Something good in everyone I see

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mutuma Mathiu

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) speaks to Nation Media Group's Editor-in-Chief Mutuma Mathiu at State House, Nairobi during an interview in May 2020.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Today, I want to buck the trend. I’ve been a journalist for 25 years. In all those years, I’ve never gone out of my way to look for something nice to say about someone, least of all a politician. Nice is not news, nasty is. So today I’m going to write non-news.

We’ve never met some of many of our leaders. We know them, mainly, from what we are told about them by their rivals. For example, I have met President Kenyatta three times in my life. He is massively charming, courtly, thoughtful, well educated, intelligent, a brilliant conversationalist, and touchy. Very touchy.

Which means you can play him a little, gently like a Spanish guitar. Even those who hate him most, and whatever weaknesses and shortcomings, he loves the country and its people dearly. He certainly doesn’t look like a man who was picked from a bar, cleaned up and made President by Kenya Kwanza presidential running mate Rigathi Gachagua.

Speaking of Mr Gachagua, whom I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting, he comes across as a gutsy guy. Whatever he might lack in other areas, he makes up in courage. I’m also told that he’s a committed and ruthlessly effective operator, who will get stuff done, as good as those Deep State types, where he may have spent some early part of his career; a scrappy pugilist who is good to have in your corner in a fight, if not in your drawing room.

Incapable of anger

I met Mr Musalia Mudavadi just before the 2013 election at his Jogoo House office, just as the presidential buzz around him was building up. I went to size him up and see what kind of President he would make. A calmer, more pleasant, kinder soul has never existed.

His words are automatically modulated not to cause offence and he looks incapable of anger or meanness. He is probably the most diplomatic gentleman I’ve ever met. I could see why everyone likes him.

Charity Ngilu, whose career I’ve followed in the media, is quite a character, I’m told. Charming, a master political manipulator, she wafts in and out of political situations with immense ease.  Recently, she abandoned her re-election battle and joined former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s national campaign team. I’m told that earth, back, home, was hard. The man she defeated five years ago was looking certain to return the hand. She shifted gears without missing a beat. You have to admire the nerve and excellence of execution.

Mr William Ruto, the Deputy President and Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate is in many ways a remarkable man. Those who have met him—unfortunately I haven’t—speak of the warmth of his friendship and how he made them feel valued and appreciated.

His eloquence, ability to connect with the common man, his massive ambition and energy, generosity and political talent have all been spoken of at length. For a man to achieve what he has, create and effectively lead a political movement like he has, takes rare ability, passion and commitment.

The army of adoring supporters he has built around himself also says something about the man.

But for me, personally, I think the absolute gold standard is Mr Odinga. In my (few) encounters with him, he was an irrepressible fount of information and facts.

The last time I interviewed Mr Odinga, though he was in some pain after back surgery, he spent a lot of time lecturing me on one of former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s books, I think it was From Third World to First, the sub-text being, if you haven’t read that book, please go read it.

Mr Odinga reminds me of former Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura. I was in an audience that he addressed recently and I’ve never met a man who wore authority and leadership so easily.

It was a dinner but he too spoke at length about development, strategies, lessons from the past, what we now need to do; 75 years old, 10 years out of office but absolutely obsessed with the country and its prosperity, a fountain of optimism, humility and restless intellectual energy.

Loves this country

Even when he was in the doghouse with his erstwhile Mt Kenya rivals, there is one thing they and his most ardent supporters agreed on: he loves this country passionately and its image and prosperity were to him a matter of personal honour – and mission.

By training and personality, Prof Makau Mutua is not a man given to uncritical belief or acclaim and I’ve always admired his clarity at key decision moments. Usually, professors painfully navigate their way towards a point of view through a tangled mess of argumentation and counter-argumentation before arriving at a somewhat bedraggled position. Not Prof Mutua; on this occasion, he just sits there in smug certainty, goblet in hand, with a small smile and swears to Mr Odinga. I’ve seen it before, he was right, I was wrong.

Like the Daily Nation pointed early in the week: approach the election with calm confidence, there is no reason for alarm. The country will be well led.

There, I have said something nice about everyone. And I will probably be condemned for it.


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