He is baby-faced and chocolate brown.
A man with an occasional killer smile that tends to interlude without a predictable pattern or rhyme, 34-year-old Nandi Hills MP Alfred Kiptoo Keter paints the picture of a Sunday school teacher who looks lovingly and piercingly in the eyes of his listeners.
Yet this humble, nice-man mien belies a lethal fighter who since his university days has rebelled against authority— leading to his expulsion from Egerton University, where he was studying for a degree in Agribusiness.
Three weeks ago, he was any other MP in the 349-member National Assembly until he stirred the hornets’ nest, firing a warning shot to President Kenyatta to kick out of government officials he said had fixed Deputy President William Ruto at the ICC.
But it was not until last Monday at a televised rally in Eldoret when Mr Keter captured national attention by looking the president and his deputy in the eye and telling them to get rid of the thieves in their midst.
The trigger was the fallout over the Sh1 trillion standard gauge railway project launched by the president two weeks ago, and which Mr Keter insists was three times overpriced, and its tender unprocedurally awarded.
His audacious remarks, which also included alleged sidelining of Kalenjin professionals in government appointments, received adulation from the audience, but stung the president and his deputy to respond at length and in uncharacteristically strong language.
The president’s reprimand, including Mr Keter being denied a chance to speak at Kapkatet Stadium the next day, appeared to have only added fuel to the lawmaker’s magic and his new celebrity status was obvious at Parliament buildings as he was mobbed by fellow MPs at every turn.
The father of one was at first nervous about our interview and said he would only give me 10 minutes, but an hour later— amid intermittent interruptions by his colleagues on both sides of the political divide, some urging him to go slow and some cheering him on— we were soon talking like old friends, asking me to check what question I still had.
MPs from Kalenjin Rift Valley such as Chepalungu’s Paul Savimbi Bii, Keiyo South’s Jackson Kiptanui and Ainabkoi’s Samuel Chepkong’a spent some time with us marvelling at the dare-devilry move by the former ODM youth leader, who first plunged into politics in 2007.
The Roman Catholic has a Christmas message to Mr Ruto:
“You are being set up for failure just like Raila was used and finished. Look at Uhuru’s advisers and see they were Kibaki’s advisers too. How can you accept to be the messenger of doom on the planned laying off of 100, 000 workers?”
He predicts that after making him unpopular, Uhuru handlers will then look for a running mate in 2018, saying they don’t want losers.
He asks: “If to save Sh30 billion we want to send home 100, 000 civil servants, to recoup the Sh400 billion we are losing in the railway project, won’t we then send home more than one million workers, which is really the entire civil service including teachers and the police?”
A man who shoots from the hip, the maverick MP tore into government policies, terming the laptop project a dessert without the main course because of the infrastructure lacking in most schools.
“They are building an import economy by devoting much more money (Sh10 billion) to importing maize and a mere Sh3 billion to buy from local farmers. The price of a kilo of tea has dropped from Sh22 to Sh14 and farmers have no Christmas.”
Mr Keter’s accusers point a finger at top businessmen from Rift Valley who are struggling to dislodge those from central Kenya, who already trading with the government.
One of these critics is Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko who says: “He (Keter) is paid man, hired to spread propaganda by leading contractors, I have evidence and I will expose him if he continues.”
This insinuation of disgruntled tenderers funding him infuriates Mr Keter: “A man, who has nothing to die for, has nothing to live.
Truth is something I am ready to pay any price for, including my life. I am playing my oversight role granted me by section 96 of the Constitution.”
So why didn’t he raise all these matters before? He responds with a question. “Why have you not asked the deputy president to explain why he initially opposed the project only to back it?”
But even with businesses such as supplies, car sale, transport and real estate how come that a first-time MP can contribute up to Sh700,000 in a single fund-raiser and fly around in a chopper?
Is he not helping to lend credence to the charge by his critics that he is under the payroll of disgruntled tenderers?
Nonsense, he responds, adding that he was always giving out money even before he was MP.
And Mr Keter appears to have support in his Nandi County backyard, with a number of members of the County Assembly backing his crusade.
“We want our people to gain from the Jubilee government. What Keter is saying is true.
Voters are unhappy with government over so many promises yet no work is kicking off on the ground,” said Nandi County Assembly Chief Whip Wilson Sang.
Additional reporting by Tom Matoke.