When phones stop ringing for bigwigs battling graft charges

Former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero at the Milimani Law Courts, Nairobi, on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 during the hearing of a case in which he his charged with abuse of office. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Friends have disappeared for big guns hounded out of office while others feel betrayed by a system that they served so diligently until their names popped up on corruption lists

  • There are many former public servants who are struggling with life after the charges. Friends have disappeared.
  • A number feel used and betrayed by a system that they served so diligently until their names popped up on corruption lists of shame.

“I am alone, my phone never rings anymore,” says Mr Peter Mangiti, the former Devolution principal secretary who was pushed out of office and charged in court after the first National Youth Service scandal broke four years ago.

The Nation caught up with him at the Royal Golf Course on Nairobi’s Ngong Road, where he spends most of his days.

Mr Mangiti says he has learnt more in the past four years, during which he has been in the cold, than he has in his entire adult life.

'BETRAYAL'

When he is not fighting to clear his name in court, he is most likely playing golf to pass time, and perhaps distract himself from the coldness that comes with courtroom benches.

When we arrive at the club, we find Mr Mangiti all alone, wearing a striped T-shirt, a pair of shorts and flat shoes, ready for a game. However, there are not many people available to play with him.

“I am handicap 13 and now a pensioner,” he says as he finally tees off. “I have all the time in the world to do things I was never able to do when I was in office.” 

Though he has less company than ever before, he says that he is not bitter with anyone.

“The burden of betrayal rests on my fake friends who vanished the minute they heard I was in trouble. It’s not on me,” he says.

But the man, a career civil servant who rose through the ranks as a civil engineer to the post of director of Water Services, after which he was made the principal secretary in the Devolution ministry, before he crashed out in a slew of corruption-related allegations, says he is no longer bothered by his friends’ absence.

“I take a different view. My phone never rings anymore, but this is a blessing in disguise. I now know my fake friends from the genuine ones. This experience has helped me sieve a lot of fake friends,” he says.

BITTERNESS

Not everyone left, though. He says a few genuine friends have stood by him and have come to support him.

When we sit down for lunch – beef ribs and ugali – he admits that life has been hard. He had three cars but had to sell two. If the one he has breaks down, he would have to call a cab on one of the taxi-hailing apps or jump into a matatu.

He says one of the things he learnt very quickly was to drop the rank and entitlement once all the perks that came with the office were taken away.

“You can imagine coming from earning Sh1 million a month to just Sh68,000. How do you survive? But I have learnt not to be bitter. If you are going through such challenges and you add bitterness, you could easily die,” he says.

Mr Mangiti says he now just looks at the positive side of the experience and this helps him move on.

“It is better to have one or two friends than a bunch who sing your praises but are happy to see you go down. You have to battle with perceptions. Some family members whom I turn to when I am financially struggling, wonder how daft I was if I didn’t leave government as a rich man,” he says.

HUMILIATION

Unlike a majority of the former principal secretaries, Cabinet secretaries and governors who are just starting their court battles, Mr Mangiti has gone through one of his cases and won. He says he was bruised but he has since sued the State. However, he knows he has other cases he must still fight to be assured of freedom.

He is currently providing counselling services to another former PS – who was also pushed out of office – on how to cope with the stress and humiliation that comes with being pushed out of office.

There are many former public servants who are struggling with life after the charges. The  phones have stopped ringing. Friends have disappeared. A number feel used and betrayed by a system that they served so diligently until their names popped up on corruption lists of shame.

And it is not just friends who refuse to answer calls. President Kenyatta recently said that he is no longer answering calls by public officials who have run afoul of the law.

In a rare public admission that in the past people would call his office while in trouble seeking his intervention, the President said those lines “have since been switched off”.

“You will just read in the newspapers that someone has been picked up. It is upon everyone to think about his or her actions. The culture of calling for help is no more and when they (detectives come for you) it will be upon you to defend yourself. Ni noma, hizo simu zilizimwa zamani (Things are thick. Those phones were switched off.)

EVANS KIDERO

The crowds that often milled around them when they were in the limelight are gone. And some have sent out dozens of invites to friends to come to house parties only to end up with a couple at the table.

It is lonelier for those who left to fight corruption allegations, and have to turn to friends and family to raise money for their lawyers.

Some have become pariahs, and are living in the irony of “innocent until proved guilty”.

The former Nairobi County governor has always been a man with hordes of friends. Until the law caught up with him.

In his better days, the pharmacist hosted the high and mighty at his lavish homes. Even President Uhuru Kenyatta would occasionally pay him a “courtesy call” at his office.

He was among a few governors who were generally accepted by both sides of the political divide.

You were a lucky man to be on his invite list to a party at his at any of his homes or if you were to play a game with him at the Muthaiga Golf Club.

Whenever he appeared in court when he was still governor, crowds of supporters were always beside him and hardly left his side until he “triumphed”. At times, they would make courtrooms look too small. At times, they would arrive too early and start chanting in his praise as they waited for his time in the dock.

CORPORATE

But after he left office and more serious charges came up, the crowds started thinning out. Within no time, they were gone altogether. It is no longer unusual to find him alone in court or at a table in any of the golf clubs he frequents.

The politicians who used to line up every Friday at his office looking for favours and financial support for various harambees at the weekend are also gone.

For a son of a police officer, Dr Kidero’s frequent run-ins with the law and lengthy stays in police cells, away from his lavish homes in Muthaiga and Kisumu, tell a story of the changing times for the technocrat who was the CEO of the most important county in Kenya.

Dr Kidero rose from the grit of the slums of Majengo to become one of the most admired chief executives on the Kenyan corporate scene.

Until late last year, he was living the dream life of many Kenyans, having been a successful and admired CEO, who easily got into politics and was a hit with the masses.

Although he was not available to talk to us about how he feels about some of his friends who find better things to do, Dr Kidero has said on numerous occasions that what he is facing are malicious and trumped-up charges fronted by the prosecution to play to the media and the court of public opinion, but which are flawed in the eyes of the law.

DISMAYED

In an opinion in a local daily, Dr Kidero wrote: “What God has willed no human being can stop or destroy. Lastly, the English say that it’s bad manners to talk when you’ve been given food with a big spoon but let’s remember that most times that food can be poison.”  

He concluded by quoting the Bible in Isaiah 41:10.

“So I do not fear, for the lord is with me I will not be dismayed for he is my God. He will strengthen me and help me. He will hold me with his righteous right hand.”

In his most recent appearance in court, it was just him, his lawyer  and the cold, brown courtroom bench.

But for Kidero, his arguably biggest embarrassment came on August 8,2018, when detectives from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) could not wait for him to finish his game at the prestigious Muthaiga Golf Club.

Muthaiga Golf Club did not respond to our enquiries as to where exactly and how the arrest happened, but his friends say he had not finished his game of the day. The club also did not respond on our enquiry on whether any other public figures have been picked up from the golf course.

TREASURY DUO

A number of Dr Kidero’s former golfing friends, among them politicians and businessmen, say that though they empathise with his predicament, they are yet to come around and accept him back into their circles.

“If you sit here with us for an hour or so and see him come in, you will see some of his friends run away or make themselves busy just to avoid him,” one of his friends told us, as we sought to understand from him why he is no longer by the former governor’s side.

Another said the golfing community is yet to come to terms with the fact that one of them could be arrested on the golf course, an act he said caused embarrassment to the golfing fraternity.

Former Treasury Cabinet secretary Henry Rotich, who is the senior-most public official to be charged in court in the new anti-corruption wave in Kenya, has chosen to keep a low profile and fight his battles quietly.  For the past one month, he has been unavailable to talk to us about his experience. Last week, he told us he was out of town, at his rural home.

HARDWORKING

Mr Rotich, who was made to answer more than 300 questions before detectives came for him, had never been caught up in any other scandal until the Sh63 billion Arror and Kimwarer dams scandal that ended his career at the National Treasury came to light.

The principal secretary was also dropped in the heat of the charges.

Dr Kamau Thugge has lived at the Norfolk Towers apartments since 2010. Most of his family is out of the country, so his life for the past nine years has largely oscillated between National Treasury building on Harambee Avenue, just 3km from the apartments on Kijabe Street.

His friends at the National Treasury describe him as one of the most hardworking principal secretaries of the past decade.

Dr Thugge buried his head in books and documents in his office that often required his signatures, and had very few public engagements.

He successfully kept his life out of the public limelight into which his office thrust him when he was elevated to be the accounting officer of the National Treasury, an office he held until recently when the dam scandals rocked his peace. His arrest came as a shock for a man who was never mentioned in any scandal.

SMALL FISH

He did not want to talk about his experience with friends. However, those who know him say the man was shocked at the turn of events, having not been a suspect until the last minute.

Now, he has all the time in the world, having been pushed out of office, a time that may now be consumed by one of the biggest battles of his lifetime, which will either see him reclaim his reputation, with bruises, or lose, with the possibility of ending up in jail.

Some public officials who have faced corruption charges have chosen to just keep to themselves. Others do not want public sympathy while others want to continue earning the 50 per cent pay for as long as their cases last and would not want to jeopardise that by granting media interviews.

Some like former Labour Cabinet secretary Kazungu Kambi, who was hit hard by the sack, prefer to let bygones be bygones.

FUNDRAISE

Mr Kambi, who was among the first Cabinet secretaries to be accused of corruption and hounded out of office during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first term, was appointed to chair the board of the Coast Development Authority.

For the lower-profile officials in ministries and parastatals, employees first formed WhatsApp groups to help fundraise for their colleagues charged with corruption pay their legal fees.

At Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), colleagues joined the accused in efforts to mobilise funds after more than 60 were charged.

However, the funds-drives died down shortly after they appeared in courts and they were forgotten. The same happened to the Kenya Bureau of Standards officials when the ghosts of the adulterated sugar claimed several staff.

Dr Bitange Ndemo attributes this to a Kenyan culture where one makes friends with people seeking financial favours or influence.

NOSEDIVED

Dr Ndemo, who spoke from experience and after talking to more than 150 people, including those who retired from high-profile jobs, lost an election, retired from athletics, were fired or otherwise dropped from top jobs, said their responses showed unanimity that their relationships deteriorated when their fortunes nosedived.

 Despite working so hard to put Kenya on the global ICT map, the day he left office his phone ceased to ring.

“My ‘friends’ moved on. I found myself checking my phone to establish if I had inadvertently put it off. The phone was fine,” he says.

“Prior to my departure from office, receiving 30 calls an hour was not unusual. Although most calls were work-related, there were many social calls from many old and new friends, people you would expect to keep in touch with even when you left high office. Strangely, such calls cease until you establish a new kind of relevance.”

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.