17 September 2012

Kenya: Upclose and Candid With Kibaki's Former Aide

The president's right-hand man Col Geoffrey Muturi King'ang'i resigned a few days ago to plunge into politics. He is vying for the Mbeere South parliamentary seat currently known as Gachoka and represented by presidential aspirant Mutava Musyimi. King'ang'i spoke to the Star's Francis Mureithi on why he resigned and where his future lies.

Why did you resign as President Kibaki's aide-de-camp?

My resignation surprised many people. Due to my exposure, I could see what was going wrong back in my home area but this is a job where you just see and remain mute. You watch things happening. My resignation was just in the making, I have strong interest in governance issues, and also community issues and the people of Mbeere including myself have been feeling that they are not well represented. I believe I can serve my people as a politician, it has been a burning desire.

What was it like working as President Kibaki's aide-de-camp for three years?

It is indeed a great honour working as an aide-de-camp, it is a privilege. You get a lot of exposure which is a rare opportunity, you get to be with the President all the times. Not many people get such an opportunity, and you also get to first hand watch how things are done and how politics are happening but you have to remain mute.

What are the main challenges of this job?

First of all, the job is very tense, and it is also very formal, you will be surprised to know how many people come wanting to see the President. Mine was just to follow the provided programme, I usher in the visitors booked to see the President and I escort them out once the meeting is over.

This means you have to clear all people who want to see the President?

Basically, this is a job of formality, I am Mr formality, ensuring those coming to see the President are in the programme no matter who they are. The programme comes from the State House comptroller. You cannot get in if you are not in the programme. Even if the head of civil service says he wants to see the President in like 10 minutes, the programme must be re-typed and printed, that is what the ADC uses to let the guests in.

But the President also has a private life, and there is a private wing at State House. Once the formal engagements are over especially in the evening, I escort him and salute him and bid him good night. The informal meetings are organised by his private secretary, but I have to be around too.

Which particular incident can you pin point has having provided the greatest challenge?

Public meetings are always a challenge especially when you look at it from the security angle. Though there are three units that are tasked with the President's security, public places and public meetings such as political rallies are always a challenge because people are not under control.

The President may even decide to go and start greeting them, and there is a surge where anything can happen. He can even lose concentration when walking towards the crowd and miss a step. Those are key challenges but the people around him are highly trained. And why were you always wearing a "stone face" in public behind the President even when the President was cracking jokes or saying things that make everyone else around laugh?

As I said, an aide-de-camp is a very formal job, and it has to remain that way, you see the President is not addressing you, he is addressing the public, so you cannot start laughing. Also such a moment provides an opportunity to know which person is not concentrating, which is a pointer that he could be there for other reasons or intentions.

Many Kenyans perceive the President as a person who is not in touch with the day to day happenings in the country, does he even watch news?

I think there is a misconception of who the President is, in fact, even if a meeting is going on and it is time for news, he suspends the meeting to watch news. If there is something he sees and he does not like, he follows the correct protocol to have it addressed. He believes in protocol. And all the time he is indeed way ahead of what is happening.

Does he read newspapers?

Of course yes, every morning he reads what has been reported in the newspapers. Although there is a session where he is provided with a brief of what the papers of the day have reported. In most cases, he will still pick the papers and sit down to read all of them. And not just newspapers, he is an avid reader, he will see you with a document and say "bring that one, I want to know what is happening". He is so much interested in economic and development matters, he can even spend hours reading documents on key projects like the Lamu Port project saying he needs to understand how it will work out.

Many Kenyans would be interested to know if their President uses a mobile phone?

Yes, he has a mobile phone and he used it many times. You will never find him texting or Facebooking. If he wants something, he communicates officially through aides. But he will use the mobile phone to talk to his family members occasionally. He can even ask for it and he directly dials or instructs that I call someone then he picks the phone and speaks to the person.

The president twice, ahead of the November 2005 referendum and in 2010 campaigned with much enthusiasm for a new constitution, was he well versed with its content?

I think you don't understand the President, what he knows and his reading habit. He is well versed with the contents of the constitution. Sometimes in public meetings, someone addressing the crowd may say something wrong about the constitution and the President smiles because he knows that is not true and that man has not read the document well.

What are his worries?

I can't point out one thing that worries the President. He is not worried at all of anything as far as I can recollect. He believes in doing the right thing. And once he does things correctly, he feels very satisfied. I understand as ADC, you kept the President's speech and handed it to him when it was time to make an address. But there is one instance a few months ago the President could not find what he wanted to read and he was all over his pockets until he found the scribbled notes.

During the public meeting, the president can just decide to write notes on what members of public are saying. Sometimes his personal secretary or the head of public service or the Internal Security Permanent Secretary will also write the notes and pass them over to me. I will then pass them to the President to help him respond to issues raised. Once I pass the notes to him, he keeps them until it is his time to speak. This was just a case where one puts the notes in the pocket and when you need them you don't know exactly which pocket you put in. It can happen to anyone. This was not an official speech, just notes.

How did you land the job as President Kibaki's ADC?

To me it was a surprise. Before my appointment in 2010, I was working at Harambee House representing the military. One is only informed of the job after the recruitment process is over and your name has been accepted by the President. Several names are presented to the Head of Civil Service, of course after vetting by the National Security Intelligence Service. The President is then handed the list, and he chooses the one he wants. He can reject the entire list. If he chooses you, now you are informed about your new job which you assume immediately.

What will you miss most as President Kibaki's ADC?

The President himself and just the way he does his things. It is amazing how many people come to see the President, and he just remains calm and listens to them. I will also miss roads where there are no traffic jams. I used to find roads cleared, it is now that I am finding that traffic jams can sometimes be terrible.

You now want to represent the people of Mbeere South as their new Member of Parliament, what are the key issues you address if you are elected?

First of all, I want to focus on profitable farming. In my area, there are many people including retired civil servants who need farming projects that can bring in cash, not just farming for day to day food. They need things they can easily sell such as legumes which have a ready export market. I am talking of investing a lot in irrigation and modern technologies of farming such as the use of greenhouses. Water supply for domestic, irrigation and livestock use will be my issue number two.

The water available now is from Embu town and only those with money and who can sustain monthly bills have access to it. Majority of the people have to walk for miles on end to get water. I want to take advantage of River Tana and the five dams in the region. Education for life is also a priority. Currently there is a lot of wastage as only three per cent of those who finish secondary school join university. Another 13 per cent join technical colleges, this means 75 per cent are left out in the cold with no future.

Campaigns in Kenya have remained a costly affair, how are you intending to finance yours?

I will be using my savings, and at one point, I will call my friends for a fundraiser.

Are you anyone's project?

I wish I were, because that means I will not have problems with money for campaigns. But I am my own man, it is my passion and desire to serve the people. It was my decision to resign and join politics and I believe I have a lot of contribution to make for the people of Mbeere as well as the nation in general especially on security issues. The new constitution has presented a lot of opportunities to the ordinary person, but if they don't have good leaders who are showing them the way, they will not realize the full benefits.

Which is your political party?

I am still consulting, very soon I will announce my party after I have consulted enough.

You ride on a big name, that of a man who worked as President Kibaki's ADC, are you considering having him in your campaigns?

If the President comes in, it will be a pleasant surprise for me. But I have not asked him yet.

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