How Echesa rode on tide of infamy to public prominence
By Zaddock Angira and Alvin Mwangi
That besieged former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa, a man with a dubious past mired in suspicious activities, rose to the honourable position of minister, is a serious indictment on Kenya’s politics and vetting agencies, including Parliament.
Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, the man whose latest criminal tendencies have boxed the country’s second in command, Deputy President William Ruto, into a tight political corner, has ridden on the tide of infamy to public prominence.
It takes a rare trait for him to have wormed his way to the centre of the shakers and movers of the country’s politics — he rose from the Raila Odinga-led Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) youth leader, adept at meting out violence against rivals in western region before defecting to the Jubilee Party and becoming its key pointman in the same region.
His reward was handsome: A Cabinet Secretary position, enjoying all the trappings of power; flying a national flag, round-the-clock security, a seat in decision-making boardrooms and other perks, courtesy of the tax payer.
But this did not change the questionable nature of the man from Mumias; he, instead started using his privileged position to camouflage his nefarious activities until he ran out luck and was fired.
At one point, almost everything about his career was on a swift downfall, until he hit the headlines after his arrest over the Sh39 billion fake arms tender.
The rabble rouser’s name became an instant talk of the town as people widely questioned his ability to step into the big shoes of his predecessor, former Sports CS Hassan Wario, in a docket that had been riddled with numerous scandals.
Yesterday, Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary General Francis Atwoli, who has been one of Echesa’s fiercest critics predicted his imminent “complete” downfall.
Atwoli, while calling on the government to investigate how Echesa acquired his property, claimed the former CS cannot survive in public life for long because his foundation was built on quicksand.
“This should serve as a lesson to all Kenyans, President Uhuru Kenyatta included, that you cannot pluck somebody from the village and appoint him to an influential government position. I warned them, but they ignored . Now see what is happening,” said Atwoli.
The trade unionist indicted the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the Public Service Commission and the National Assembly for failing to do proper due diligence while vetting Echesa.
“Was there any due diligence carried out? These institutions failed the President by not scrutinising this man well and that is why Uhuru ended up appointing him, it was completely unnecessary,” he added.
Echesa’s woes appeared to deepen yesterday when the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss George Kinoti said the former Sports CS is a man on their focus.
“Our team is out there to try and fully establish his operations and accomplices. He is of great interest to us because he seems to be involved in so many things that many of us had not known about. But with time, we may be able to say with certainty which kind of person he is,” Kinoti told the People Daily.
When he appeared before MPs for vetting in 2018, Echesa said he comes from a humble background; a family where his parents could not afford to educate him and his seven siblings.
“I was born and brought up in a very humble background. My father was just a charcoal burner. My mum could walk like six kilometres to go sell sweet bananas to earn a living,” he told the panel. The committee approved him for appointment.
However, his reign as Minister was short-lived, as he became a casualty of Uhuru’s Cabinet reshuffle in March 2019 when he was unceremoniously relieved of his duties. His sacking was not surprising.
His short tenure was characterised by a number of embarrassing issues. Some of them revolved around national teams lacking financial support while preparing for major competitions. He also failed to implement the Sports Fund which was part of the Sports Act 2013 that was enacted into law during his predecessor’s tenure.
Though he denied it, he was linked to a smuggling ring that brought eight Pakistani bellydancers arrested at a club in Nairobi’s Westlands area. The foreigners found their way into the country and engaged in suspicious activities in a suspected human trafficking scandal.
The government confirmed that the dancers, who reportedly flew into the country with the Sports minister’s authority, had been engaging in suspicious activities.
The former CS was also widely mentioned in a syndicate that involved circulation of fake money in Ruiru, Kiambu county.
The money, in local and foreign currency, was found stashed in boxes in a house off the Eastern by-pass near the popular Kamaki’s area, leading to the arrest of three people—a couple and their female business associate.
Despite these scandals, Echesa continued to put on a brave face, claiming that the issues were all politically motivated. “If they have enough evidence against me they should table it. I am a clean man,” he had said.
In May last year, the former minister was arrested in connection with the macabre killings in Matungu, Kakamega county, that caused a hue and cry. However, after investigations, he was released after police failed to link him to any of the killings.
Arms supply scandal
Currently, Echesa is being investigated over the Sh39.5 billion fake arms supply scandal that has roped in Ruto. He appeared in court earlier this week facing 12 counts of fraud-related charges and was released on bond.
However, the man, who lives in the city upmarket Karen suburb, says his unwavering support for the Deputy President is what his opponents have been using to target him.
Dr Apollo Mboya, a lecturer at Maseno University, says Echesa’s embarrassing stint in Cabinet is a classic case of basing key public appointments on political expediency at the expense of merit.
“This is exactly the fruits of pegging appointments to key positions on political expediency. Whoever pushed for him to be appointed should be held responsible,” he said.