By KAMAU NGOTHO
Prof Philip Mbithi, now a self-declared prophet of God (Dida: Insanity is a legally acceptable defence – see Catch 22!), was the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Nairobi when President Moi called him one morning in the late 1980s and told him he wanted to appoint him the Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet with immediate effect.
“Of course, I had no objection”, Prof Mbithi recalled. “In any case, the Head of State wasn’t calling to seek my permission but to inform me.”
The only few questions the professor asked were on what was expected of him; whom he would be reporting to, and how much latitude he had in his new job.
“You will be directly answerable to me”, the President told him in a tone of finality. “You’re not to receive orders from anybody else except myself. I will be telling all Cabinet ministers in your presence that henceforth they discuss all government matters with you at Harambee House. It will be them to come to your office, not the other way.”
The President also told Prof Mbithi that he wanted him to concentrate on his job and not entertain politicians and “their little gossips”. “Let them know you’re a professional civil servant not a politician”, the President told him.
Prof Mbithi told me he had a good honey-moon. The President gave him as much room to know and feel he was the boss. But it was all a show, he would discover.
The first sign that something was rotten came when then chairman of the Kenya Co-operative Creameries (KCC), Mark Too, went to see Prof Mbithi with a request that the government bails out the milk-processing company, which had been privatised after it had been looted dry when it was a State corporation. (Dida’s note: Mark Too and Moi looted KCC together and now want more Govt. Money! We loved KCC as children – our school milk was delivered by them)
Prof Mbithi told Mark Too that it might be difficult to justify public funding of the KCC now that it was a private company. However, he directed that KCC liaise with the Agriculture ministry and a Cabinet Paper be written for discussion at that level. The Cabinet Paper came and the KCC request was unanimously declined by a Cabinet meeting chaired by the President. (President Moi declines to loot Govt. in public at Cabinet Meeting, but then …)
A few days later, Prof Mbithi received a call at about 11 in the night. Only one person called on that phone, at that particular hour.
“Your Excellency Sir”, Prof Mbithi said when he picked up the phone. “Professor, this isn’t Mzee (the President). It is Mark Too. I am here with Mzee and he is angry that you’re refusing to help KCC against his wishes. He has told me to tell you that you be in your office at 7 in the morning and resolve the issue with your people.” (Dida’s note: We must have Govt. money says Moi! Poor Prof. – and poor Gambia’s Jammeh Secretary General Momodou Sabally who hasn’t declared himself “a prophet of God” yet but just a mere “Leadership Academy Principal”! He may need to declared himself “a prophet of God” if the Commission decides to send him to prison as an accessory to the looting of The Gambia).
That night Prof Mbithi didn’t sleep and was in his office by seven in the morning. He found the PS for Treasury and the PS for Agriculture waiting for him with a bail-out proposal for KCC, which he was supposed to approve. He needed not ask who had sent them to him. (Moi gets his money – and there was no Commission of Inquiry when Kenyans finally booted him out; on the contrary, Moi the Big Thief received a hefty State Pension, six Merc Limos and security; all STILL being paid for by the nation he had terrorised and robbed for 22 years. Of course Moi also keeps all the land he stole from legitimate owners. Poor Jammeh, having to leave in the middle of the night with just a few million dollars in cash – and a dozen limos in the back of his plane!)
The next episode came when an unannounced guest in the name of Machakos Kanu branch chairman Mulu Mutisya dropped by his office at Harambee House without appointment. The professor declined to see him. Later in the day, the President requested Prof Mbithi to be at State House the following morning. At State House, the professor was kept waiting for an hour only to discover the person the President had been talking to was Mulu Mutisya.
When Prof Mbitihi mentioned to the President that the Machakos politician had been to see him the previous day, but he didn’t meet him as he had come without appointment, the President replied: “Professor, how can you ignore Mzee Mutisya, he is the man who told me to give you the big job you have!” (Dictators have a macabre sense of humour – Jammeh was fond of making remarks about his 7-Star Hotel – Mile 2 Prsion – even in Cabinet Meetings. The last time we met at Banjul Airport he called me, pointedly, “Editor-in-Chief” and sent the Chief of Police Ben Jammeh to demote me to that post the next morning. When I refused and resigned instead, Jammeh arrested and detained me that night!).
On yet another bizarre occasion, top officials at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) were implicated in a scandal where the government had been swindled out of billions in duty evasion. The President summoned Prof Mbithi, Internal Security PS, and the Director of the CID to State House and demanded immediate arrest and prosecution of the culprits. It was done. (Again a Jammeh parallel in that I reported Dalasi 50,000 unlawfully taken from my Daily Observer Deputy MD by Amadou Samba. Samba was investigated and had to attend Serious Crime with evidence that … the money actually went to Jammeh himself!)
Unknown to Prof Mbithi, the invisible government had a second take on Moi and the President changed his mind. In the middle of the night, an angry President woke up Prof Mbithi: “You people misled me. I want those KPA people released and flown back to Mombasa by tomorrow morning!” (Moi robbed Kenya Ports Authority just as evidence at the current on-going Commission of Inquiry shows that Jammeh robbed Gambia Ports Authority).
Yet on another occasion, a well-connected head of a state corporation defied orders to answer to audit queries by the Auditor-General. Prof Mbithi thought it the height of impunity and said as much in a reprimand letter to the big-headed official. At midnight, the professor received a call from the President demanding to know why he was “harassing my people”. The President ordered the reprimand letter to the parastatal fat-cat withdrawn.
Prof Sacked – and Deported as Ambassador!
On his last day in government, Prof Mbithi got to feel the full weight of the invisible powers that be when, after discussing the expected reshuffle in government with the President in the morning, he tuned his radio at one o’clock to hear his name first in the list; he had been demoted to be Kenya’s representative to the East African Commission headquarters in Arusha. When he called the President on the usual direct line, the phone was answered by someone at a hair salon in Kenyatta Market (similar to Serrekunda Market)!
PS: At least the Prof did not end up in a 7-Star Hotel as three of Jammeh’s ex-Secretary Generals did (in Sabally’s and Bah’s case it seems from evidence at the Inquiry that Jammeh may have been ensuring that they don’t spill the beans on the Gambia Revenue Authority looting).