Why Nyachae found it difficult to forgive Raila
A close confidant of the late former Cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae yesterday opened the lid on the long-serving public servant, painting a picture of a straight-talking, brave politician, suave businessman and disciplined administrator who was a stickler to time.
James Kenani, a former teacher, public relations executive and later chairman of the Kenya Pipeline Company, told the People Daily how his chance encounter with Nyachae in 1967 created a bond that lasted decades, giving him a glimpse into the life and workings of the former Cabinet minister who died in Nairobi on Monday.
Kenani, who also served as chairman of Nyachae’s Nyaribari Chache Constituency Development Fund, revealed how the former minister’s massive wealth informed his political decisions and why he found it difficult to forgive opposition leader Raila Odinga after their 2002 dramatic fallout.
Nyachae had signed a deal with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and a rally was planned for Uhuru Park to announce the agreement, but Raila made an abrupt about-turn and used the occasion to endorse Mwai Kibaki’s presidential candidature, forcing the Ford People leader to launch a lone bid for State House. He lost to Kibaki.
“It was a great betrayal and I think Mzee found it difficult to forgive Raila. Remarks by Raila to the effect that Nyachae was material for the dustbin and that the Kisii vote was a drop in the ocean upset Nyachae,” Kenani said in a wide-ranging interview.
He described Nyachae as a brave and strict public servant who had a particular dislike for alcohol.
“He detested people who drank alcohol and drunkenness. At some point Mzee worked as a welfare officer at Kenya Breweries where he was entitled to a crate of beer but he couldn’t touch it. He usually called his friends to consume the stuff,” Kenani said.
“While an MP, he would reprimand men who spent their days idling at shopping centres as their wives toiled on the farm only to return home empty handed and demand money for alcohol from their wives.”
Recalling their first meeting, Kenani said: “I met Nyachae in 1967 when I was in Form Five. I was on my way to school on foot when I saw a car approaching and I waived it down.
It stopped and the occupant accepted to give me a lift after I introduced myself. He knew my father who was a pastor.
It turned out that the occupant was Nyachae who was then a district commissioner.
He dropped me at school and we developed a bond that lasted decades.”
According to Kenani, Nyachae was a daring man who could confront difficult situations even when they posed a danger to his life.
He cited the 1969 Kisumu fracas during the launch of the Russia Hospital by President Jomo Kenyatta at which an unknown number of people were killed.
The violence was occasioned by a confrontation between Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who had resigned as his vice-president.
The face-off came in the middle of a poisoned political environment following the assassination of Tom Mboya, who served as Economic Planning minister in the Kenyatta Cabinet.
“After the violence broke out, it was Nyachae who took charge and controlled the situation and restored order,” says Kenani, who made a significant contribution in the writing of Nyachae’s autobiography, Walking in the Corridors of Service.
Kenani also recalled another incident during which Nyachae confronted former President Daniel arap Moi over the leadership of then Nyanza Provincial Commissioner Joseph Kaguthi.
Nyachae had retired from the Public Service and retreated to run his businesses.
His attempt to contest the Nyaribari Chache parliamentary seat had been blocked during the dubious 1988 Mlolongo (queue voting) elections.
The move was blamed on powerful individuals around Moi who pushed the narrative that Nyachae was a threat to the Nyayo presidency.
The Kanu regime used the provincial administration to tame politicians perceived to be against Moi, including Nyachae, who was accused of plotting to use his wealth to remove Moi from power.
Provincial administrators could disrupt political meetings or ensure certain leaders did not speak in Moi events.
It was during one such occasion that the Kaguthi debacle occurred. Moi was addressing a fundraising meeting in Kisii and Nyachae was in attendance.
“Kaguthi didn’t want Mzee Nyachae to speak but as Moi was about to complete his speech Nyachae interrupted him and publicly called for Kaguthi’s transfer from Nyanza. Kaguthi was transferred the following week,” says Kenani.
Nyachae’s relationship with Moi, however, went south during his retirement because of his strong personality and a narrative by individuals around Moi that he was working with forces keen to remove his former boss from power. His businesses were sabotaged and the doors to Kanu closed.
In his book, Walking in the Corridors of Service, Nyachae reveals that his main reason for joining politics was to safeguard his business interests, especially in the Rift Valley and Central Kenya.
Kenani traced Nyachae’s vast wealth across the country to his long stay in Central Kenya where he served as PC.
“Nyachae enjoyed a strong relationship with the Kenyatta family and Mzee helped him buy property in many parts of Central Kenya and Rift Valley when he served as Central Provincial Commissioner.”
As PC, Nyachae would welcome Kenyatta whenever he visited his Gatundu home as well coordinate the various delegations that travelled to see Kenya’s founding President.
During his stay in government Nyachae waged constant wars with Cabinet minister Nicholas Biwott, mainly revolving around the Turkwel Dam project which the former opposed.