not like violence. Although I had talked the crowd into allowing us to hold the meeting, Mzee just told us to cancel it," he explains.

Business empire

Other than politics, Barngetuny is well known for his business acumen. He owns businesses, most of which are based in Eldoret town including Barngetuny Plaza. He has employed more than 300 workers and prides in the fact that they all come from various communities.

Despite his immense wealth, Barngetuny does not consider himself rich, ‘only blessed’ he says.

"When you look at yourself as rich, you will never sleep at night. You will be stressed, thinking someone is stealing from you and you cannot enjoy what you have," he explains.

When he is free, especially during weekends, Barngetuny drives to Kabarak to visit Moi to either catch up on the good old times or take delegations.

Just like the days when Moi was Head of State, Barngetuny still does not require an appointment to see the man he describes as his bosom friend.

"Appointment ya nini? Mimi naingia kwake kama kwangu. Blali hell kama nyinyi ndio nahitaji appointment (Appointment for what? I go to his home like it’s my home. People like you are the ones who require an appointment)," he says amid prolonged laughter.

"What I like about Moi is his honesty and he is a man who keeps his promises. He has taught me a lot and he is a good friend," Barngetuny explains.


Asked what he misses in Moi’s Government Barngetuny recalls the famous goat auction at Kimalel Primary School and says he would not mind doing the job again as he is still full of energy.

It was here, every year just before Christmas that the who is who in the corporate and political landscape would gather for the sale of goats, most of which never lived to see the New Year.

Barngetuny organised the auction, which would see over 8,000 goats sold in just one day, many of them in lots through bidding.

And it was in the bidding that Barngetuny would be at his best, moving from person to person, taunting and jeering Moi allies until they outdid competitors.

For instance, if then Vice President George Saitoti was bidding against, say former Kenya Power and Lighting Company boss, Samuel Gichuru, the bidding would see Barngetuny alternate between the two names with amazing speed, much to the amusement of the gathering.

"Saitoti elfu kumi, elfu kumi, kumi, kumi, nani mwingine, Gichuru elfu ishirini, ishirini, Saitoti tena na thelathini, Gichuru na hamsini, Gichuru, na mbuzi, Gichuru na mbuzi, na sasa Saitoti amekasirika na amerudi na kusema themanini, themanini, Saitoti ni mbuzi, Saitoti ni mbuzi mara ya kwanza, mara ya pili…nani mwingine…mara ya tatu! Haya chukua!"

Indeed, if one substituted Saitoti’s name with that of Moi, the bidding was done much the same way, with the gathering laughing themselves to tears.

And the amusement would be spread throughout the nation as the event was usually beamed live into living rooms on national television.

It has been said that Barngetuny still retains an amazing ability to make Moi laugh and promptly lift him from the blues, which were expected, what with the daunting pressures of state matters that weigh on a sitting President.

Barngetuny was among the few people who stayed with Moi on his last day in power at State House, Nairobi, after Kanu was vanquished in the polls in 2002.

Moi summoned several people close to him and announced that he would hand over power to Kibaki, when it was apparent the man was winning.

"I am going to hand over power to Mr Kibaki or any other leader who will be declared the winner after the election results are made public. My intention is to leave Kenyans in safe hands as I have always promised," Moi was quoted as telling those who shared the last few hours of power with him.

Thereafter, Moi took a chopper to his Kabarak home.

At 87, Barngetuny is not slowing down any time soon and is still dabbling in politics. When he finally calls it a day, he will no doubt have a lot to reminisce about.

"If I told you people what I know from Kenyatta, Moi and even Kibaki’s Government you will prove that I do not apply to be friends with people. I am just a people person, blali hell!"