Just how deep do the informal state powers wielded by David ‘Bwana Dawa’ Murathe run?
By Nairobi Law Monthly
As tension mounted across the country in the lead-up to the repeat presidential election held on October 26, 2017, and following hot on the heels of the “we shall revisit” statement by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe went on national television and declared that the President would be a benevolent dictator in his second term.
“What this country needs now is a benevolent dictator. People have been too soft so that things have gone rogue.” He was referring to September 1, 2017, Supreme Court ruling that nullified the August 2017 presidential election, and the opposition coalition’s subsequent defiance.
The statement drew a quick rebuke from the Head of NASA Secretariat Norman Magaya. “We will defeat you, David, we will not allow you to introduce dictatorship in this country. You will not intimidate us. We will have an election that conforms to the Constitution.”
But for a man who before Kenyatta became president had been out of the limelight for many years after losing his Gatanga parliamentary seat and temporarily declaring bankruptcy to avoid auctioneers over a Sh50 million loan in 2005, the statement pointed to the man’s new status as a powerful power broker who had the President’s ear.
Today, no longer targeting the opposition coalition NASA but Deputy President Dr William Ruto with his pointed political statements, he has again become a household name, just as it was in 1998 when it was alleged that media mogul SK Macharia paid him Sh10 million so that he could step down from his parliamentary seat for Macharia in an upcoming by-election. Murathe denied having ever entered into such a deal and then National Assembly Speaker Francis Kaparo was left confused by two letters sent to his office — one indicating that Murathe had resigned and a second denouncing the first letter. He lost to Peter Kenneth in 2002 and has not attempted a comeback to elective politics since then.
Today, Murathe has become a serious power wielder with no official position in government except his closeness to President Kenyatta, for whom he also worked as a personal aide during the grand coalition government when Kenyatta was the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister. He is in the mould of Nicholas ‘Total Man’ Biwott in the Moi regime, calling the shots all across the government. He remains the Jubilee vice chairman and has vowed to see to it that Deputy President Ruto does not succeed President Kenyatta.
“Hatutauziwa uoga, Uhuru hataachia mwizi kiti (we will not succumb to fear, Uhuru will not hand over power to a thief),” Murathe said Meru during the Mt. Kenya BBI summit in February this year where former Prime Minister and NASA boss Raila Odinga was also in attendance.
In the present-day fight against corruption, which the Deputy President’s allies have termed as “political” and targeting Dr Ruto’s Kalenjin community, and as President Kenyatta has been re-organising the leadership of the Senate and the National Assembly to discard Ruto allies, again Murathe has become a prominent voice.
“In recent days we have witnessed a lot of disloyalty, insubordination, impunity, disobedience and direct insults to our party leader. This must come to an end,” he cautioned Jubilee MPs ahead of a party parliamentary group meeting called by President Kenyatta in June, where Garissa Town MP Aden Duale lost his position as Leader of Majority in the National Assembly.
Even President Kenyatta did not go to the extent of threatening to take action against MPs who would miss that parliamentary group meeting but Murathe did, telling them to “skip the meeting at your own risk”. The previous week, Jubilee Party had disciplined nominated senators who skipped a meeting with the President, during which Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen was replaced by Samuel Poghisio as Leader of Majority.
Whenever Murathe speaks, it is taken that it is President Kenyatta speaking – with the raging intra-Jubilee fights, he says things that the president himself would want to say but for which circumstances do not allow him. Murathe has always denied that he speaks for the President or anyone for that matter.
But, in what is a manifestation of the raw unofficial power he wields, Murathe has reserved his best broadsides for the Deputy President whom he says should retire with the president when the latter’s second term ends in 2022.
“If you have led with Uhuru for two terms, what else do you want? We don’t know someone who will guard us but we know someone who will break us. We will take someone who will safeguard Mt Kenya,” Murathe has said in the past.
He has also told Dr Ruto to quit Jubilee if he is not satisfied with the way the party is run. And he also has some very choice words too for the DP.
On the 2013 pact that brought Kenyatta and Ruto together, Murathe has dismissed it as a deal between the two of them, and that none of the two, let alone their communities, owes another any debt.
“The Kikuyu community does not owe Ruto any political debt for joining forces with Uhuru ahead of the 2013 presidential elections,” Murathe has said.
Again, for a man who in 2005 was forced to declare temporary bankruptcy to avoid the auctioneer’s hammer for a Sh50 million loan, Murathe today is a very wealthy man. Some say that as the Chinese grew their influence in Kenya, Murathe became the political go-between for Chinese contractors and the government. It is yet again testament to his influence in the corridors of power – that he can string one mega-contract after another.
Reports have suggested that the Chinese prefer him as an influence peddler and cog because of his unfailing ability to turn the levers of soft power in Uhuru’s Kitchen Cabinet, even amongst cabinet secretaries. From his engagements with the Chinese, Murathe has reportedly earned hundreds of millions in ‘brokerage’ and ‘facilitation’ fees.
His critics, mostly allies of Dr Ruto, among them Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa and Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, have used his new-found wealth as a basis to question his sincerity in his attacks on the Deputy President, and asserted that he is “drunk with power like the late Biwott.”
“Murathe is part of the group that has created a wedge between the President and his deputy,” Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua said in May this year.
On his part, DP Ruto has referred to him and others in his camp opposed to a Ruto presidency as “brokers and political merchants”.