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Kigochi: Exit man who held Uhuru Kenyatta's hand in political debut

David Nduati Kigochi. Right, former President Uhuru Kenyatta. [Kibata Kihu and Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

At the strike of the hour 2pm at the Hindu Crematorium in Kariokor, Nairobi on Friday, the incinerator roared to life, raring to blow up in smoke the triumphs and conquests of a man who led a purposeful life.

David Nduati Kigochi had come a long way- from a mere tourism officer in the 1970’s to the man who held retired President Uhuru Kenyatta's hand in his 1997 political debut, and to be the leader of Farmers Party, the first party of its kind.

For decades his office- Room 108, Ruprani House off Moktar Dadah Street was simply the spot. It was on this very room on the “Noel Night” of 1997, that the younger Kenyatta smoked the night away as his political debut went up in smoke following a botched buy-out of rival candidate Moses Muhia.

Despite being a civil servant, Kigochi dabbled in politics from early on, hiding under the formless title of "patron" of this or that political grouping. In 1997 he was among the Gatundu luminaries picked to sell Uhuru's debut.

They struck a deal to pull out Muhia off the race to give Uhuru an easy win. But Muhia strategists led by Uhuru's own cousin Ngengi Muigai and university student leader Moses Kuria would have none of it. A story went out that Muhia had been kidnapped by the Kanu machinery, and they all- including Muhia- congregated at Kigochi’s office to fire-fight, and stop publication of the story so close to the poll.

Despite all the stops they pulled, the following day Nation screamed on its front page “Missing candidate in hiding” with a main picture of wild protestors burning tires in Gatundu town.

Moses Muhia won with a landslide  soon after the protest in Gatundu on the eve of elections. [iStockphoto]

“That headline finished us. I remember it was Christmas day and I was supposed to take my family to Naivasha. I couldn’t. We spent the whole day fire-fighting. We got Muhia to issue a press statement, drafted before my own eyes and Uhuru’s in my office. We even went to KBC studios with Muhia but it was too late,” Kigochi told this writer at his Room 108 office.

Muhia won with a landslide and Uhuru was consoled with an appointment to the Kenya Tourism Board where again he found Kigochi waiting on him with 20 plus years experience in tourism sector. Born at Mitero village, Mang’u in Gatundu North, Kigochi schooled in Mang’u High School before joining Ministry of Tourism in 1974 as a tourism information officer. Immediately upon joining, he flew to Austria’s Shloss Kleshim Salzburg where he studied and graduated with a diploma in Tourism Management.

Over the years, he scaled up through the ranks in the ministry serving in Germany and Nairobi in senior positions. When he retired from Utalii House in 2008, it was not to head to Mitero. He simply crossed streets to Ruprani House, to plunge headlong into his favourite past-time, politics. Initially, he worked as national convener, Central for United Kenya (CUK) forum, actively positioning the region in national conversations which at the time transitional justice agenda of national healing, reconciliation and reconstruction.

The formation of Farmers party was the summation of many years of Room 108 ruminations, often crowned with rounds of his favorite red wine. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, all took part in these debates. In the middle of an argument, Kigochi would pull out of his cabinets an old, dusty copy of the 1965's Sessional Paper No. 10 and re-align the debate. He kept many special volumes which like Shakespeare’s Prospero, he valued more than his kingdom.

Farmers party was his chief pride. At its inception, he carved out a clear, unique trajectory for it. He was issuing national statements on food shortage, crop diseases, inviting policy interventions. He often did his research late into the night and dispatched well articulated articles to his wide network of media people in the morning.

Yet in all these, Kigochi totally refused to embrace digital technology as his son Brian, confessed at his funeral service at St Paul’s Chapel on Friday: “How you survived without making use of microwave ovens, hot showers, computers and smartphones until 2022 should be documented,” he joked.

Retired President Uhuru Kenyatta. [Moses Omusula, Standard]

At the service held at the Chapel he wedded in 1983 and where he attended mass regularly, friends and family paid tribute to a man they said was blessed with a big heart, an infectious laughter and knack for striking and sustaining quality relationships.

“I have never encountered anyone as skilled as Mzee was in posing just the right questions at just the right moment to just the right person,” Irungu Nyakera, Farmers Party chairman said.

Despite contributing so much to Uhuru's formative years, Kigochi had very little good to say about him in the last few years. He firmly rooted for President William Ruto, signing a pre-election agreement with Kenya Kwanza. It was disheartening that KK leadership did not attend his service despite Ruto describing him as "kind, diligent and progressive" figure.

Dennis Itumbi, the top KK person at the service did not have a brief. Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji saved the day for government, dispatching a strong delegation and decorating Kigochi for selfless legacy.

Kigochi died on Monday of suspected cardiac arrest after undergoing a spinal cord compression surgery at Kenyatta National Hospital’s Private Wing. He is survived by his wife Nancy, children Brian Kigochi, John Kahara, Magdalene Nduati and grandchildren Ariana, Natalie and Roman.