By Standard on Saturday Reporters
If there is an aspect of President Kibaki’s life — both public and private— that baffles friend and foe, it is Her Excellency the First Lady Lucy Muthoni Kibaki’s mode of operation.
She is swift and often furious at those on her crosshairs.
While President Kibaki is the cool, calm, and composed type of politician exuding a gentleman’s mien, and hardly ruffled by public criticism, Mama Lucy is the opposite. She is abrupt, edgy and bounces to the limelight when least expected. Probably as they say it is also true of other glitterati marriages as well—opposites attract.
In American lingo, Mama Lucy shoots straight from the hip, and when she does so, the perch her target occupies matters little. On Monday her eyes were riveted on Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, a former Vice-President whom she accused of performing below par, failing to ‘prevent’ the Sachang’wan oil truck fire that claimed over 130 lives, and using insensitive language while condoling the bereaved.
"Even the President is angry. What is the Ministry of Internal Security doing? They should have organised all the chiefs, assistant chiefs, district officers and Provincial Commissioners to educate Kenyans and tell them to keep away from accident tankers," she said.
She also challenged him to respond to her in writing. But Saitoti was not the first leader to be scorned. And unlike Kibaki’s first Comptroller of State House and former student at Makerere University, Mr Matere Keriri, his greeting was not rebuffed in public, he is still in office, and was promptly defended by the President.
Hard to please
"In view of the reports which have appeared in today’s (yesterday) media, I wish to assure my Minister for Internal Security George Saitoti that I have full confidence in him and that I appreciate the good work he is doing in my office," Kibaki said.
Keriri was edged out of his job at the end of 2003, following a tiff with the First Lady. His problems started at State House during the First Family’s vacation at the Coast when he disagreed with Mama Lucy over the management of the President’s diary. It was reported she had his successor Mr Hyslop Ipu replaced by Prof Nick Wanjohi for similar reasons in December.
The tide against Moody Awori, Matere and Ipu all took place in Mombasa at separate times, during the First Family’s excursion away from their Nairobi base.
Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka tasted her wrath, through a public haranguing via a Presidential Press Service despatch. She accused him of being a purveyor of untruths and advised Kenyans to "treat the barefaced falsehoods with the contempt they deserve". "Kalonzo should be reminded that while there is much President Kibaki has done for this country, he has nothing to show for the period he has represented the people of Mwingi North in Parliament and also to Kenyans in general when he held senior Cabinet positions in the previous regime," she added.
But that was after Kalonzo was fired from the Cabinet following the post-referendum fall-out with Kibaki in November 2005.
But it was Awori, then the VP, who landed in the First Lady’s web of fury when he goofed at New Year’s eve celebrations by referring to her as, "Her Excellency the Second Lady". He of course wanted to draw attention to the fact that she was officially Kenya’s second formal First Lady after Mama Ngina Kenyatta.
Nevertheless, like or hate her, Lucy often gets away with her odd political antics. Never mind how bizarre her actions or how outrageous her demands are—in most instances, her wish ends up being the command.
That at least is the lesson former World Bank country director, and tenant of the First Family in Muthaiga Mokhtar Diop, learnt when Mama Lucy came knocking at night asking he stops the blaring music in his compound.
When the media picked up the scent of the VIP exchange, she personally drove to the Nation Centre at night to pitch for her privacy and that of her family. In the process, a cameraman earned her wrath, a hot slap as his camera captured the action.
There was also the case of former Principal Administration Secretary in the Office of the President Francis Musyimi, whom Mama Lucy slapped during 2007 Jamhuri Day celebrations after he mistakenly introduced her as ‘Lucy Wambui.’
The incident happened during a State House garden party and presidential security agents detained photojournalists and erased photographs of the incident from their digital cameras.
Musyimi was the master of ceremonies at the function where the Head of State was giving honours to distinguished Kenyans. Musyimi was later moved to the Ministry of Local Government as Secretary, Local Authorities.
There was also the case of Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara who claimed on February 4, last year that the First Lady assaulted him at a meeting at State House. The politician-cum-lawyer, who represented the photojournalist who sued the First Lady over the Nation Centre slap, threatened he would take legal action against her. President Kibaki had invited him and some 35 other MPs to his official residence where the assault allegedly occurred. But State House dismissed the assault allegations and questioned why a lawyer of Imanyara’s stature would make such accusations three weeks after the alleged incident.
Frogs in swimming pool
Imanyara, with the backing of the Njuri Ncheke (Meru Council of Elders) later demanded a he-goat from the Head of State. It is not in the public domain whether the goat was delivered.
In the President’s first term she accused former Sports Minister Ochilo Ayacko of neglecting sport facilities, claiming a swimming pool at the Nyayo National Stadium was full of frogs. She wondered what he was doing.
The name of Kenya’s most powerful woman also featured in the relegation of a former protocol officer, Jane Waikenda, at State House to a DC at the Coast.
During the campaigns in 2007, she would be remembered for her dismissal of the Orange Democratic Movement’s leaders led by Prime Minister Raila Odinga as purveyors of ‘empty talk’. To crown her ‘performance’ on stage, she would replay the Party of National Unity’s ‘Domo! Domo!’ TV ‘ad’ against ODM. It was during the campaigns that Water minister Charity Ngilu told the nation senior public servants were often slapped at State House.