The House Kibaki Won’t Live in
Passing by the gate, one only sees bored-looking armed officers from the elite General Service Unit (GSU) standing sentry. The first impression one gets is that the imposing building, sheltered by a huge thicket of indigenous trees and bougainvillea, is an exclusive members’ club or a security safe-house. There is no human or vehicle traffic going in or out of the home, making one conclude that whoever accesses the place is either by light aircraft landing inside the expansive compound or from the nearby Mweiga Airstrip.
Located at Sasini Ranch, about 10 kilometres from Nyeri town on Mweiga-Nyahururu highway, the Sh200 million property is as magnificent as they come. The intendedretirement home for immediate former President Mwai Kibaki is located on a 120-acre ranch lying in the imposing ridge between the scenic Mount Kenya on one side, and the Aberdare Ranges on the other.
But the beauty and opulence of the place apparently have nor made any big impression on the immediate former President. Neighbours say he has only been to the facility twice since his retirement in April last year. And on both occasions, they say, he only had a cup of tea, was taken round to inspect the high grade cows and merino sheep in the compound, and left as fast as he had come. On both occasions, he was served tea at the verandah where he chatted with the farm managers.
Nobody seems to remember him getting inside the house. Sources in the lonely neighbourhood say the only regular person at the home is the retired President’s daughter, Ms Judy Wanjiku, but who also has never spent a night at the place. “She only checks out on what is going on, sorts out one or two matters with the management, and goes away”, says a worker at the ranch. Unconfirmed reports have it that a Nyeri politician occasionally drives to the compound incognito, but sneaks out even before anybody gets idea that she was there at all.
Since his retirement, Kibaki has been to his “home” county, Nyeri, less than a dozen times, to attend to a civil suit at the Nyeri Law Courts where he is a witness, or to attend the burial of one or two close friends. It is on those occasions that he has spared a few minutes to be driven to the supposed retirement home and back to Nairobi the very same day. So why would so much public funds be spent on aretirement home the former President seemingly had no use for in the first place?
Sources in the government say the home was not constructed at the request of theretired President. A source at the Ministry of Public Works says it was all the work of “overenthusiastic” highly placed civil servants in the Office of the President. He says: “We were under so much pressure to put up the retirement home at a quick notice. The office of the Secretary to the Cabinet would demand daily. Sometimes, our men had to work 24/7 to cope with the tough deadlines.”
The public works official says some of the “excessive luxuries” at the retirement home were not in the original plan, but were pushed through by a top official in the Office of the President. Sources in the ministry of Public Works and in the OP contend that it is almost certain that Kibaki had no idea what went on. Says a source: “Knowing Kibaki, it is likely he was clueless about it all. It is not his nature to demand this or that for himself.
This is a man who didn’t want anything named after him when in power hence he couldn’t turn around and demand a retirement home he never needed.” Sources say the eager-to-please bureaucrats behind the construction of the retirement homewere the same who had come up with the proposal to buy a Sh700 million office block for the retired President, but which was vetoed by the State and Kibaki himself who, we have learnt, quietly communicated that he didn’t need an office block in his retirement.
Other sources say corruption cannot be ruled out as motivation for building or purchasing office block for the retired President when he did not need them. “Projects such as a presidential retirement home and office are ready cash-cows for unscrupulous civil servants and other cartels. That category of projects come with a security-tag which is good excuse to avoid scrutiny and steal public money.” Those who know Kibaki well say it is inconceivable that somebody figured Kibaki would re-locate to a rural home when he has spent all his adult life in Nairobi.
Retired politician John Keen who has known Kibaki for over half a century, says: “Except for the four years he studied and worked in Kampala, and the short period in college at London, Kibaki has been a Nairobi man all his adult life. How then do you tell him to go and live in Nyeri in the sunset of his life?” Keen says it would be very lonely for Kibaki to live in Nyeri when his close family, buddies and business associates are in Nairobi. The man loves golf and not the kind played in such small facilities as Nyeri and Nyahururu Golf courses.
He needs to be near Muthaiga, Limuru, Windsor or Karen clubs where his contemporaries frequent.” Speaking at Equity Bank scholarship awarding ceremony last week, Kibaki caused laughter when he asked his hosts not to hesitate to invitehim to such events because “I am just around here and have the time to come.” By “just around here” the retired President, known for humorous one-liners, may as well have meant the capital city where he now – as he would put it himself – enjoys himself – having cups of tea with friends at his favourite golf clubs – Muthaiga, Limuru and Kabete VetLab.
Which reminds one of a campaign rally in the city during 2007 presidential elections when Kibaki asked Nairobians to vote for him and his party since they were the “real” Nairobi people. “Kwani mnasema Nairobi niya kina nani? Ni sisi wenyewe. Tumeishi hapa hii miaka yote!” (“Who do you think are Nairobi people? It is us who own Nairobi. We have lived here all these years.)
While retired President Kibaki would not be caught spending a night in his rural Nyeri home, founder President Jomo Kenyatta would never sleep in Nairobi. RetiredPresident Moi was comfortable with either his city private home – KabarnetGardens, or the rural home at Kabarak in Nakuru County. Those who worked under founder President Kenyatta recall rarely spending a night in Nairobi where he had a home next to State House, Nairobi.
The same house is now the private residence of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Though Kenyatta’s children – including Uhuru – lived at State House as they were attending school in the city, the President and the First Lady, Mama Ngina, would always be driven to the family rural Gatundu home in Kiambu County. A cabinet minister in the Kenyatta government, Dr Munyua Waiyaki, recalls the late president would be driven home to Gatundu however late he stayed in town.
He says: “As Foreign Affairs minister, I remember we would stay late at State House, Nairobi, hosting late dinners for visiting heads of State. Sometimes, the state dinners would go to about midnight, but Kenyatta would always insist that he must go to Gatundu.” Dr Waiyaki recalls Kenyatta once explaining that he could never sleep at Nairobi State House because “colonial ghosts would haunt him at night.” State House, formerly known as Government House, was official and private residence of the British colonial Governor.
Similarly, though he spent many days at the coast, Kenyatta preferred to sleep at his private Mombasa residence and only go to Mombasa State House in the morning for official functions. However, as if in premonition, he had began to agree to sleep at Mombasa State House in the last few days of his life. It is here that he passed on. However, the late President had a sentimental liking for Nakuru’s State House where he lived and worked for the better part of his reign. The late Kenyatta too, had other idiosyncrasies as is expected of old men of his age and generation. He would never take a lift and would never travel by air in his years as President.
Dr Waiyaki remembers one occasion when the late President had gone to officially open the multi-storey Coast Provincial Headquarters. He was to take the lift to the fifth floor office of the Provincial Commissioner to sign the visitor’s book. But immediately the lift car opened, he asked Mama Ngina “to go sign the book and find us down here.” The visitor’s book had to be brought downstairs where he signed it. For the same reason, he would never work from Harambee House third floor office of the President. With flying, the last time the late President was in air was early in his reign when he was flown from Dar es Salaam in a light aircraft. His head of security Bernard Njinu recalls the journey in a light aircraft being so tumultuous that the late President came cursing all the way.
On landing at Mombasa, a fuming President sidled to his head of security in vernacular: “Ira g**i kau karikuaga nyina ti Kenyatta!” (Tell the ***** (expletive) white pilot that henceforth he will be flying his mother not Kenyatta!”) As for retired President Moi, Kabarak rural home was ever his preference and where he spent most of the weekends. While in Nairobi, he faithfully spent all nights at his private Kabarnet Gardens home next to Kibera slums. The Kibera house was official residence of the deputy colonial Governor. It automatically became home for the Vice President at independence. Upon Moi’s retirement in 2002, the Narc government under President Kibaki decided to allow the retired President to keep the Kibera residence.- The People