Sicily Kariuki

Former Water, Sanitation and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary for Sicily Kanini Kariuki.

| Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group 

Sicily Kariuki: Kill Ruto? The La Mada murder allegation made me mad

What you need to know:

  • Ms Kariuki says it’s been exciting and a privilege to be a member of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Cabinet.
  • Former CS says her family is doing all it can to remain united after her brother joined William Ruto’s UDA.

The alleged scheme to assassinate Deputy President William Ruto was dramatically captured in the media as the “La Mada murder plot”, in reference to the city hotel where the plan to eliminate the DP was reportedly hatched.

To journalists and the general public, it was high drama. To Sicily Kariuki and some members of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inner circle who were accused of being part of the plot, it was a harrowing experience.

Pamella Sittoni talks to Ms Kariuki in this second part of a tell-all interview in which says her uncle almost died of shock and stroke after learning of the ‘plot’ 

What happened after the attempt to impeach you failed? Did you make peace with your accusers?

The showstopper after the thing backfired was the person who had moved the motion coming to my office to ask for forgiveness. He said it was Ramadhan and he did not want it to bother him. We did it. No ill feelings. 

Then there was a woman, whose name remains withheld. I refused to see her, but when I moved to the Water Ministry, she came with her colleague and a few other women. 

She told me that she had carried the burden for too long. She too apologised. 

I said: “It is fine. You are a woman like me. May be you were excited. Or may be that is how politics gets done. And it’s okay. I don’t carry grudges.”

After these kinds of experiences, why would you want to go into politics?

Some of the women politicians have told me the template does not have to be this. It should be leadership, not politicking. 

Immediately after the impeachment, there was the infamous assassination plot against Deputy President William Ruto. What was that all about?

I was said to be part of the group that was plotting to kill the Deputy President. Now that’s annoying. You know, the way you want to remove your hair.

So, I’m called by a senior Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officer on a Sunday evening when I’m having fun with my old mother. She’s in my house. I’m required at DCI headquarters the next morning.

I demand to know what happens at the DCI offices. I’m told: “You’re coming to record statements.” 

At that point I don’t know whether it’s me alone, or it’s the National Youth Service (NYS) saga showing. And because I was never invited to record a statement on NYS, may be this is it. 

Immediately after that, my colleagues call me: “Have you been summoned?” So we meet. We demand to be told where the Occurrence Book is. What are we accused of? What is happening? 

Then I’m wondering, this assassination being planned by women is also very interesting.

We sat with the officers and argued back and forth for three hours. We were not recording anything. We wanted to see the entry. It was ugly. 

My mother’s elder brother almost got a stroke while watching the news on TV. He had to be taken to hospital. 

“You mean we took her to school and performed very well only to be a thug? How can it ever happen in our family?” he asked.

Where did all that come from?

It is politics. Ugly politics. When they say politics is dirty, it can be as dirty as it gets. You cannot even sit to plan or plot anything like this even if you’re not okay. Now we are focusing more on the development. Murder in La Mada, that’s what the media called it.

What exactly were you accused of?

You can imagine at that point, my daughter was in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. A student. She was picking these on 411. So you quickly start calling everyone and telling them: “I’ve not become a murderer. I’m not even a thief.” 

We make very careless moves that affecting families. You think it’s about me or you think you are attacking me, but you’re hurting many other people.

What became of the matter, and how did you relate with the Deputy President?

Nothing at all. A few days later, I meet the DP during the memorial service of (Safaricom Chief Executive Bob) Collymore. Camera people and journalists are all over. 

They want to see how I will react during the meeting. And then the DP IS greeting me and really squeezing my hand. 

The cameras are right there during the handshake.

Away from the limelight, what was it like to be a member of President Kenyatta’s Cabinet?

It’s been exciting and a privilege. An honourable space to occupy, to consult and even advise the President. It is a place to be guided and grow. You are given a lot of space to make mistakes and deal with them. So it’s been good. 

President Kenyatta is a very good person to work for and to work with. If he picks the phone and asks, “Are you ready to come and work with me?” And you say “yes”. He says, “You have my trust. Just do the right thing and don’t touch people’s money. It’s not yours.” That’s a good boss. When I moved to the Health Ministry, he told me: “If people come and use my name, that they’ve been sent to you by me, even if it’s family, you’ve got to do your bit. Don’t make mistakes.” It helps you and it gives you confidence.

Is he harsh as a boss?

Do the right thing and it is not causing any pain and he is good. You can have a hearty laugh until you you’re in tears. Mess it up and you will know his true colours. Like any other leader, you can’t afford to be a template that people read. When it’s time to be serious, you want to be serious.

When the rift happened between the President and his deputy and there was a kind of split in Cabinet, did it affect your work in any way?

It did not. The chain of command is very clear. It was when I was a Principal Secretary and when I moved to the Cabinet. It still is. 

When the President handed over the instruments of power to his deputy and flew abroad, we knew the chain of command had come one step down and we had to answer to the DP. When the President is in the country or has not handed over the instruments of power to anyone, then you are still answerable to him. There’s only one boss at a time.

Having served in government for that long, you are seen as a government insider. The incumbent in Nyandarua County is also seen as one, having worked closely with President Kenyatta. Will this present a dilemma for the President?

That’s a very tricky question. Politics is about not being picked to be a project. I am not a project. I have not sat with the President to discuss politics. When I went to seek his authority to leave the Cabinet, I needed to confess to him that I would want to be actively involved in the party affairs in this new life. I remain a loyalist. Even people in the other party wanted to speak to me when they started picking these vibes. They sent messages. I did not want to be disloyal to the President. 

It would be wrong to move away from him after serving in the Cabinet for nine and a half years. I have enjoyed and appreciated his mentorship and would want to continue being of service in the party. 

What happens to us is a decision of the party and the people. I am spending a lot of time with the people because I want them to judge me. Let them see if I can become their team leader or the county leader. I am optimistic the nomination will free and fair. I hope the most popular aspirant will carry the day. 

Three or four people want to be Nyandarua governor on a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket. Only one will be nominated. 

What is unique about Nyandarua county? What’s the first thing you will deal with if elected governor in August?

There is a huge untapped economic potential in Nyandarua. The region’s agricultural productivity is one of the highest in the country if we encourage extension services, improve seed and planting material and repair roads and other infrastructure. 

Our produce should easily find its way to the market. We will do everything to improve the farmer’s working environment. Our potential is huge but it remains untapped because of these challenges.

Nyandarua county has one of the most unique natural features in Kenya. Lake Olbolosat can be a great tourist attraction. Added to this are the British colonial footprints. Happy Valley has many old structures and houses where the colonialists lived.

Nyandarua is a melting pot of cultures too. A lot of Kenyans bought land there when the White settlers left before and soon after independence.

Recent events have made Nyandarua unique. The County Assembly and the Executive fought for six months.

There has also been a problem with our headquarters. Our commercial and administrative centre as a district was Nyahururu. That was before devolution. However, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission now says Nyahururu is part of Laikipia county.

All the key investors from Nyandarua have their businesses and residences in Nyahururu. So trying to put up new headquarters in Ol Kalou has been painful.

So what would you do in your first 100 days as Nyandarua governor? 

There is an outcry about the health system in our county. The problem can be traced to lack of supervision. Some workers are not dedicated. I went to a dispensary and was told to fix something. Employees report to work at 10 in the morning and leave by 3pm. Many do not go to work on weekends. One is left wondering if they are volunteers. 

Getting them to work from 6am to 6pm is no big deal. Fixing health at the very basic level is my dream. All this is motivated by the experiences I picked in Cuba and Thailand. Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana even attempted to implement that. I will keep it simple. 

Whatever a governor does will be useless if residents of his or her county are not healthy.

I will also want to spend time delivering water to locals, especially poor households. 

You want to run on a Jubilee ticket in Azimio La Umoja Movement. Why is that so? How do you also deal with the perception that Azimio is not popular among residents of Mt Kenya?

That is far from the truth. The only reason for the perception is that there has not been an alternative. But this is going to change. I believe in Azimio because I know what it meant before the March 9, 2018 handshake between President Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga in matters development and running the government.

The handshake worked miracles. I also believe in Azimio because the person who has made a lot of sacrifices for the country and is still living should be given a chance to live his dream. Every successive government has recognised that he cannot be ignored. 

That is why what the ODM leader says means much to many and the country. 

I am also opposed to the attempted takeover of government through machinations. 

Experience shows that overconfidence can lead to problems.

Your brother is standing for an elective position on a UDA ticket, and you’re in Jubilee. Does it matter to the family?

Of course, it matters. I don’t know if he is okay. He is actively involved in UDA at the moment. I had a talk with him before he took the decision to shift to UDA. That was before the Azimio La Umoja hopeful declared his interest in the presidency and before the Coalitions Bill made its way to the Cabinet and the National Assembly. 

He said the locals urged him to go for the seat and I told him the work of a leader is to lead. It is his democratic right and space. Hopefully, he will run out the whole course. Maybe he will not. It’s okay.

Does this leave your family divided?

We are careful about this. We are careful to endure it does not split our family. The family remains after politics. After making our choices, there is still family. That is why my sister is an agronomist, I am a marketer and my brother is a teacher and we are still okay.

Do you have a running mate? Who is it?

That is still a secret.

What’s your last word?

I can’t end the conversation without speaking about the need for more women to come to the political scene. Let them not expect to be treated differently. But their security should be assured and guaranteed.