- In those days, Oyugi was the most trusted Moi confidant — to the extent he was allowed to set up an intelligence gathering network to work parallel to the official spy agency.
- When Mwai Kibaki abruptly resigned from government to join the opposition in December 1991, the President hit the roof that Intelligence didn’t know of Kibaki’s plans in advance.
Recently, one of the Assignment Editors at the Nation Media Group requested me to do a story on who were retired President Daniel arap Moi’s most trusted aides.
Leafing through my yellowing notebooks and scratching a greying head to recall memories of conversations unrecorded, I concluded Moi had none. I share some recollections that made me arrive at this conclusion.
Sometimes in the year 2002 I happened to be at the home of a former Cabinet minister, Dr Munyua Waiyaki, when a former permanent secretary in President Moi’s government, Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat, came over. The two were friends and had a lot in common.
At the time the duo, who were long into retirement, had been recalled to serve in a parliamentary salaries review committee.
That was before a greedy breed of parliamentarians arrived and decided to henceforth determine what they would be paid mpende msipende (like it or not)!
Dr Waiyaki and Ambassador Kiplagat had a lot in shared memories, having served in the Foreign Affairs ministry, one as minister and the other as PS, though at different times.
THE TINY PPROBLEM
In the course of the conversation that day, Dr Waiyaki commented that Ambassador Kiplagat was lucky to have been one of the few in whom President Moi had full trust.
The latter laughed and said: “As a matter of fact, I closely worked for and with Moi. But I can tell you he never had full trust in anybody. Believe me, nobody at all!”
He went on to elaborate: “You were only Moi’s trusted confidant when seated with him. The moment you stepped out, your worst adversary would be seated exactly where you were and undoing whatever it is you had discussed and agreed with the President.”
As for whose counsel Moi acted on, Ambassador Kiplagat told us, it all depended on who spoke to him last.
He gave us his own example. When he was PS, Foreign Affairs, Moi appointed him special envoy to mediate between warring factions in Mozambique — Frelimo and Renamo.
In the course of his work, the Kenyan diplomat discovered one of the biggest obstacles to peace in Mozambique was interference by rogue British billionaire Tiny Rowland, who was funding one of the factions to secure protection for his crooked business interests in the southern African country.
The tricky thing for Ambassador Kiplagat was that Tiny Rowland was also a great friend of Moi.
He had substantial investments in Kenya, whose caretaker was another of Moi’s confidants, Mark arap Too.
DROPPED AS PS
Realising he couldn’t get very far with the Mozambique assignment as long as Tiny Rowland had leverage with Moi, Ambassador Kiplagat gathered courage and told the President he wished to be relieved of the job in Maputo as he wasn’t making much headway.
Moi would hear none of it: “How can you quit when all the reports I have been getting are that you are doing a fantastic job down there? I won’t allow that.”
Believing the President to mean what he said, Ambassador Kiplagat poured out his heart and told Moi how Tiny Rowland and Mark Too were frustrating his efforts to broker peace in Mozambique.
He recalled Moi looking at him in the eye and saying: “Forget about that crook called Tiny Rowland. Also Mark Too. What do they know about diplomacy? Just ignore them and do the work I gave you to do!”
Ambassador Kiplagat left Moi’s office satisfied he had full trust of the boss.
But he immediately smelt a rat when on his way out he met with Mark Too who greeted him with a mischievous smile.
“I there and then suspected foul play and went back to my office expecting the worst”, Ambassador Kiplagat recalled.
Sure enough, three days later he learnt on radio that he had been dropped as PS and appointed chairman of some obscure State corporation.
Moi-era Cabinet minister Joseph Kamotho also told me of his experience.
When he and former Vice President George Saitoti were about to quit Kanu in 2002, Moi invited him for dinner at his private city residence to persuade him not to go.
“Why follow that man Saitoti?” Moi had asked Kamotho. “You are my trusted man, but he isn’t!”
Kamotho replied in surprise: “But Saitoti has been your long serving and loyal deputy?” To which Moi replied: “Yes, he has been my VP but that isn’t to say I trust him! Look, how can I trust a person who has never allowed us to know his origins?
Again, I hear he has so much money which nobody knows where it came from? How can you trust such a person?”
Kamotho told me he left Moi’s residence puzzled that he had retained a deputy he didn’t trust for 12 years yet the Constitution those days allowed the President to fire his VP on a whim!
Kamotho had another recollection. When he was elected Kanu secretary-general, Moi allowed him to retain his position as Murang’a Kanu branch chairman as well, which wasn’t allowed by the party constitution.
Then, out of the blues, Kanu national chairman Peter Oloo Aringo demanded that Kamotho relinquish one of the party positions he held.
Suspecting that his colleague couldn’t do so without clearance from high up, Kamotho sought audience with Moi on the matter.
The President dismissed Aringo as a loud mouth acting on his own. “That man talks too much. I will tell him to do his work and leave you alone to do yours,” Moi assured Kamotho.
But Aringo didn’t stop. A confused Kamotho sought to know what was going on from then-powerful PS in the office of the President, Hezekiah Oyugi.
The latter was frank with him: “Mr Kamotho, if I were you, I would go to the President and tell him I voluntarily want to resign as Murang’a Kanu branch chairman. That is the President’s wish but he won’t tell you. He is using Aringo to pass the message across.” Kamotho did as advised and Moi was a happy man.
In those days, Oyugi was the most trusted Moi confidant — to the extent he was allowed to set up an Intelligence gathering network to work parallel to the official spy agency.
When he went to consult with Moi, Oyugi would keep everybody else, including his immediate boss, the Head of the Civil Service, waiting at the reception for hours on end.