Rashid Echesa: The controversy and the drama of a political gun

Rashid Echesa former CS sports at a Milimani Law Court whewre he was due to plead to charges of conspiracy to commit a felony. [George Njunge, Standard]

In the turbulent landscape of Kenyan politics, few figures have garnered as much attention and controversy as Rashid Echesa.

From his humble beginnings in Mumias, Kakamega County, to his meteoric rise to the position of Sports Cabinet Secretary, Echesa’s journey has been marked by twists and turns and a good supply of drama and sometimes scandal.

This week, Echesa emerged from one of his familiar territories, some sort of a legal battle after he was arrested and detained at Muthaiga police station as part of investigations into alleged extortion.

His lawyer, Danstan Omari, had confirmed the detention but stated that no formal report had been provided by the police regarding the complainant or the nature of the investigation.

“We have been allowed to see him. We understand they are investigating claims of extortion and abduction which we don’t know more about,” Omari said. “There is no complainant in this case. He is the one who reported the matter in the first place and now he has been reported here.”

On Thursday last week, Echesa was reportedly taken from his Nairobi residence to Muthaiga police station, with efforts underway to secure his release on cash bail. Later that day, around 4pm, Echesa was transferred from Muthaiga to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, accompanied by his lawyer.

Eventually, Milimani High Court issued restraining orders against law enforcement officials on Thursday, prohibiting them from arresting or detaining Echesa. This decision followed Echesa’s claim of being held incommunicado for 48 hours after his arrest on March 27.

Justice Diana Kavedza emphasised the court’s duty to protect Echesa’s rights in response to an application for anticipatory bail filed by Echesa through his lawyer. Echesa sought orders restraining law enforcement agencies from arresting or charging him without proper investigations and due process. He alleged that his arrest was politically motivated and cited his current hospitalisation as part of managing his medical condition.

Born into a financially disadvantaged family, Echesa’s early years were defined by hardship. Forced to leave school at basic level even before he sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education due to financial constraints, he found work as a labourer at the then thriving Mumias Sugar Company.

“I was born and brought up in a very humble background. My father was just a charcoal burner. My mom could walk like six kilometres away to go sell sweet bananas to earn a living,” Echesa told the vetting committee in 2017 before he was appointed Sports CS. 

However, his aspirations stretched far beyond the confines of his circumstances, and he soon found himself drawn to the world of politics. Echesa’s political career began as a grassroots mobiliser within the ODM Youth League, where his charisma and ability to connect with people quickly propelled him through the ranks.

It wasn’t long before he caught the attention of Deputy President William Ruto, the current president, who saw in him a promising ally and enticed him to join the Jubilee Party.

Echesa’s rapid ascent within the political sphere was as remarkable as it was controversial. His appointment as Sports Cabinet Secretary in January 2018 raised eyebrows due to his lack of formal education and limited experience in government. Critics questioned his suitability for the role, citing concerns about his ability to manage a ministry as complex as sports and heritage.

Despite being a dropout, the appointment committee said, “Though his academic credentials show that he only underwent basic formal education, his professional training and experience in sports and entrepreneurial and resource mobilisation are impressive.”

Former MP Cicily Mbarire told him: “Your story is quite inspiring, and indeed, you are approved by this house. You will be the perfect example to the youth that all dreams are valid.”

On January 26, 2018, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was the incumbent at the time, appointed him as the Sports Cabinet Secretary.

Numerous reports circulated suggesting that Echesa, at the time of his appointment, had assets valued at “Sh40 million” from his boxing career, both fixed and movable assets. However, former Boxing Association of Kenya chairman John Kamata refuted these claims.

“I’ve heard some people say he is a former boxer. That is a big lie. According to our records, Echesa has never been a boxer. If he were once a boxer, he would have had the interest of the sport at heart,” he said.

Despite the scepticism surrounding his appointment, Echesa remained defiant, asserting that his background and experiences equipped him with the necessary skills to lead effectively. However, his tenure as Sports Cabinet Secretary was fraught with challenges from the start.

National sports teams struggled to secure funding for training and participation in international competitions, leading to accusations of neglect and mismanagement. Promised infrastructure projects aimed at improving sporting facilities across the country failed to materialise, further eroding public confidence in Echesa’s leadership.

However, it was not just Echesa’s management of the Sports Ministry that attracted criticism. His confrontational style and propensity for controversy often landed him in hot water with fellow politicians and government officials. He engaged in public spats with opposition figures, including Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala, and openly challenged the authority of prominent leaders like opposition leader Raila Odinga.

These clashes not only damaged Echesa’s reputation but also strained relations within the ruling Jubilee Party. His outspokenness and refusal to toe the party line alienated him from key allies, ultimately contributing to his downfall.

His tenure as Cabinet Secretary was abruptly cut short when he fell victim to President Uhuru’s Cabinet reshuffle in March 2019, leading to his unceremonious dismissal.

Echesa faced further condemnation for his failure to implement the Sports Fund, a crucial component of the Sports Act 2013 enacted during his predecessor’s tenure. 

In the aftermath of his dismissal, Echesa shifted blame onto former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whom he had publicly dared to sack, suggesting political motives behind his removal from office. “I want to dare you, Tinga, wherever you are, come and sack me. If you are the appointing authority in this country, come and sack me,” he had said weeks before Uhuru fired him. 

Echesa, despite his 2019 dismissal, remained active in Kenyan politics, notably backing Deputy President William Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid. However, in May 2019, he faced serious allegations. Echesa and Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala were arrested in connection with killings in Matungu village, where 18 lives were lost. Amid accusations, Echesa filed a case against law enforcement, alleging harassment due to his political ties.

In the following year, Echesa was embroiled in a scandal involving a fraudulent arms deal, facing charges including conspiracy and forgery. He denied these allegations, along with impersonation claims. The prosecution opposed bail, citing concerns about witness interference.

These accusations added to Echesa’s tarnished reputation, questioning his suitability for public office. Despite maintaining innocence, his legal battle promises challenges. Additionally, he now faces charges related to extortion against Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa, with court interventions seeking to safeguard his rights amidst arrest irregularities.