spies we can trust? The men behind the man

Moi loved the Special Branch and Kibaki preferred the Administration Police; Uhuru banks on the National Intelligence Service.

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BY NLM writer

The story of the Kenyan State has mostly been written from the heart, seldom from the head. George Orwell, in his fictional, allegorical barnyard, called it primitive patriotism – championed by political figures who “cordon themselves off with protective layers of unquestioning followers around them.” The choices made are fashioned to tell and sustain stories of hot-air gallantry.

Justice Aaron Ringera, as chair of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, spent a great deal of his time at State House. He was buddies with President Mwai Kibaki; after all, the President had re-appointed him when politicians and legislators had ganged up against him. To some extent, he let his closeness with Kibaki get into his head – he was untouchable.

But then Parliament, in an event that earned the House rare public support, rejected him, effectively revoking the President’s choice. It could be fixed, Ringera thought. He had the President’s backing after all. And so with a red sticker on his windscreen and the President on speed dial, he drove to State House. The guards wouldn’t let him in. He called the President, who didn’t pick. He called the comptroller who went to enquire from his boss. Kibaki sent him back with a tersely-worded message: tell him to go and resign. Rarely have ultimatums come with such weight and authority.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has no such daring – unless he gets extremely angry, a trait measured by a longsuffering public’s tolerance quotient, as he recently demonstrated with Mwangi Kiunjuri. And because he understands his extremely accommodating personality – including of unblushing thieves amongst his circles – he lets others, to the extent he allows them, make the difficult choices for him. Kenyatta’s trust is with the National Intelligence Service.

Broadly, the roles of the intelligence services are to collect and analyse information on threats and interests on behalf of executor agencies, primarily the police and military. These functions can, however, morph into covert action when occasion demands it, and depending on the government of the day. Different administrations set different roles and guidelines for intelligence activities – achieved through how the National Security Committee is constituted.

When Kenyatta assumed office in 2013, among the first things he did was reconstitute the leadership of the intelligence services. Michael Gichangi, whom Major-General Philip Kameru replaced, was President Kibaki’s most trusted security advisor. But Gichangi, according to an intelligence brief commissioned by Francis Kimemia – Uhuru’s one-time Head of Civil Service – spearheaded a covert campaign to indict Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto for crimes against humanity during the 2007 post-election violence. In his hurried resignation, Gichangi cited “discord in the Jubilee administration. In truth, he was saving himself an embarrassing sacking.

Kameru does not just enjoy a cordial relationship with Kenyatta; he is also his confidante. He is also the reason an organisation shrouded in obscurity has been thrust into the limelight, as evidenced by its proactive and near visible operations. Even more overt are Kenyatta’s appointment of NIS men to key positions.

In August 2014 when Uhuru…

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