In 1995, Mutula Kilonzo Jnr was an apprentice making his bones at Kilonzo & Company Advocates, his late father’s law firm that he started in 1979. In 2007, his experience in criminal and commercial law landed him the position of managing partner.
Politics came calling in 2013 when he was elected senator for Makueni. In between, he was struggling to escape his father’s large shadow and be his own man.
Like his late father, Mutula Jnr is a stickler for time and an early bird. He asks me to meet him at his office along Ngong Road at exactly 6.45am, not 6.46. I was at his office at 6.43am. He was engaging, eloquent and courteous.
Are you a good person?
You may need an opinion poll on this one, my brother! But I believe I am a good human being.
Did you have the taste for politics or is this something that was just thrown at you?
I never quite had a taste for it. I didn’t imagine at my age I would be here. I have held many positions, over time, in law school and at university. I’m also a member of the Rotary Club, but never really thought of politics previously.
Do you enjoy it though, have you embraced it?
I have embraced fate. (Laughs) I have had to because my father is no longer there. He’s gone, he’s not coming back and someone has to do it. I’m learning the ropes, but more importantly, I’m using my legal skills and training as the foundation of my work, avoiding areas which I don’t know and sticking with legislation which I understand.
What do you least love about politics?
There is a lot of gossip. A lot of people sit in dark rooms at night and really talk about you! (Laughs). It’s too much: people leave you, go to another meeting and talk about you. You leave a meeting and the people you have left talk about you.
There was a time in 2007 people were abusing my father after he was elected in Mbooni, I think over the issue of districts. It was ugly so I asked him “how do you live with yourself and this ugliness?” He said, “Son, if people don’t talk about you, you aren’t important.” (Laughs)
Your dad was Moi’s lawyer, that must have exposed you to some real power at a young age. Has power surprised you now?
I think for me power is a very elusive thing, I can’t touch it, I can’t see it. I constantly forget it; it’s people who remind me that I’m a politician. I didn’t grow up in power then because my father and mother separated in 1979 when I was young.
It’s only once I finished law school in ‘95 that I was exposed to it but I didn’t rub shoulders with these powerful people. I only read about them in good correspondence and files that I keep on his behalf.
How much of your dad do you see in yourself?
I see a lot of things he used to do and say. He prepared me for this role. Now I find myself in many similar positions like he was in professionally and socially. Sometimes I do something he would do and I go, “Oh my God, did I just do that?” It’s complete déjà vu. (Laughs).
How are you a departure from his character?
He grew up in poverty, I mean the kind of poverty he grew up in is something that doesn’t get out of your system easily but he rose up to set up a thriving law firm.
I didn’t find myself in that impoverished position like he did and so many of my perspectives in life are different. He also had an element of paranoia, because being who he was during Moi’s time, he knew too much and people always threatened him and hounded him. I don’t live that lifestyle because I don’t know anything! (Laughs).
Do your father’s old friends call to check up on you sometimes?
My dad had very few friends and lots of acquaintances. When I meet people who say they were dad’s friends, I say sure but I know different.
There are lots of people who only cared about his opinion or influence. Very few people were concerned about how he was doing. But that is a reality that informs politics; nobody cares about you when you are out of Parliament but when you are elected, your phone rings off the hook.
How does that make you feel?
It brings a bitter taste in my mouth. Politics has also created a gap between me and people I used to associate with because of change of lifestyle and schedule. You end up in a different clique but also some old friends just distance themselves from you.
I don’t know why that sounds terribly lonely.
Yes it is. Very. Very few relationships in politics develop into friendship.
Do you feel like you have to struggle to fill your dad’s shoes?
When I started practicing, every time I used to advice a client they used to ask me whether I have sought my father’s advice. (Laughs loudly). I soon learned to say yes, I did. He told me one thing one day: he said, “Son, don’t look for respect from people like us [the old guard], look for respect from your peers. Their respect means more.”
What was his greatest flaw?
He was a human being and so like any human beings he had flaws. (Pause). My father was a deeply emotional person. Nobody knew that. He hid it.
What’s your greatest insecurity?
(Pause) Fear of the unknown.
You are married, yes?
Yes. With one kid aged four years old. Fatherhood is beautiful. My father didn’t spend a lot of time with me as I spend with my daughter.
The one thing that gives me most satisfaction is fatherhood. I will have the worst day of my life but at the end of the day, my daughter will always be happy to see me. And she won’t gossip behind my back or give me fake love! (Laughs).
I used to see my dad at exactly 7am for appointments. If I showed up at 7.01am, he wouldn’t open the door. “If I can wake up early, why shouldn’t you?” he’d ask.
Up to the time of his death, he always had a book by his bedside, because the last thing he did at night was read a book. Bookpoint would send him books by the carton. I have picked that from him.
What are you reading now?
I read many books depending on where I am. In the office, I have The Sleep Walker. If you go to the back of my car, which looks like a library, you will find The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Sharma. I love to read in traffic jams, which is a blessing.
What has been your greatest regret?
I wasted a lot of time engrossed in not being Mutula’s son. I was fighting for my space for too long and it wasted my time and effort. I think I would have settled down faster had I accepted the fact.
Forgive my intrusion but would you be willing to talk about his cause of death?
(Pause) Look, all I can say is that my dad’s death was unnatural. (Pause). Yes, that’s all I can say.
Must have been a massive blow to you…
Oh, yes! I was the first to get to him and when I found him in his room, he had bled from everywhere…virtually everywhere, his muscles, his brain. He bled from every opening in his body, I think the doctors called it catastrophic haemorrhage. (Pause). It was a terrible death.
I remember walking dazed around his room where he lay in bed and not knowing where I was. I remember looking at the swimming pool and telling myself, “I know that swimming pool from somewhere!” I lost my sense of place and time.
Has it gotten better?
It doesn’t. I attempt not to think about it because it puts me down.
Does your dad’s death make you fearful, you know, worried about your own mortality?
It doesn’t. I have embraced fate. Politics is risky business, I mean death is just knocking because you never know whose interests you are stepping on, or who you are offending when you open your mouth or do your job. It’s like being in the front line at war; you either shoot or are shot.