For the Record: Of memoirs and the question of motive

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

On Monday, July 30, 2012, Mr William Ruto (then having been fired as Higher Education Minister the previous year), walked into a Nairobi hotel to launch a book I had just published. The book was entitled Unyielding Hope: The Life and Times of Koitaleel Somoei. He walked in with an entourage, their footsteps jangling — the soft sounds filling the hall.

The air was still, redolent of energy and a comfortable joy, one without peaks or valleys, steady, and constant — a book lovers’ paradise — with that special flavouring scent emanating from freshly-printed books. In that entourage was Mr Aden Duale, then MP for Dujis Constituency.

Mr Ruto spoke and then introduced Mr Duale (whom he called his friend) to also speak. It was clear, even then, that the two enjoyed great camaraderie — the kind of friendship that probably swirls and loops into the past and always with the promise of good things — like the wind that carries the gift of rain.

On May 11, 2023, more than a decade later, Mr Duale (now CS Defence) and President William Ruto met in another book launch. This time, President Ruto was launching the book entitled For the Record: The Inside Story of Power Politics, Lawmaking & Leadership in Kenya, written by Mr Duale. Mr Duale’s book comes shortly after Ahmed Issack Hassan’s, Referee of a Dirty Ugly Game: In the Theatre of Kenya’s Elections — An Insider’s Account.

Whatever the naysayers shout, it’s a good thing that more Kenyans are now telling their stories in books as that’s not only good for informing curious Kenyans of what happened in some of the most momentous events in the country but also good for generations to come that will read these books.

In fact, during the launch, President Ruto picked the issue of more Kenyans writing their stories. The president joked that he would have nothing to write because Mr Duale will probably be joined by Mr Kithure Kindiki and Mr Moses Wetang’ula (whose English, the President added, would need a dictionary).

Then he laughed his distinct laugh, sharp and resonant and when the audience joined in, the sound was like knife blades against fine crystal — probably lifting spirits up in the balmy, airconditioned air.

As Duale’s book unfurls, for the man born in 1965 in rural Garissa, it fashions a hero for whom the entire universe seems to be cooperating to create a more interesting narrative — through Moi Forces Academy in Nairobi where he did his advanced level studies, Moi University, Eldoret, where he earned a degree in education and then to his entrance in politics.

Kenyan politics is painted as an extravagant bouquet of roses, replete with the beautiful scents, textures, and colours of power — and its dark side. He writes about women (he calls “laptops”) probably on the hunt for financial salvation from Kenya’s high-rolling politicians. “These young women,” he adds, “were always present in the political meetings, sneaked in like contraband into hotel rooms”.

Mr Duale may lack an intimidating presence, but he has something else, something probably even more insidiously powerful — he is unapologetically outspoken, loud, and Machiavellian. He takes the reader through periods of political contention.

And, as expected, Mr Duale draws blood — making minced meat of opponents — his words smashing, crashing cracking, slicing, slashing, and splitting. In remembering Mr Raila Odinga and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, the text is replete with recriminations and something just short of the malicious satisfaction one gets when describing big-time losers.

In a chapter entitled “the breakup”, he describes how he broke ranks with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. “After months of missed appointments and open humiliation, I became very impatient with… the Prime Minister,” he writes.

As for Mr Musyoka, he probably pens the most tragic of stories when he claims that it had been decided that Mr Kalonzo was going to be the President. And that Mr William Ruto and Mr Uhuru Kenyatta drove to Mr Kalonzo’s Karen home seeking a deal in which Mr Uhuru was going to be deputy President and Mr Ruto Majority Leader.

Mr Duale claims that Mr Kalonzo messed it up when he said that, “You guys leave the Presidency to me. I have looked at the charges you are facing and as a senior lawyer, my advice to you is, just go to the ICC. You will be jailed a maximum of ten years. When you come back, I will leave the seat to you”. That, according to the book, sealed Mr Kalonzo’s fate. The deal was off. Mr Kenyatta later ran and won the presidency and Mr Kalonzo was left in the cold, as a leper without even a colony.

Mr Duale is cunning in a healthy survivalist’s sense and fiercely loyal to those he likes. He has stuck with President Ruto through thick and thin. Like in all memoirs, Mr Duale wrote from his point of view. Autobiography, as a literary genre, has always been problematic, dogged by lies, distortions, omissions — and suspicions. “What is the motive?” readers ask. As a critic put it, “When a man sits down to write the story of his life, it seems only natural to wonder why”. That notwithstanding, this is Mr Duale’s story. Those who disagree can write theirs. Let’s have it on the record!