True or false? Sakaja's story of troubled past and his big break

Johnson Sakaja, seated second right, during the 2012 TNA - URP pact signing ceremony. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja was little known before 2013.

Like a dynamite, the governor hopeful sprang from political backseat to occupy a central role in the former President Mwai Kibaki’s succession.

Then Kanu chairman Uhuru Kenyatta had assembled a group of political newbies to lead the rebranded National Alliance Party of Kenya of the late politician Nginyo Kariuki.

Sakaja was right in the middle of it, eventually becoming the chairman of The National Alliance (TNA). The “I believe” party romped to victory, riding on the wave of protests against the International Criminal Court (ICC) and strategic alliance with William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP)

He was rewarded with a nomination to the National Assembly, and his political star began to rise.

But yesterday, the gains of the last 10 years were on the verge of being washed away on allegations of living a lie.

What had started as a distant rumour about his academic credentials swelled into a court case, with the besieged Senator dropping the name of President Kenyatta, his erstwhile godfather, as the instigator.

It got messier for the legislator after the Commission for University Education revoked its recognition of his Ugandan Team university degree, which is currently on trial before the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Disputes Resolution Committee. 

Darling of many

The commission said it would need to investigate further the validity of the lawmaker’s degree as scrutiny of his academic qualifications continues.

As the case unfolds, it is emerging that Sakaja’s own revelations of his past play much into his present trouble.

Dashing, dimpled and dapper, there was never denying that he was a darling of many. He dished out the details of his past like confetti, painting the picture of a troubled past saved by making the right moves at the right time.

In numerous interviews, he drew the picture of a focused boy who beat family tragedies, struck the right friendships, and made strategic decisions that propelled his life to early success. 

Senator Johnson Sakaja addresses journalists at his city residence in 2017. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The only boy in a family of three, growing up in Nairobi’s Eastlands and losing his mother in 1994, Sakaja was fired up with a gushing ambition to rise to the top. From Aga Khan Primary School to Lenana School and then to the University of Nairobi, the curve took a good shape.

To an outsider, the curve gets mistier in 2005, after the Banana-Orange campaigns. During this time, Sakaja is an actuarial science student in his last years at the university. He is introduced to a director in President Kibaki’s youth campaign team and takes a role as a personal assistant.

He later joins “Vijana na Kibaki” to campaign for the former president’s second term, and little is now heard from this point of actuarial science studies. 

Mixing studies and national politics, he successfully runs for a student leadership post, representing module two students, and moves to a more upmarket apartment around Yaya. He now drives a Mercedes Benz.

In 2007, Kibaki wins and rewards most of “Vijana na Kibaki” and Sakaja falls through the cracks and only features in the Kriegler Commission as having presented a paper on redistribution of constituencies.

In the run-up to the 2010 referendum, he reportedly tables a compelling proposal at Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitution meeting in Naivasha. On this score, it is said the formula in Article 89 of the Constitution is his handiwork.

He reappears in 2012 at the birth of TNA. From Nominated MP, Sakaja vied for Senator and won. He is now done with Senate and wants to scale higher to a governor.

Then the little matter of a degree came up.

Rather than presenting the actuarial science degree from UoN, he produces a Bachelor of Science in Management from Team University in Uganda. A search on the university’s website for a degree by that name does not bear fruit.

But all along, Mzalendo, an organisation that monitors Parliament, had listed him as having been an undergraduate student at the University of Nairobi (BSc, Actuarial Science) and a graduate student in political science at the same institution.

During a TV interview with Jeff Koinange in 2016, Sakaja explained that politics was a game of numbers, and he understood it because he was an actuarial scientist. He created similar assumptions in another interview with KTN and later NTV, and with rapper Nyashinski.

Johnson Sakaja speaks as MP Charles Kanyi (Starehe) President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto (right) look on. [File, Standard]

“I have never left Kenya for education. I did everything here... I wanted to go to Harvard, initially. I did actuarial at the University of Nairobi,” he said in September 2020.

He also talked of having worked at the PricewaterhouseCoopers as an asset audit clerk.

As the kitchen got hotter yesterday, Sakaja blamed his mentor, President Kenyatta, for his woes. He claimed that the Commission had been coerced to illegally revoke recognition of accreditation that has been properly issued.

The artiste and businessman

He insists that his degree is proper and the “State machinery (has) gone on an intimidation spree against institutions locally and in Uganda to revoke the recognition of my qualifications in a bid to stop me from being the governor of Nairobi.”

He claimed the machinations will fail.  “I have the requisite qualifications to vie for the position of governor of Nairobi and will be on the ballot,” he said yesterday.

It has not always been politics for Sakaja though. There was music and business too.The senator said he ran a salon, laundry and barbershop in campus to pay fees and supplement the family income.

He has also stated that he owned a cybercafé in Nairobi and was also a member of a rap group Mission Driven, which released the song Save me Saviour (Forgive) in September 2006.