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CJ exits stage and Kang'ata stirs BBI pot with missive

By Brian Otieno | January 17th 2021

Former Chief Justice David Maraga during an interview with The Standard at his Karen residence. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

In a world where they could be anything, retired Chief Justice David Maraga implored our waheshimiwa to be as “robustly independent” as the Judiciary.

And, no, he didn’t mean ‘independent’ in the sense of replacing the Salaries and Remuneration Commission–as our MPs are fond of–when he bid adieu to the nation on Monday. Maraga meant that the wahesh should be more courageous and stop living under the whims of the Executive.

Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata probably perused Maraga’s exit speech beforehand, hence his recent political U-turn from being the chief apologist of ‘orders from above’ to a champion for free thought.

And as the former CJ urged the country to stand up against impunity, deeply rooted within the Government, Kang’ata met the press at a porch within Bunge to affirm that his Road to Damascus moment had not been the result of an adrenaline rush.

Kang’ata had planned the briefing for the previous day, Sunday, at a Nairobi hotel, but rescheduled it after Saturday's tongue-lashing from the President. Surrounded by microphones and cameras, the Senate’s prefect made his case on why he was of better use to the President as an independent-minded person rather than a puppet.

He pleaded that the President takes a leap of faith by setting him free–a laughable request given his boss’s experience with former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, the classic example of a puppet gone rogue. Kang’ata began by stating, for the umpteenth time, that the letter he had written to the President on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) process was the result of a candid risk-assessment of the reform agenda's popularity. 

As expected, he bashed those he deemed too cowardly to tell the king that he was naked, and prophesied doom over their political careers. Amos Kimunya, the National Assembly’s majority leader, would soon lose his plum job because of his 'exclusionary' leadership, Kang’ata predicted.

"There is a reason why I had to do it (the assessment),” he went on, saying that it was his job as a whip, and clarified that it wasn’t the first time he had done such an assessment. He rambled something about his job requiring him to pick out red flags and inform his superiors to avoid blame when things went south. His letter, he claimed, was necessitated by 'lingering anti-BBI murmurs', and he only wrote it out of support for the President.

But a remark made almost inadvertently revealed that his new-found stance was perhaps a quest for survival in 2022. A former classmate–in a meeting convened by the former Kiharu MP–had walked Kang’ata through his entire political career from campus to his ascent to the Senate. It probably dawned on him that he could be serving his final term in elective office.

The more he spoke, after recounting the moment, the more he sounded–in this part of the world where loyalty must be absolute–as someone more interested in straddling the political fence.

He supported the President on the BBI, he claimed, yet he thought the Tangatanga side had valid arguments that could be adopted. Even worse, he later accused proponents of the process of weaponising the BBI and turning it into a political tool.

Kang’ata has been around long enough to know that debates over constitutional reforms provide the political class with the chance to test their political might. The BBI, noble or unpalatable as it may be, is no different.

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