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Ms Josephine Kabura, the millionaire who baffles a nation

By Makau Mutua | Published Sun, November 13th 2016 at 00:14, Updated November 13th 2016 at 00:28 GMT +3

Over the past year, Kenyans have been treated to the greatest of all whodunit mysteries. As KTN’s Jeff Koinange would say, scandals have been coming “thick and fast.” Even by Kenya’s epic standards, the latest Sh5.3 billion scandal in the Ministry of Health should give those in government a stroke.

But it is the NYS scandal, now said to run into billions, that is the most intriguing. It’s a drama whose cast is as perplexing as it is damning. The central character in this heist is none other than the inscrutable Josephine Kabura. The first, and arguably the most important conundrum, is why the name “Kabura” would be pronounced “Kafura.” That in itself must flummox every seasoned detective.

People contort when they are in a tight spot. At the Kapenguria trial, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta faced down an imperialist magistrate with a singularly memorable witticism. Asked by the court to state his age, the Burning Spear hilariously opined that the birthdays of Africans are “misty.” Then he brought down this historic line: “I do not know when I was born. What date, what month, or what year, but I think I am over 50.” Mr Kenyatta himself was named Kamau Muigai at birth. Then his name changed to Kamau wa Ngengi, John Peter, and Johnstone Kamau before settling into Jomo Kenyatta. My point is that given Mr Kenyatta’s many names, we can forgive Ms Kabura for being Ms Kafura.

Even so, we must still wonder why the stark difference in the pronunciation of Kabura’s name. At least Mr Kenyatta’s many names were a result of the search for an identity in the cauldron of colonialism. What’s Ms Kabura’s excuse? Methinks the elusive pronunciation of her name speaks volumes about the mystery of the NYS saga. Her name is a literary lexicon that deserves study by erudite minds. She reminds me of the leviathan, the sea monster in whose mouth the damned disappear at the Last Judgement. Those who underestimate her will pay a steep penalty. She appears polite and calm, but she’s a fire-breathing keeper of facts. She will slay many a dragon before the fat lady sings.

Let me tell you why. First, people mistake Kabura’s apparent simplicity and naiveté for lack of sophistication. But yet she has wowed every time she’s been given the spotlight. Take, for example, her recent appearance before the PAC. Her execution was perfect. Not even her lawyer – seated next to her – could match her cold composure. I thought she was going to cause MP Nicholas Gumbo, the Chair of the vaunted PAC, a heart attack. A frustrated Mr Gumbo shouted himself hoarse and just stopped short of ordering Kabura be executed in the public square. None of the MPs fared any better. It was crystal clear that Kabura was truly “enjoying” them. Thumbs up to her.

Second, the narrative of Ms Kabura as a simpleton and a village hairdresser with scant education must be dispensed with. The woman knows how to get out of answering risky legal questions. In fact, watching her I didn’t think she needed a lawyer. She fenced off the committee and came out ahead in every exchange. In the end, the PAC was more confused and angrier than when the hearings started. She clearly had gotten into the committee’s head. She made the committee look impotent, incompetent and a bunch of bullies. The flip side, of course, is that she acted with impunity knowing that she’s untouchable. If so, which godfathers have “swelled” her head? Who, if anybody, is protecting her?

Third, either Kabura is Teflon, or the other suspects in the NYS scandal are lying. They all can’t be telling the truth. Former Devolution CS Anne Waiguru, now gunning for the Kirinyaga gubernatorial seat, finds herself unable to shake off Kabura. Ms Waiguru emphatically denies that she’s met or ever been in touch with Ms Kabura. The one-time powerful minister has been reduced to a commoner pleading her innocence before a skeptical nation. Check social media, if you doubt me. Other bigwigs named in the NYS saga – Halakhe Wako, Peter Mangiti, and Nelson Githinji – are unable to extricate themselves from the web spun by Ms Kabura. I would like to be a fly on Ms Kabura’s house.

Finally, the NYS saga demonstrates the depth to which corruption has infected society. Last week, DP William Ruto asked Waiguru to carry her own cross after she implicated people close to him in the scandal. Both Waiguru and Mr Ruto belong to Jubilee. Who among them will be thrown under the bus by Jubilee? Will the investigation into the NYS scandal – given the elusive Kabura and big names mentioned – be an exercise in futility like all past investigations into mega scandals?


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