In early 2006, I walked into the lobby of a bank I was setting up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and saw two Africans sitting at the reception. I immediately recognized them as Kenyans and I greeted them in Swahili. They were stunned. Dressed in my suit, they had not expected a Kenyan to set up a bank in Saudi Arabia.
I welcomed them into my office. The two gentlemen had come to lobby for a consultancy job. I asked the manager what happened to the contract and he replied in Arabic that I had signed it that morning to a Saudi company. I told him I had changed my mind and we were going to give it to the two Kenyans. The manager, speaking in Arabic said “they don’t have experience’’.
I retorted that neither did he, yet I had taken the risk to promote him. Was I wrong? I tore up the contract to the Saudi company and signed a new one for the Kenyans.
To our great shock, one of the Kenyans thanked me in fluent Arabic and promised that he would not let me down. That Arabic-speaking man was Moses Kuria. He reminded me of this incident ten years later, long after I had forgotten about it, telling me that it was his first contract.
Let me start with a disclaimer. Moses Kuria is a friend of mine. I have been on the campaign trail with him for many months all over Kenya. He is intelligent, articulate and connects so well with the common man. In a way he reminds me of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Few politicians can bond with the people the way Raila does. When he speaks to the Kikuyu in their language, they just melt. He similarly connects when he speaks in Swahili. But there is a thin line between genius and insanity, and Kuria has been accused of behaving like an insane person so many times. So, is Moses Kuria in the latter category as many people claim?
Moses Kuria left his lucrative career in Saudi Arabia and returned home to become a propagandist and a self-appointed spokesman for PNU and later, TNA. He comes across openly as an ethnic Kikuyu chauvinist. This ferocious tribalism he propagates is a deliberate and calculated act.
He is an educated man acting in a tribal play, appealing and singing to his tribe. What he implied by recent his call to violence with pangas was; a man who would fight for them. They call him “Njamba ya ruriri” (warrior of the people). To the rest of us, he was a disturbed man. But he wasn’t singing to us. He didn’t care what we thought of him. We were not his audience.
This is definitely not the Arabic-speaking Kikuyu technocrat I gave a contract in Saudi Arabia. He is on a different mission. With a flourish, he reaches out to Raila and visits Kisumu to wild applause. What is going on here? Following charges of incitement, he is locked up in a police cell and comes out friends with his enemies.
Doesn’t this remind you of Jomo Kenyatta and the Kapenguria Seven? Jomo Kenyatta spent seven years and Kuria spent seven days but the parallels are there. It is as if Moses Kuria is scripting his own play.
Recently, he put up billboards all over Central Kenya welcoming Kenyans to the Governors’ Devolution Conference in Kirinyaga County. He simply upstaged everyone and thereby announced there was a leadership vacuum in Central Kenya after President Uhuru Kenyatta, and that he was calmly walking into it.
Uhuru Kenyatta is part of the Kikuyu royalty and Moses Kuria, while a product of the Kenyattas, is not part of the royal household. To quote Malcolm X, he is a “field nigger”. More importantly, he is positioning himself as a major political mover and shaker in Central Kenya who can deliver a large portion of the Central vote. As protector of Kikuyu rights, he promises to deliver the best deal for them.
Last month he set up the new TNA party. He is creating a platform for himself with leaders appointed from across the country to create a national outlook. After reaffirming his home credentials, Moses is positioning himself as a national leader.
More importantly, by creating his own party, he has unshackled himself from the control of his current masters and the political elite. He stands ready to receive any political refugees fleeing from party rigging.
Next, he will run for president but will eventually throw his weight behind the front runner in exchange for a position at the high table. This was the Ruto strategy in 2013. Ruto supported President Kenyatta hoping for his support when his time came. Moses Kuria will use the same strategy and hope that the woes of Ruto do not come back to haunt him as well. Political debts are bouncing cheques.
Moses Kuria is maturing as a politician. Gone are the uncontrolled utterances of his earlier days. He speaks issues now; of agriculture and commerce, jobs and national competitiveness. His Twitter handles are often sharply sarcastic, but the focus is national and populist. Kenyans have short memories and will forgive and forget his youthful indiscretions. Are these the ramblings of a mad man? Moses Kuria is sane, smart and coming up for air as a national figure.
Mr Shahbal is Chairman of Gulf Group of Companies. [email protected]