By KIPKOECH TANUI
As we mourn Prof George Saitoti, Joshua Ojode, and others killed in the Sunday chopper crash, let’s go down memory lane to Eighth Parliament. In 1996 as a parliamentary reporter, I found Saitoti, a vicious Kanu loyalist at war with his temper, which when he lost the upper sides of his face would twitch like a camera’s shutter, veins popping out!
However, even in rage he was careful with his words, something that gave him nine political lives. But stiff as he was in public life, when he finally got up with his temper, he would let out something between a grin and a smile.
Ojode came in the following year, and from the Opposition benches, he was always asking when Rodikopany-Ndhiwa road would be tarmacked. He later told us Rodikopany got its name through corruption of English words – road and company.
Reporters used to joke that had Saitoti not gone to school, he would be in jail because of his temper, most times manifesting itself when some MP shouted at him; ‘Goldenberg!’ or ‘Mwizi!’ Luckily for him, though over a decade later, court cleared him.
No, I do not just believe Saitoti was a rogue tamed by school. I have also seen him generously raise funds and help develop Kajiado and Kenya; embrace old Maasai men and women; and dance with their sons and daughters. I covered him open a clinic here and a school there. I saw his eyes glow with joy as Maasai morans jumped to sky before him. I saw and heard him speak with passion with wazees under trees.
Because his guards had flats in the estate where I lived, I know for a fact even though Saitoti bore Kikuyu blood, he was comfortable largely with Kalenjin and Maasai security guards. The only exception was his second driver, a Borana.
But like all of us, Saitoti had his hidden side, one of which I saw jump out of him in a school called Noonkopir in Kitengela when two civil leaders heckled him. Because he was handicapped in the Maa dialect, he repeated one word, while shaking with rage and waving his bakora — laikapara! laikapara! (useless and hopeless person).
Again, in 1997 elections, when as the first journalist to arrive at his polling station in Ngong, he walked towards me fuming: “What a shame, what is happening? Can you imagine it is 2pm and the Vice-President has not voted?’’
He then said a few nasty things but Mama Margaret and Ole Surtan pulled him aside. This must have saved him from sacking because despite the conspiracy theory in his mind, it turned out Mzee Moi’s Baringo Central, too, was affected by a ballot box distribution jumble.
But having survived food poisoning, and rising from what almost became his deathbed, complete with a new skin, Saitoti knew he had enemies. That is why in Parliament’s restaurant, it was only his table and Mr Nicholas Biwott’s that you joined on ‘invitation only’. Most times the tea served him was manambad from a waiter rushing to serve other MPs. But largely, Saitoti avoided the eatery except for lobbying.
I recently told you about two analogies crafted by James Orengo featuring Saitoti and ‘Total Man’. One day Orengo advised new Finance minister Musalia Mudavadi, sandwiched by the two Moi toughies, he would succeed if he stopped sitting between hyenas. When Biwott and Saitoti demanded apology, Orengo apologised “to all hyenas in the House”, and walked out.
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