Four lessons from Njonjo and Matiang'i on use of high office

Former president Daniel Moi, Mau Mau freedom fighter General Kassam Njogu and former Attorney General Charles Njonjo at State House. [File, Standard]

In 1982, the late "Duke of Kabeteshire" Sir Charles Njonjo was the powerful Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

Buoyed by the power Kanu had accumulated since President Daniel Moi's successful transition from Jomo Kenyatta, Sir Charles led the party in Parliament in effecting the 1982 constitutional amendment that converted Kenya into a de-jure one party state.

Unfortunately, by 1983, Njonjo's political fortunes had come crashing and he was thrown out of Parliament, out of Cabinet and out of Kanu.

With no other party possible by law, Sir Charles had no other political home, courtesy of the changes he had been the lead engineer.

I reflected on this history when I watched the dimmed fortunes of former Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i.

I have known Dr Matiang'i for many years, from the days he was an effective head of the SUNY parliamentary strengthening programme, then as campaign director of the 2002 Simeon Nyachae campaign and finally as Cabinet Secretary.

In part of that time, I was in government and had the fortune of experiencing his drive and clarity. But his management of the Interior ministry left many of his erstwhile admirers shocked.

Never one to shy from confrontation, he took to the office with gusto, lambasting the opponents of government in a manner last seen in the late Hezekiah Oyugi days.

In one of his now infamous lambasts, he wondered why Kenyans had invented the anticipatory bail mechanism, terming it a "uniquely Kenyan process" through which "criminals went to court to seek protection before committing crime".

For someone who knew how the state had historically misused the criminal justice system, this was unfortunate. It was therefore poetic justice that two weeks ago, Dr Matiang'i was in the High Court seeking the same anticipatory bail he had rubbished.

These two experiences by men who fell from power made me think of four lessons everyone in power, including the current high office holders, ought to reflect on.

Firstly, remember power is transient. It goes. Be humble. One day, those you harass and humiliate may be the very lot that make your days out of power manageable. Bottom-line, be nice as you climb up, you will need support on your way down.

Furthermore, a wise leader prepares for that exit day by, inter alia, leaving parts of their life normal.

Some maintain normalcy through their families. Here dad, mum or aunt is just dad, mum or aunt.

Others keep friends that transcend the office they hold. These friends have no personal stake in your leadership other than as friends. To them you are just you, not the office you temporarily hold.

Whichever way one chooses to go, the critical thing is to connect with some normalcy when they exit high office.

Secondly, the old Kikuyu adage, which advises those who dig holes for their enemies not to dig them too deep, lest they end up inside them, is always sage wisdom.

On its part, the bible states that one of the two greatest commandments is to do unto others what you would like them to do to you.

When you make law, or policy, always ensure it is neutral. It must serve those in power as well as it will serve them when out of power.

If for instance you misuse the criminal justice system, you have legitimised misuse of a weapon that can be used against you.

Thirdly, always remember you are human and will go wrong. Consequently, ensure you keep around you good friends and wise counsellors who have the courage to tell you when you go wrong.

The King needs that person who tells them they are naked, even as the court-jesters and hangers-on admire the non-existent suits.

Finally, beware the allure of the crowd. The multitudes who sang "Hossanna to the highest" for Jesus Christ were shouting "Crucify him" and demanding Barrabas within a short period.

Do not make decisions with the crowds as your primary focus. If they rejected the Son of God who had fed them, healed their sick and raised their dead, who are you? Do what is right notwithstanding. History will absolve you.

The writer is and advocate of the High Court of Kenya