Revealed: How Matiang'i surrendered

Former Interior CS Fred Matiang'i 

Former Interior CS Fred Matiang'i. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

If the narratives spun by President William Ruto’s acolytes in Kisii politics and the social media propaganda machinery are anything to go by, it was total and craven capitulation on the part of former Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, leading to dropping of criminal changes over the alleged police raid on his residence.

The sudden twists and turns as Matiang’i escaped the threat of jail, and in return apparently shifted support to President Ruto and by implication abandoned opposition leader Raila Odinga, marked a dramatic and turbulent week for the once all-powerful minister.

As Matiang’i discovered how tough it can be when the boot is on the other foot, he retreated into silence, leaving Education CS Ezekiel Machogu and other Kisii establishment figures to happily take credit for what appears to be a major coup for Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza brigade.

But it was also clear that while a deal appears to have been struck, there are deep divisions within the Kisii leadership. Machogu and other pro-government figures are eager to demonstrate that they have tamed Matiang’i and forced him to toe the line. However, a crop of opposition legislators claim, in fact, that the development was a victory for the former CS who they insist is the recognised community leader.

The MPs also insist that it was their direct intervention at a meeting with President Ruto, rather than strong-arm tactics, that led to softening of positions.

The immediate background is that on return from an overseas visit made in the midst of police seeking him to answer questions on the alleged raid at his house, Matiang’i presented himself to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, where he was kept for over seven hours. His lawyers advised him to exercise his right to silence as the questions he was being asked had little to do with the alleged raid, but were more of a fishing expedition about his wealth.

A few days later, the Director of Criminal Investigations, Mohammed Ali, presented the Director of Public Prosecutions, Noordin Haji, with an inquiry file recommending that Matiang’i and his lawyer, Dunstan Omari, be charged with publishing false information and conspiracy to commit a felony. Timelines here are important. Matiang’i appeared at the DCI on March 6. The file recommending prosecution was presented to the DPP the following day, March 7. On March 8, a small group of MPs, mostly from Mr Odinga’s ODM, visited President Ruto.

They cautioned him that anything interpreted as harassing Matiang’i was playing out negatively within the Gusii community. It was complicating their own efforts to seek cooperation with the government and would also impact badly on the president’s ‘tour of the region planned that started on Wednesday, which would also include his attendance of a ‘homecoming’ fete for Machogu.

Separately, Machogu was also warning that the issue was stoking anger within the community. It was with those cautions in mind, say those involved, that the president gave the go-ahead for Machogu and other local leaders to seek a truce.

On March 12, Machogu chaired a meeting of Kisii leaders where Matiang’i was prominently seated next to him at the high table. Under ordinary circumstances, any leader in Kenya having trouble with the government, facing the threat of criminal charges and generally typified as an enemy and troublemaker, would be persona-non-grata at such a gathering. The meeting discussed Kisii unity, cooperation with the government and the President’s impending tour, with Matiang’i apparently fully on board.

The following day, March 13, DPP Haji announced that Matiang’i would not face any charges as the DCI file did have any evidence that could stand scrutiny in a court of law.

In an unusual development, he did not, as is the practice, ask the DCI to carry out investigations with a view to filling in the gaps, but directed that the investigations be closed all-together and no further action taken. It could all have been a co-incidence, but chances are that the flurry of activity and ‘freedom’ for Matiang’i could not have been unrelated. It could be seen as a wise move in regard to easing tensions, denying Odinga a cause to exploit and nipping in the bud the emerging alliance with Matiang’i.

The opposition chief was the first person on the scene when the former minister raised the alarm about a police siege at his residence. He also turned up in a show of solidarity when Matiang’i was undergoing interrogation at the DCI headquarters, making a lot of noise for the cameras when denied entry.

 But it also again raises questions about whether both DCI Amin and DPP Haji are taking directions from the political leadership. Haji has raised plenty of eyebrows since the new government took power over the large number of criminal cases facing Ruto allies he has suddenly dropped, citing lack of evidence in the files presented to him by ousted DCI George Kinoti. He has never satisfactorily explained why he agreed to press the charges in the first place if the evidence was deficient.

Then there is Amin, who succeeded a director widely seen to have abused his office by filing fake criminal cases against Ruto allies. Kinoti was one of the first casualties of the Ruto regime that came into office vowing to end the culture of politically-inspired prosecutions. If the enthusiasm with which his successor, Amin, goes after those in bad books with the administration is any guide, nothing has changed. The woefully deficient file recommending Matiang’i’s prosecution is a case in point. The big question now is, what next for Matiang’i?

Talking to The Weekly Review, MP Patrick Osero disclosed that it was ‘soft diplomacy’ that won the day. He was part of the ODM delegation that visited Ruto and asked him to call off the attack dogs on the former minister, arguing that persecuting Matiang’i was playing badly on the ground. Osero is well-placed to intercede with Ruto, having been a colleague in the infamous Youth for Kanu ’92 group that sought to counter the campaign for a multi-party system in the early 1990’s.

He has also been the President’s business partner, a few years ago coming out to shield him by claiming that he was the actual owner of Weston Hotel on Lang’ata Road when questions were raised about how the land on which the facility stands was ‘grabbed’from Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.

Another MP who spoke to The Weekly Review was Richard Onyonka, who poured cold water on reports that Matiang’i would be shifting allegiance to President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza. He said that the priority for the ex-CS at the moment might be to take a sabbatical, but at the appropriate time he would be releasing a detailed statement explaining his position and also providing guid[1]ance for his supporters.

Although he cautioned that he does not speak for Matiang’i, the MP pointed out three scenarios that could come into play. One is that he folds his tail between his legs, shuns politics and holds his peace for the foreseeable future. The other is that he declares his loyalty to Ruto and works from within the system to assert his primacy in Kisii politics.

That might not go down well with Machogu, who is eager to claim that mantle, as well as other Kenya Kwanza leaders in the region who stuck with Ruto when the going was tough and will not want to be shoved aside.

Machogu did not pick calls from WR or respond to messages. Other leaders in Kenya Kwanza jostling for positions, such as Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, might also see a threat to their own ambitions if Matiang’i wins a place by President Ruto’s side.

The third option, which Onyonka favours, is that Matiang’i lies low for now and weighs the de[1]veloping situation before making any moves. “But if he crosses (to the Ruto side) he will be seen as a coward and will never be forgiven by the Kisii community,” he warned.

As The Weekly Review went to press, we learnt that Matiang’i was prepar[1]ing a comprehensive statement to be released by the end of the week. In the meantime, dropping of the po[1]lice siege charges was not the only thing on his mind.

Before Matiang’i faced the DCI, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission had asked for his wealth declaration files as part of a lifestyle audit that seemed to tie in with some of the allegations Kenya Kwanza politicians and social media have made against him.

Although EACC boss Noordin Twalib had insisted in a conversation last week with The Weekly Review that it was a routine request made to all exiting cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking officials, the timing was interesting.

Then there is the private prosecution sought by President Ruto’s social media propagandist, Dennis Itumbi. Last week, the controversial blogger, who is now a Cabinet Administrative Secretary, wrote to DPP Haji and EACC boss Twalib demanding that Matiang’i be charged over the Ruaraka land scandal dating back to his time as Education CS.

 It is unlikely that Haji would accede to such a demand, especially one with little evidence that can be presented in court, but rejection will then provide the grounds for Itumbi to proceed to court on private prosecution.

A similar attempt in 2020 was thrown out when the courts deemed that the evidence pre[1]sented did not meet the required threshold, but the change of guard at State House might give Itumbi confidence to try again. Ruto’s propaganda outfit has also played up reports that Matiang’i and other powerful figures from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration are under investigation by the Kenya Revenue Authority, which would also be of worry, besides raising concern that the such agencies are sharing privileged information with political players. If the DCI file on the alleged police siege was a non-starter, there might well be other more serious matters hanging over Matiang’i’s head that forced him to capitulate.

Whatever statement he comes out with will provide clearer direction on whether he was beaten into meek submission, or he is the one playing a clever game that lets him off the hook for now as he girds up for future battles.


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