Book Review

Looking at Kiraitu beyond his politics

SAT-BOOK
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Summary

  • Njeri Rugeni might consider coming out with a series of ‘tell all’ conversations with senior Kenyan politicians like Kiraitu Murungi whose book was just launched last Monday at Serena Hotel ironically entitled Beyond Politics.
  • This award-winning veteran political journalist knows most local politicians on a first-name basis after 25 years of covering them either as a Parliamentary reporter and editor, Coast Regional Bureau Chief, or Senior Content Editor at Daily Nation.

Njeri Rugene might consider coming out with a series of ‘tell all’ conversations with senior Kenyan politicians like Kiraitu Murungi whose book was just launched last Monday at Serena Hotel ironically entitled Beyond Politics.

This award-winning veteran political journalist knows most local politicians on a first-name basis after 25 years of covering them either as a Parliamentary reporter and editor, Coast Regional Bureau Chief, or Senior Content Editor at Daily Nation’s central News Desk.

And with her knowledge, experience, and incisive style of interviewing, Njeri now has an excellent illustration of why politicians need a book featuring ‘a conversation’ with Njeri.

Setting her sights on the current governor of Meru County might seem a surprising place to begin. But the Covid-19 lockdown had already begun when Kiraitu finally agreed to a series of interviews (leading to the book) that Njeri had initially proposed sometime back.

Beyond her decades in journalism, she had already come out with her first book profiling professional women entitled Women Changing the Way the World Works.

So why not follow that up with ‘a conversation’ with one male politician whose career she had followed since the 1990s when Kiraitu was among the ‘Young Turks’ who spearheaded the Second Liberation which led to dismantling of Daniel arap Moi’s single-party state.

The book itself reflects not only Njeri’s encyclopedic knowledge of the man but also Kiraitu as not simply a Harvard-trained human rights lawyer turned politician who rose from being an MP to a Cabinet Minister (twice), Senator, and finally the current Meru County Governor.

Their conversation ranges far ‘beyond politics’ to include Kiraitu’s views on everything from Stoic philosophers like Lucius Seneca and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s thoughts on decolonising people’s minds to BBI and Kenya politics generally.

But perhaps, the most engaging feature of their conversation is Kiraitu telling his side of stories, such as the scandals that momentarily scared his name, including his alleged role in Anglo-Leasing and his inept paraphrasing of Okot p’Bitek’s sexist line from Song of Ocol that nearly got him scalped by women who had once considered him their ally, but no more.

Beyond Politics reveals as much about Njeri’s straight-forward and well-researched style of interviewing which is poignant, punchy, and unabashed, as it does about Kiraitu who is equally open to responding to every issue she raises.

One of the central queries that Njeri hammers home is why he as a former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, didn’t fulfill his promise to end corruption with his so-called ‘radical surgery’. There was the issue of his having to stand down from the office for nine months while the accusations against him, made by anti-corruption ‘czar’ John Githongo (who Kiraitu himself had appointed) could be investigated.

Kiraitu was eventually cleared of all the charges and restored to Kibaki’s Cabinet, now as Minister for Energy. But the smell of smoke never quite cleared.

Yet Kiraitu is philosophical about what people say or falsely believe. He could still cite all the genuine successes he achieved during his seven years serving as Energy CS, like bringing electricity to one million rural Kenyans and expanding indigenous energy sources like geothermal, coal, and even oil which was discovered in Turkana during his time as Minister.

The book isn’t an apologist account, explaining all the ways Kiraitu was victimised by political enemies. But he admits he hasn’t had an easy time, especially during his days working for President Kibaki and all the times when ethnic politics interfered with the democratic process.

But even as Minister of Justice, he had several successes before Anglo-Leasing and other scandals broke out and blemished his name.

Having promised that ‘radical surgery’ to remove corruption from the courts, he says he at least was able to remove “76 magistrates, 12 judges of the High Court and four judges from the Court of Appeal.”

The other bonus of this book is that it gives us a bird’s eye view into Kiraitu’s personal and family life. How he came from a peasant background (with a Mau Mau freedom fighter for a dad) to becoming first in his classes at Alliance and University of Nairobi School of Law.

We learn how his Meru ‘lisp’ led to his becoming a bookworm and one of the most eloquent speakers in Parliament. We even learn about his family and wife Priscilla who nearly left him after he decided to join politics and ‘change the system’ from within. But once she understood his intentions, she’s become his staunchest supporter and ally.