A telephone call that came through to a district officer’s office in Thika changed her life forever
By Joseph Karimi
NAIROBI KENYA: “This is Thika DO’s Office. Can I help you?”
Caller: “I would like to speak to the DO.”
Secretary: “May I know who is calling?”
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Caller: “I am Mzee Jomo Kenyatta; can I speak to the DO?”
Secretary, speaking in Kiswahili: “Wacha kucheza na jina la Kenyatta hivyo, niambie wewe ni nani?” (Don’t joke with the name of Kenyatta like that, who are you?)
The call had come through between 2pm and 3pm. The president was calling from State House Nairobi to talk to his District Officer (DO), Harris Kibathi Thuo.
President Kenyatta had used the general phone line rather than the direct line to the DO, who was in the office working.
In a recent interview, Thuo narrated the phone exchange between the president and his secretary in 1972. Both Thuo and the secretary, Alice Wangui Muchiri, are now retired civil servants.
Thuo was posted to Thika in 1970 and served until April 1974. Thika was a district during the colonial era until 1965, when the independence constitution boundary’s commission incorporated it in Kiambu District to become a part of Gatundu Constituency, and immediately reverted it to a division.
President Kenyatta was fond of calling in when he left State House, usually at 4pm, to drive back to his Gatundu home daily. Thuo, therefore, interacted with the president practically every day as Kenyatta sorted out his work as the MP for Gatundu. That afternoon, he intended to find space for a petrol station, and wanted to apply to the Commissioner of Lands for allocation.
Thuo, who is now popularly known in Thika Town as “Dad Cool,” recalled that life-changing afternoon. “I was not aware of the president’s call through my secretary’s line until after their exchanges reached a critical point and Alice realised it was indeed Kenyatta on the other end of the line. Then Alice stormed in panting and alerting me to hurry up and pick up the phone to talk to the president,” Thuo told [email protected] in an interview.
“I finished talking to the president but Alice looked terrified,” Thuo chuckles.
Shortly after 5pm, the president arrived and Thuo ushered him into his office escorted by his ADC and two guards, leaving the rest of the security detail in the parking area.
“Mzee took my seat and I the visitor’s one. He told me of the plot on which he wished to develop a petrol station. After a short discussion, we left the office for a tour of the town to scout for the ideal space.”
After surveying a site, the party drove back.
“I drafted an application letter for the president to be allocated a plot in Thika Town. The letter was addressed to Commissioner of Lands James R Njenga, through Kiambu District Commissioner Eliud Njenga.
“The letter was typed by Alice and the president, being the applicant, signed it. I in turn recommended him for the same…what was called direct allocation without going through the District Plots’ Allocation Committee.
When the paperwork was done, it was time for Mzee to leave. “The President said he wanted to meet my secretary. Mzee was smartly dressed in a suit and tie having come from from work in his State House office, where he usually handled matters of state until 4pm.
“I wedged my way to a corner of my desk as Mzee was occupying my seat and buzzed for Alice.
“She walked in and came face-to-face with Mzee. Alice was shaken, but gathered courage to face the man she had exchanged words with,” Thuo says.
Kenyatta started: “You are Alice Wangui Muchiri?” and Alice replied in the affirmative.
Kenyatta: “Would you tell the DO how you abused me over the telephone?”
Alice was overcome with fear and trembling, said: “…Mheshimiwa, Your Honour, Sir, I did not abuse you, I only cautioned you not to misuse Kenyatta’s name.”
Kenyatta: “Uliniambia nini?....ambia DO uliniambia nini. (What did you tell me? Repeat it so the DO can hear for himself).
Alice took a deep breath and said: “Mzee, nilikwambia uwache upuzi; jina la Kenyatta sio ya kuchezewa hivyo!” (Mzee, I only told you to stop being stupid; Kenyatta’s name is not one to be so dishonoured).
“Kenyatta laughed and commented: “This is the most loyal person I have ever met, a person who can protect the president’s name under all circumstances!
“Alice, are you now certain that I am the President of Kenya?”
Alice: “Yes, sir.”
Kenyatta: “How can I help you?”
Alice blurted out her wish…“Mzee, sina shamba.” (I have no land).
Kenyatta turned to DO Thuo and asked him: “Would you consider Alice to be allocated a piece of land in Munyu Settlement Scheme?”
The plots that were sub-divided have all been allocated to the landless.
Thuo said: “I explained to the president that the only available plots were in Marmanet Forest in Laikipia. He directed me to take Alice to the Minister for Lands and Settlement, Jackson Angaine, the following day, indicating that she should be allocated two adjacent plots in her name.”
For her audacity, Alice benefited from the president’s generosity, finally being allocated two plots of at least 50 acres each. She was required to meet a loan arrangement after which one was issued with a title deed under the Settlement Fund Trustee (SFT).