24 March 2019

Kenya: When Dennis Itumbi's System of Facts Fails Him

Tagged:
Photo: Charles Kimani/Office of the Deputy President
President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and his deputy William Ruto attend musician Joseph Kamaru's burial in Murang'a (file photo).

When the Jubilee government was being assailed by the media, civil society and the opposition for its performance during its first term, Mr Dennis Itumbi, then-Secretary for Digital and Innovations at State House, deployed the Twitter hashtag #System ya facts which he had popularised before joining State House.

The purpose of the hashtag was to correct what Mr Itumbi and generally President Uhuru Kenyatta's government perceived to be erroneous information being pushed against the administration.

One of the highlights of #System ya facts was when in February 2012 he tweeted the death of one-time Cabinet minister John Michuki, forcing then government spokesman Alfred Mutua to deny it, only for State House to confirm the death hours later.

He also once indicated, at different times, that Raila Odinga and William Ruto had checked into hospital only for their aides to deny then later admit it.

FOOD AID

But this week he was on the receiving end for misrepresenting facts, a crime he had for long skewered journalists for, after tweeting old pictures of DP Ruto's wife Rachel Ruto allegedly distributing food donations in famine-stricken Turkana County.

"A donation by @MamaRachelRuto in aid of fellow Kenyans facing hunger in Turkana and Baringo [email protected]," he tweeted on Thursday afternoon, tagging Joyful Women Organisation (Joywo), Mrs Ruto's charity foundation.

The picture showed Mrs Ruto behind a trailer handing over a box of what looked like dry goods to a gentleman.

Hawk-eyed Kenyans quickly pointed out that the picture was posted on April 2, 2014, when Mrs Ruto was receiving famine relief food from the directorate of special programmes for people facing starvation in Turkana.

"Same clothes, same people, same truck, same venue, you can't make this stuff up," a social media user commented.

APOLOGY

Mr Itumbi later deleted the post after people questioned why Mrs Ruto had opted to donate detergent to people in dire need of food.

To his credit, Mr Itumbi apologised for his mistake. "I apologise for images I shared here earlier," he posted on his social media pages.

"Mama Rachel Ruto was not in Turkana. I relied on unverified images. This was my mistake and I am sorry. I have since deleted them. May the record reflect the true position and my apology too. Jioni poa (good evening)."

Once a staunch defender of the Jubilee administration during its first term, from 2013 to 2018, Mr Itumbi has since taken a low profile after he and three other directors -- Edward Irungu, Munyori Buku, and Eric Ng'eno -- were reprimanded by President Kenyatta in June 2016 over the manner they were handling State House communication.

ICC SAGA

This was after they released a statement reacting to a New York Times story on the case against him, his deputy Ruto and former radio journalist Joshua Sang.

In the response, they denied the newspaper had sought comment from State House while the contrary was true.

For days on end, Mr Itumbi was on the receiving end of Kenyans online, who trolled him stating that he was overzealous.

Mr Itumbi, a bachelor and a teetotaller, came to national prominence with his virulent attacks on the ICC, which had charged Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto over their involvement in post-election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007/2008.

The ICC claimed that he had hacked their systems in order to reveal the names of witnesses against the suspects.

DETAINED

In 2012 the police arrested him over this and detained him for four days, but did not prefer formal charges against him.

He sued the government for illegal detention and was awarded Sh5 million by Justice Joseph Onguto last year.

Mr Itumbi is a consummate debater, owing to his background as an actor in drama clubs. Though he shies away from personal controversy, he has never lost an opportunity to pass his point.

For TV interviews, he turns up with a briefcase full of documents to support his version of facts.

Once a common feature on TV programmes that analyse the performance of government and the media, Mr Itumbi has maintained a low profile since 2016.

PASTOR

He doesn't post so much about the President as he once did, after State House Spokeswoman Kanze Dena last year said that all communication touching on the Head of State, or First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, would only come from newly created official Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Most of Itumbi's posts today are on DP Ruto and his wife.

It would be argued that he has cut a niche for himself as far as advancing the agenda of politicians in the digital world is concerned, and as such the Rutos, to whom he is slowly becoming an asset, would be hard-pressed to send him packing.

A grandson of David Gitari, the retired archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya who died in 2013, Mr Itumbi has a propensity for the gospel.

He preaches to thousands of his followers in the morning with posts titled "Pastor's Moment".

More on This

You Must Keep Your Promise, Ruto Allies Tell Kenyatta

Deputy President (DP) William Ruto on Sunday gave the hunger and starvation in the northern Kenya a wide berth instead… Read more »

See What Everyone is Watching

Copyright © 2019 The Nation. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.