Biographies released in 2023 reveal the rarely seen side of VIPs


Some of the biographies released in 2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

From very personal recollections to revelations of previously unknown facts, the new biographies and autobiographies of 2023 offer rich insights into the workings of the government and the people in charge — plus the chaos that exist at every level.

British writer and biographer Philip Guedalla once noted that biography is “a very definite region bounded on the north by history, on the south by fiction, on the east by obituary, and on the west by tedium”.

His description of the books that tell stories of individuals was spot-on when one considers the biographies released by big names in Kenya in 2023.

Among the persons who released their biographies this year is Issack Hassan, the former chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), who penned a voluminous book titled, Referee of a Dirty Ugly Game: In the Theatre of Kenya’s Elections — an Insider’s Account.

Duale Book Launch

Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale delivering his speech during the launch of his biography For the Record at Serena Hotel in Nairobi on May 11, 2023. 

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Then there was Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale who went to town with an autobiography, For the Record: The Inside Story of Power, Politics, Lawmaking and Leadership in Kenya.

Former Cabinet minister and nominated senator Beth Mugo also released her memoir, Early Bird, in which she lays bare the story of her life and her odyssey with the country’s echelons of power.

Dr David Silverstein, the physician who treated many VIPs in Kenya, among them former President Daniel Arap Moi and former Attorney-General Charles Njonjo, also released his biography, Heartbeat: An American Cardiologist in Kenya, in 2023.

Then there was the former Head of the Civil Service, Dr Francis Muthaura, who released his memoir, A Moving Horizon.

Others who released biographies are

Dr Muthaura’s memoir, ‘A Moving Horizon’

Dr Francis Muthaura (second right), with his wife Rose (right), together with Public Service Cabinet Secretary Mr Moses Kuria, former Public Service CS Prof Margaret Kobia and Dr Henry Chakava, the chairman of East African Educational Publishers (EAEP), during the launch of Dr Muthaura’s memoir, ‘A Moving Horizon,’ at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, on November 2, 2023. 

Photo credit: Pool

the founder of the Steadman polling firm that is today owned by Ipsos, with his book In Good Stead: Roger Steadman’s Marketing Surfari. There is also retired lieutenant-general Humphrey Njoroge who released Promises to Keep and Miles to Go: Memoirs of the 11th 3-Star Kenyan General.

Reading the works reveals another side to the personalities whose tough side Kenyans are accustomed to seeing on television screens.

For instance, who would have imagined that someone like Beth Mugo, a niece of Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta, could be conned by land fraudsters? In a chapter where she describes how she fought for public land in Dagoretti when she was the area MP, she says that she once fell prey to cons.

From left: Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, Executive Director at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development Oley Dibba-Wadda, Beth Mugo and Narc leader Charity Ngilu during Mugo's memoir launch at KICC, Nairobi, on September 12, 2023.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada I Nation Media Group

“I have been a victim of land swindling. After taking a loan from Barclays Bank in 1995 to purchase land in Likoni, the land company happened to have a fraudulent scheme and I never got the land after servicing the loan for many years,” she writes.

Dr Silverstein’s book illustrates how the persons we consider larger-than-life have their very human moments. He discloses that he treated former South African president Nelson Mandela in Nairobi in 1990, where he performed a chest X-ray and drew his blood for tests. When he later met Mr Mandela about nine months later, the South African icon told him, “You are a much better doctor than you think. I’m still alive!” Then they laughed and shook hands.

And whereas the public was used to a stoic, often hard-to-please Moi, Dr Silverstein reveals a man who, in his sunset years, got very excited when visiting the burial site of Jesus in Old Jerusalem and who so much treasured a brand of sparkling water sold in Israel that he brought some in Kenya to consume. In his last days, Mr Moi would also regularly watch videotaped sermons of evangelists such as Billy Graham.

How Dr Silverstein became Moi's doctor

Through his description of the last moments of Mr Moi and Mr Njonjo, Dr Silverstein opens the veil into the inevitability of death that applies to all human beings — whether you are a sophisticated, wealthy and well-guarded personality or a random pauper.

“(Mr Njonjo’s) directives on his last days were already known to all of them (his family). He did not want to be hospitalised. He did not want to suffer. Once his condition was irreversible, he wanted to be left to die peacefully,” he writes of Mr Njonjo.

However, Mr Njonjo chose a unique way of departing the earth, perhaps a final edict that he never wanted to be grouped with the mortals.

“He had made it clear that his death should not be announced until after his cremation. He did not want his family to be pressurised by the Kikuyu community to bury him,” writes Dr Silverstein.

Dr Silverstein also reveals his personal tribulations after he was accused of negligence following the death of one-time Chief Justice Zacchaeus Chesoni who was his patient. A reader can feel the relief he felt when Mr Moi, despite the questions about his competence, assured Dr Silverstein that he would remain his doctor. The doctor would later be cleared of any malpractice.

Dr David Silverstain

Dr David Silverstain with his memoir ‘Heartbeat: An American Cardiologist in Kenya.’

Mr Muthaura, in his book, discloses some very human challenges that have plagued his life, some that are health-related. The steely career civil servant and diplomat shares about a long health complication from a stomach ulcer that lasted from 1959 to 1972. He also describes the open-heart surgery that he went through in South Africa when he was the Head of Public Service and the Secretary to the Cabinet.

And whereas Kenyans know Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale as an abrasive leader who used to fire from the hip when he was in politics, his book reveals a more timid young man, especially in his formative years. As a Form One student at Garissa High School, he reveals that he used to be bugged by bullies who would take all his money and demand that he make their beds. He, however, found a “godfather” who put an end to his tribulations.

Mr Duale’s book also reveals the harsh life led by Kenya’s elected parliamentarians when they fail to recapture their seats.

How Moi doctor, Dr Silverstein, came to Kenya

“I had seen how some had ended up badly after one term in Parliament,” he writes of young lawmakers, noting that there are also seasoned parliamentarians who are “now broke and needy” and who “idled on the corridors of Parliament begging for lunch or fuel money from the sitting lawmakers”.

“It is not a nice picture for a former prominent leader to be reduced to penury,” he writes.

Then there is Mr Hassan’s book where the former IEBC boss admits that he bore hatred for opposition leader Raila Odinga, the media and several officials following his ouster from office in 2017. Known for his calmness and non-confrontational speeches, Mr Hassan pours his heart out in the “reflections” part of his book.

Former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan

Former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan during a past event.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“I must say that it is also hard not to harbour some resentment against those that you believe persecuted you. For me, they were the Cord (Coalition for Reforms and Democracy) principals led by Raila, the Auditor-General, the media, as well as the chairman and 16 members of the Public Accounts Committee who appended their signatures on the witch-hunt report. You can forgive your enemies, but never forget their names,” writes Mr Hassan.

He also reckons that life changed dramatically after his exit from IEBC.

“You quickly find out who your true friends were, and those whose friendship was with your office, as soon as you exit. Sometimes your call will not be picked up or returned, and you realise that it is not personal. You are no longer in office, and your usefulness to some is over. It may be shocking to realise that many of these people were only fair-weather friends,” he writes.

The books are also a commentary on very human reactions to events. What do you do when a social media post alleges you are languishing in disease whereas it is a big lie? Mr Hassan discloses how he responded to posts about his health; posts that claimed he was suffering after leaving IEBC while it was all a lie.

Mr Steadman, in his book, discusses how he handled a situation ahead of the 2007 General Election when lawyer Miguna Miguna, then a diehard of the Orange Democratic Party, became fiery and confrontational during the release of opinion poll results. Ms Mugo, on the other hand, discloses how she reacted to news that she had breast cancer and how she craftily evaded arrest under President Moi for attending an opposition rally in July 1990, while Mr Muthaura reveals how he reacted to news about him being a suspect at the International Criminal Court.

From very personal recollections to revelations of previously unknown facts, the new biographies and autobiographies of 2023 offer rich insights into the workings of the government and the people in charge — plus the chaos that exists at every level.