The Four Kenyan Intelligence CEOs Since Independence


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The Four Kenyan Intelligence CEOs Since Independence
The Four Kenyan Intelligence CEOs Since Independence

Like their presidents, Kenyans have had only four national spymasters since independence. The first one was the legendary James Kanyotu, who was trained by the British during the 1950s State of Emergency but served his post-independence masters, first and second presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, with such total dedication and loyalty that he became a multibillionaire.

By the time he died in retirement in 2008, at the height of the post-election violence, Kanyotu had massive landholdings and investments in real estate, the hospitality sector and banking. In fact, Kanyotu’s property portfolio overlapped seriously with Moi’s.

Kenya’s second spymaster was the obscure and now-largely forgotten (as good spies should be) Stephen Kivuvani, a Kamba. Also a wealthy man who loves bling-bling, Kivuvani was not in office long enough to amass a corporate fortune.

The third national spymaster was Brigadier (Rtd) Wilson Boinett, who had also been one of the longest-serving presidential aide de camps (ADCs), attending to Daniel Moi when he stopped appointing Mt Kenyans to the position.

Boinett became wealthy in the period he was head of the NSIS but was also noted for his thorough professionalism, particularly by the Americans.

Like Kanyotu in 1978, Boinett survived a change of guard in the presidency when Moi finally stood aside after 24 years at State House in 2002. President Kibaki even extended Boinett’s contract by a couple of years, to the great displeasure of Mt Kenya officers, particularly pure policemen, who wanted to fill the powerful and influential position.

Boinett was the first military officer to be appointed national intelligence CEO and the last director of the Old School-style Special Branch/Directorate of Intelligence, which was renamed the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS).

When Boinett was finally retired by Kibaki in January 2006, Gichangi became the second military man to ascend to national intelligence CEO and the first former jet fighter pilot to do so in this country.

There were groans all around when Gichangi was appointed, beginning with pure policemen inside NSIS whose attitude was that the spymaster job should go to cops, not soldiers.

Today’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) was previously known as the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS). It is both the (national) domestic and foreign intelligence agency of Kenya.

It had its origins in the Special Branch, a department of the national police that was created in 1952 under the British colonial administration. Among other things, it provided intelligence during the Mau Mau State of Emergency.

It was in diplomatic circles that Gichangi’s appointment was criticised most thoroughly by two consecutive US ambassadors to Kenya – William Bellamy and Michael Ranneberger.

The US criticisms only reached the public domain four years later, when the whistleblower website Wikileaks leaked thousands of top secret US diplomatic and espionage cables.

The objection was misplaced as spymasters in other, more advanced countries have even been drawn from among civilian executives and politicians. US President George HW Bush, the father of President George W, was head of the CIA briefly in the 1970s.

Ambassador Bellamy cabled the following top secret remarks to the State Department in Washington, concerning Boinett on the day Gichangi was appointed: “. . . removes the USG’s (United State’s Government’s) main ally in the counter-terror struggle and one of the few remaining true professionals at the highest level of the Kenyan government.

“Boinett’s replacement by an untested Brigadier Gichangi – selected through a process that reeks of tribal cronyism and the use of all instruments of power to stay in power through (and beyond) the 2007 elections – is anything but reassuring”.

Bellamy, never suspecting that his words would one day be made public by Internet hackers, went to note: “Boinett transformed the NSIS from a domestic political tool into a modern professional intelligence service with an emphasis on external threats. A former aide-de-camp to President Moi and the last director of the Special Branch (NSIS’s predecessor, remembered darkly by most Kenyans mostly for running the Nyayo House political detention centre during the years of one-party rule), Boinett survived not only the 1999 demise of Special Branch but also the 2002 end of the Moi regime. Recognising that change was needed, Boinett’s leadership garnered the NSIS domestic and international respect for its relative political nature and seriousness of purpose”.

And then Bellamy saluted Boinett in carefully chosen words that are the highest now known words of praise an official of the US government has ever aimed at a Kenyan individual and institution: “Reorganised to provide internal, external and strategic intelligence to the President, NSIS proved to be the USG’s single-most effective Kenyan partner – bar none – in combating al Qaeda and related terrorist threats in Kenya”.

Turning to the tribal factor, Ambassador Bellamy also noted: “But, in the end, the die was cast for Boinett’s undoing at his birth: he was born into the wrong tribe. An ethnic Kalenjin like former President Moi, Boinett was distrusted from the start of the Kibaki administration by many of those Kikuyu tribesmen closest to President Kibaki.

Boinett undoubtedly made matters worse by telling Kibaki and his advisers news they did not like to hear – that Kenya remains vulnerable to al Qaeda attacks, that tribal conflicts were resurfacing in rural areas, that President Kibaki’s Banana team would lose November’s constitutional referendum, etc”.

Bellamy was referring to Kenya’s first-ever national referendum, the November 2005 vote on the then proposed new Constitution which Kibaki’s Banana or Yes side lost badly to the opposition’s No or Orange vote led by Raila Amolo Odinga and others. Kibaki was so annoyed by Boinett’s intelligence prophecy that he fired the entire Narc regime with the exception of then Vice President Moody Awori and then Attorney General Amos Wako. Not long afterwards, he retired Boinett and appointed Gichangi.



The Four Kenyan Intelligence CEOs Since Independence

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