Day GG Kariuki watched Moi through binoculars from house’s balcony

GG Kariuki was forced to follow former President Moi’s meeting in Nyahururu through binoculars from his home after they fell out over the 1982 coup. [File, Standard]

Many are the stories that shall be told about former Cabinet minister and Laikipia Senator GG Kariuki. People will talk about how short he was, but they may not tell you that his thin frame was a lethal 'weapon' because of his karate skills.

They may not even know that he had a black belt in the art and that even at 70, he could easily stand on one leg and raise the other close to his face.

They will also not tell you how in the '60s and '70s, he was the straight-talking and fearless politician who told Mzee Jomo Kenyatta to his face that he was among the old men who had let the country down after independence.

"Some of us are young and will live long enough to eat bananas growing on your forgotten grave long after you are dead," was how he put it to Jomo when I interviewed him two decades ago.

Kenyatta responded to GG by telling him he was a tiny tick on an elephant's skin who he could 'siaga siaga' (crush) between his fingers until be forgotten by Kenyans.

They may not also recall that GG was among the few Kenyans who made the long dreary journey on furrowed roads to Lodwar to see Mzee Kenyatta in detention. They found the nation's founding leader playing bao with Turkana men wearing wrappers.

He looked thin and frail. His clothes were near-tattered and his hair was unkempt; his protruding front teeth were yellowed by poor hygiene and the dirty water he was forced to use.

The powerful and mystical Kenyatta, whose detention had fanned the fight for independence, was so different from the one that stood before them.

In GG's words: "We wept because of the way mzungu (colonist) had badly mistreated our leader," he told me over a bowl of bone soup that he said had kept him young and agile. The other thing he said had made him live long and remain active was his distaste for alcohol.

But then he had one of the most interesting accounts of his days in Kanu as one of former's trusted friends. They would later fall out after the 1982 foiled coup.

They rode in one vehicle with Moi and Charles Njonjo, the Attorney General at the time. But according to him, Mr Njonjo saw Moi as a "passing cloud" even though he had banished other leaders for thinking the same. Njonjo, he said, had presidential ambitions. He therefore, GG claimed, found a perfect excuse to get Moi to sideline those he considered to be standing in his way, including himself and Joseph Kamotho.

Released bodyguards

On the eve of the coup, GG was in Nyeri for the Agricultural Society of Kenya show with Moi. He would later ask to be released to go to his Nyahururu home for the weekend. Once there, he released his askari.

"If I were part of the coup, would I have not increased, rather than released my bodyguards?" he asked me, then added that the coup was a "Luo affair" and there was no way he could have been trusted by "dissidents" when he was a minister in the Office of the President.

He remained a political pariah until something interesting happened. He learned that Moi was going to Nyahururu to issue peasant farmers with title deeds. He agonised whether to go and finally was advised it was better to attend and be chased away rather than to be viewed as being a defiant and rude man who contemptuously snubbed a Moi event.

At the public function, he was summoned by the then Provincial Commissioner for Rift Valley Yussuf Haji and the provincial police boss, and told he was unwanted. He asked if his wife and children could remain and he was told yes. So he went to his house, not far from the grounds, and watched the proceedings from his balcony through binoculars. By then, he had changed from his suit and tie into casual trousers and shirt.

Moi arrived and was welcomed with the usual song and dance. Then at one point, he asked where GG was, and was told he was around but had left and might be coming back. Moi ordered the PC and the PPO to fetch him. From the balcony, he saw a police Mercedes Benz, with its siren switched off, coming towards his house. He followed it right up to the junction leading to his gate, convinced they were coming to take him to detention.

"I wondered what I had done to Moi to deserve the two decades of being treated like an outcast. When I went to hotels, I could only wave at the big people in Kanu that I had worked with, some of who were my juniors, because they didn't want to be reported to have shaken my hand."

He also said his phone had stopped ringing except for the few occasions when relatives sought his help or consolation. Even in church, he experienced the treatment of a betrayer and icon of ingratitude, which he swore he was not.

So as the PPO, standing out in his ceremonial gear, knocked on the gate, GG was kneeling beside his bed in prayer out of fear that he would be incarcerated and separated from his family – the only thing he had left after he was sacked and expelled from Kanu.

The best memory of the horror of being expelled by the Okiki Amayo Kanu Disciplinary Committee was former minister Joseph Kalweo and his wife walking hand in hand from Bunge, where the committee sat, to Intercontinental Hotel, in tears.

After he rose from the prayer position, he changed into warm clothes because he knew the days ahead would be cold. He then looked at his bedroom one last time and left for the living room, where he asked the houseboy to usher in the officers. He would have to first hear from them what he had done and who had sent them.

"I had submitted myself to both God and fate," he told me in a published profile by the Sunday Nation.

But the next thing that happened almost got him out of his shoes. The PPO, who I guess was called Mathenge, walked in, stood at attention and saluted him! How could his captor give him this honour?

"The President has asked that you attend his event and sit with him in the VIP pavilion!"

GG was both shocked and elated because the walls of political prison he had been confined to were falling. Sitting and talking with the President was a status symbol and would open many doors, including at airports, hotels and banks.

For the third time that day, GG changed his clothes and went to meet a man he respected and whose friendship he cherished, a man he'd last seen 17 years ago! Once at the venue he was escorted to where Moi was sitting. He shook his hand while bowing and all Moi told him was: "Karibu, imekwisha". (Welcome, it is over!). Those two words shook his heart with joy and acceptance that indeed he was now a free man.

I don't remember whether he got a chance to speak but when the event was almost over, a presidential aide came over and told him the President was inviting him for lunch on his ranch, not far from the venue. How things had changed! He was now brushing shoulders with a man he could only see hazily through the binoculars tourists use to watch lions from afar in the parks. But now he could smell the President's cologne and after-shave.

On the way out, the presidential security detail signalled him to show him what point to cut into the convoy going to Moi's ranch. Inside the car, his wife and children shed tears of joy. At the home they were warmly welcomed; no frisking or inspection of the car. That is the life he was used to, unfettered access to power that he would later write about in his book, Illusion of Power: Reflections on Fifty Years in Kenya Politics.

Power had indeed eluded and mocked him.

But if he thought he had seen better things that day, the best was yet to come. After they alighted in the well-kept or, shall we say, manicured compound, Moi walked over and greeted him and his family warmly. What astounded him was that he asked about his first born (who was not there) by name and wanted to know if he had completed his university studies.

Kalenjin man

Then Moi signalled his security to stay back and took him by the hand to a corner of the orchard next to his house. "Mimi ni mwanume wa Afrika, siwezi kujumuisha watoto na bibi wa yule mwanaume tunapigana naye. Pia mimi ni Mkalenjin na sisi wanaume wakipigana, huwezi kumpiga yule kama ameanguka. Unashika mkono na kumuinua. Vita itaendelea kama hajakubali ameshindwa. Sisi hapana pigana vita kama wanawake."(I am an African man, I cannot include your wife and children in fights with my political rivals. And I am a Kalenjin man, we don't persist in beating a man when he is down. You help him up and if he still wants to fight, then we continue).

As they spoke, they were eating fresh oranges that Moi had plucked and asked an aide for water to wash them. He held on to the peels because he didn't dare drop them in the compound and spoil the day. Moi told him to throw them towards the fence.

"You are my friend; I could have done worse. It has been a long time and that is in the past, GG. I couldn't talk to those people you helped get land in your absence because it is you that they are grateful to," Moi told him.

Later, as they walked to the lunch table, Moi would give GG an appointment at State House Nairobi. That night, the GG family prayed for the day that the Lord had given them.

A week later, GG was at State House and given Moi's strict time keeping and personal discipline, he was there about an hour early. When they finally met, a smiling Moi told him he wanted him back in politics to serve the nation and get something else to do for himself. Elections had just ended and he wondered how. Moi told him to go await his communication. That is how the short, brown man with a gap between some of the whitest teeth Kenya has produced returned to Parliament as a Kanu nominated MP.

He would remain active in politics and, at 81, he passed on as a senator, the first one in his county, Laikipia. I can see his dazzling and disarming smile as I write about a man I admired and wrote about. I can see him frown while being attacked at a presidential rally in Nyahururu by Kihika Kimani: "We have cursed this man, he will never go back to Parliament even to relieve himself in the VIP toilets."

But the Kihika curse did not stick because after the former left this world, GG returned to the august House, this time as a senator. By the way, the fight between Moi and Kihika, who was the mouthpiece of the 1976 Gema change-the-Constitution movement, was similar to GG's. When Moi took over, Kihika fled to Tanzania but later returned on his knees. Moi would later dust him up and use him to stem the wave of Kikuyu politics in the Rift region.

Today, GG may have met Kihika in the hereafter and they may be exchanging hearty jokes on the three things that put them on a collision path - politics and power, land and wealth, and the sea called Kanu and its sharks. RIP, GG.