Sunday, September 21, 2008



September 21, 2008
Sunday Standard


Now that Kenyans have marked the 30th anniversary of President Jomo Kenyatta’s death, it is prudent for them to understand the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his passing on.

During his hour of need, Mzee Kenyatta was abandoned and neglected by his aides and top advisors, whose unbridled greed for power, property and money was their propulsion force.

These fellows, consumed by a rapacity greater than that of desert locusts let loose on green foliage, could not be objective about Kenyatta’s needs and separate those needs from their own. To start with, Mzee should not have been allowed to travel to Msambweni on August 21, 1978, to be subjected to the indignity of collapsing in a washroom.

As a young information officer, I had been from 1977 assigned to cover all the official functions of Mzee. This critical day, he had lunch with all the Kenyan envoys abroad. This was at State House, Mombasa. I could see the concern of the envoys, as Mzee’s speech was a worrying incoherent stutter.

The then Minister of State in the Office of the President, Mr Peter Mbiyu Koinange, was at the high table. I cast a furtive glance at him to see his reaction and noticed he was not bothered. This surprised me because Mbiyu was not only Mzee Kenyatta’s minister and confidant, but also his brother-in-law.

Utter neglect

But it was after lunch that things became terrifying. Mzee missed his way out, wandered as if in a state of confusion and ended at the dingy caretaker’s office where he caused a commotion among the junior staff as the room was littered with dirty utensils and food leftovers.

When he was re-directed to his sleeping room, the old man could not make it upstairs. In between the flight of stairs, he ran out of breath and asked for a chair. After a brief rest, he went to his private quarters.

After witnessing all this agony, I was convinced that Mbiyu Koinange, the Provincial Commissioner Eliud Mahihu, or the State House Comptroller Alexander Gitau, would cancel the Msambweni function. They didn’t. Up to today, I believe that Kenyatta’s life would have been saved if immediate medical attention was availed at this point.

When Mzee Kenyatta’s motorcade reached the Likoni Jetty, he refused to board the ferry. Reason? He had forgotten his fly-whisk. A car was dispatched to bring it after which we proceeded to Msambweni.

After Mzee collapsed, a senior member of the administration had the callousness to ask him to say "harambee". But it was the loudest I had heard during the two years I had worked for him. Unfortunately, it was the last. After Kenyatta was taken to State House and the customary night entertainment programme cancelled, Mbiyu boarded a plane and left for Nairobi. The question I always ask myself is "what issues were more urgent and compelling on the part of Mbiyu than Mzee Kenyatta’s health."

He had helped Kenyatta stand after collapsing. It was unbelievable that he would abandon him in such circumstances.

I expected Koinange, Mahihu and Gitau to attempt to go, even beyond the frontiers of their persuasive powers, to prevail upon Mzee Kenyatta not to go to Msambweni. The other option was deceit. They could have conspired and told Mzee that the Likoni ferry was broken down.

Although I could discern that nobody was paying any attention to Kenyatta’s condition, I kept mum arising from operant conditioning imposed on us by the inner circle through blatant and subtle threats. Talk of Kenyatta’s health was taboo.

Incoherent, repetitive and forgetful

Kenyatta handlers should not feign ignorance of his failing health. His incapacitation was not abrupt but a gradual process and anybody who cared ought to have noticed and done something about it. The register of judges, which is always in the custody of the Registrar of the High Court, bear testimony to Kenyatta’s rate of decline in terms of health, and especially the coordination between his body and brain.

In this register, the judges append their signature after taking their oaths of office. The Presidents, as appointing authorities, countersign. Kenyatta’s signatures in this register, initially beautiful and executed with a flourish, continued to change pitiably. By 1977, the signatures were like a ruffled fly whisk or a traditional broom. Gradually, Mzee became incoherent, repetitive and forgetful.

Sometime in early 1978, Kassim Bakari Mwamzandi, then an Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, brought a foreign envoy to present his credentials to Mzee Kenyatta in Nakuru. This is the moment Mbiyu Koinange should have taken radical measures to protect Mzee.

After receiving the credentials, Mzee bellowed "You are welcome to Kenya. If you have any problem, do not hesitate to see me. If you don’t that’s your own business". And introducing Mbiyu and Mwamzandi, he said, pointing at the two "This is my father and mother".

I cringed and hoped the world would open up and swallow me. I thought the relevant diplomatic procedures should be changed to allow the Foreign minister to receive such credentials to save Mzee Kenyatta from these embarrassments. When a former Provincial Commissioner for Central Province Simeon Nyachae saw Mzee’s difficulty in speaking during a function, his concern was obvious.

I knew he loved Mzee Kenyatta because he called me aside and asked me to get him a beautiful portrait of Mzee, which I did. Instances in which Mzee spoke haltingly were numerous. Opening the last show in Mombasa before his death, Mzee ended his speech with ‘Amen’ instead of ‘Thank you’.

Did Kenyatta, then, have to tell anybody verbally that he was getting worse each passing day? Instead of arranging for a resident doctor and reducing his public functions, his lieutenants took him to lunch in far off places such as Kipkelion, Makalia Falls and the Eastern Bank of Lake Bogoria. I never saw a doctor in the entourage for first aid in case the need arose.

They used him

I have great respect for Mzee Kenyatta’s nurse, Isabella. But it should be appreciated that her professional training was limited in respect of Mzee Kenyatta’s condition, status and age. Furthermore, the biggest blunder was that there was no official car for her to accompany Mzee wherever he went.

But the handlers made available a Mercedes Benz Limousine for the women police escorts whose role was purely decorative. Many of those around Mzee were expected to be of use to him, but they instead used him for their selfish gains. Outwardly, they pretended to love Mzee while in fact they used him as an object of exploitation. They should have been prosecuted for criminal negligence.

In case Mzee needed any assistance at night and especially in Nakuru, it would have been difficult to get it. After the night entertainment, most of these aides, trooped to Stag’s Head Hotel to drink themselves silly while their praises were sung by an accordionist going by the name Wakidole.

Other patrons, instilled with fear by these imperious Civil Servants, kept a safe distance and spoke in whispers. Kenyatta’s physician, Dr Eric Mngola, was just an occasional visitor. I should guess that he did not get sufficient appreciation from the aides. It is common knowledge that physical activity quickens the circulation of blood and thus helps to maintain a favourable condition in all the organs of the body.

Sadly, I never heard anyone advising Kenyatta to take either a brisk or a slow walk in the morning. Kaunda of Zambia was an ardent golfer, with a golf course at State House Lusaka. I saw Nyerere of Tanzania do a hundred push-ups nonstop.

Even when it was obvious that Kenyatta was battling with vicissitudes of age, a weak heart and hateful politics, his aides did not put in place contingency plans wherever he went. There was actually nobody and nothing between Kenyatta and mortality.

In all State Houses and Lodges, there were no buttons for Kenyatta to press in case he needed emergency attention at night. In the Presidential palaces in Blantyre and Lilongwe, these were provided. I saw them in Sanjika Palace in 1979 and in Lilongwe in 1999.

Conspiracy experts

These things did not bother the aides as they were befuddled by alcohol and sheer lack of social tact. Instead of giving Kenyatta the succour he needed, these people preoccupied themselves with plots, schemes and conspiracies to block Vice-President Daniel arap Moi from ascending to the presidency. Moi had not told anybody that he wanted to become president.

But what they forgot is that Moi was helping Kenyatta by covering the entire country consolidating peace and national unity. He was also representing Mzee in all international fora. All these errands had a by-product. Moi touched the hearts of many and was given a reward, the opportunity to serve as president. Tribalism, and greed permeated every sector of the government.

I remember that the day Mzee Kenyatta died, the then University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor, Dr Josephat Karanja, was attending a conference in Vancouver, Canada.

In his delegation was the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Prof Richard Musangi. When Karanja received the sad news, he gave his written speech to Musangi to read on his behalf. He hurriedly left for Nairobi. The connotation here is that since Kenyatta was a Kikuyu, only Karanja, a fellow tribesman, was supposed to empathise and be grieved. Musangi, a Bukusu was supposed to be untouched and therefore capable of reading the speech

What was Karanja’s hurry for? Was he rushing back home to lock the stable even after the horse had been stolen?

No wonder that Kenyatta’s inner circle wanted the announcement of the death and the swearing in of the new President delayed. But they were in for a shock. General Jackson Kimeu Mulinge warned them that the Armed Forces needed a Commander-in-Chief immediately or else……….

— Mr Lee Njiru is the Press Secretary for former President Moi, and also worked with Kenyatta.


Anonymous said...
September 27, 2008 at 1:06 AM  

I read this article and a sadness filled my heart. I remembered the song, which is now a "Zilizopendwa" song, "Kenyatta aliteswa sana, kwetu hapa kenya wandugu, kumbe mateso yake, ikaleta uhuru Kenya."

Mzee was the light of our country, the reason for the freedom we now enjoy! Surely, he deserved better treatment in his last days. But, as the saying goes, "kikulacho ki nguoni mwako!"

Chepng'etich Smith (USA)