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How the mighty State House boys fell

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As PSCU head Manoah Esipisu set the agenda of the first meeting, Itumbi kept interjecting, insisting that he received instructions directly from President Uhuru Kenyatta

On Wednesday, June 22, 2016, the New York Times published a story titled ‘The Prosecutor and the President’ by American journalist James Verini.

The story covered the 2007 elections and the aftermath that led to the prosecution of Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and five other Kenyans at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“The ICC embodied the hope of bringing warlords and demagogues to justice,” the story said.

“Then Luis Moreno Ocampo took on the heir to Kenya’s most powerful political dynasty.”

The story would have gone largely unnoticed, had it not been for the official State House reply.

Two days after it was published, the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) responded.

In the response, the directors and senior directors of the unit said the New York Times “continues its steady descent into the murky, rancid morass of gutter press and has abandoned all pretence to journalistic decency in pursuit of the prosecutor’s agenda.”

“Whom did the paper contact at State House? Why did they not interview Dennis Itumbi, despite making reference to him? Is the truth on post-election violence going to be dictated by Mungiki, seriously?” the directors continued in the press release, which was published verbatim in at least one leading daily.

The press release also indirectly mentioned former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, according to a Daily Nation article.

Just days before it was published, Mr Annan had said President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto “put lots of efforts and resources into fighting the cases”.

While it was true, the response was not from the presidency. It was from just a few members of his communications team, who were formally dismissed this week.

Most of the PSCU in 2016 had joined President Kenyatta’s team in or after 2010 and had worked with him during the 2013 campaigns and efforts against the ICC.

But by then, with just a year to the next election cycle, they had embarrassed him and State House again.

Mr Kenyatta was in Botswana at the time. An even greater diplomatic faux pas was that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was due for a state visit the following week.

At State House, Mr Nzioka Waita, who had just been head-hunted from Safaricom, revoked the PSCU members’ access and told them to keep away from the office until the President returned.

The PSCU team should have known that the New York Times was ready for any eventuality since the story had been worked on for months by sub-editors, editors, fact-checkers and lawyers.

Three days later, the paper responded.

“Throughout this process, Kenyatta’s representatives were informed of the subject of the article and did not address it. A fact-checker for the Time Magazine emailed Kenyatta’s chief spokesman and received no response,” it said.

At a meeting days after he flew back to Nairobi, the President sat with his charges. In that room with President Kenyatta and State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu was the top brass of the communications unit – Mr Itumbi, Mr Munyori Buku, Mr James Kinyua, Mr David Nzioka and others. They had lofty titles – senior directors and directors.

Dennis Itumbi (Second from right) with former members of the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit.TWITTER

The directors ganged up against Mr Esipisu, until the President could take it no more.

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“I hired Manoah for a reason.
Either take instructions from him or ship out!” the President said.

He ordered them to send Mr Esipisu weekly plans and reports of their activities. Mr Kenyatta banned them from media appearances, effectively cutting them off from the public personas of powerful men they had built.

For the team the President had just dressed down, the meeting was a catastrophe. Mr Kenyatta was their friend. A man, as someone once wrote, from whose cigarette pack you could pick a stick.

Unfortunately, they forgot that the man they helped win the presidency had actually won. That while campaigns have almost no rules, the presidency is a marathon that demands order, patience and respect.

Sometime in 2010, Mr Kenyatta approached Mr Johnson Sakaja, a budding 25-year-old, with a simple ask – to form a communications team that would help him build his brand and shore up his position for the 2013 election. Mr Kenyatta was the Finance minister and one of two deputy premiers in the Grand Coalition Government. His most formidable rivals at that point were Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Raila Odinga and Prof George Saitoti.

But he had a plan. And it was from a painful lesson. The first time Mr Kenyatta tried to run for office in the 1997 elections, he lost.

His opponent, one Moses Muihia, created a false-flag operation on Christmas Day, four days before the general election.

The first step, as recounted in Mr Kenyatta’s biography, Hard Tackle by Mr Irungu Thatiah, was a call Mr Muihia’s nephew made to newsrooms saying he (Muihia) was missing.

The next morning, the people of Gatundu woke up to what looked like a crime scene at River Thiririka.

A car that resembled Mr Muihia’s was in the river. There was blood on the banks and signs of a struggle.

Newspapers screamed that Mr Muihia was missing. His nephew was preoccupied with media interviews and Mr Kenyatta was clueless.

Mr Kenyatta had commanded a comfortable lead against the surveyor. But he had underestimated the weight of his surname in reminding

voters of the sins of the Kanu government.

Mr Muihia appeared in public late on the election day to say he had been hiding from the government.

As he voted in the dying minutes of the day, he had already won.

A few years later, Mr Kenyatta lost another election, also bogged down by his surname and the angst against his godfather Daniel arap Moi.

He was leader of official opposition for three years, led a campaign against a new constitution and then jumped ship to the government of the day.

In 2010, he was older, smarter and more careful. He had to carve for himself a name separate from the weight of his family and sponsors.

It was fairly easier because most of the voters were young. He had time and knew the man for the job.

Mr Sakaja built a formidable team of writers and experts in digital media, data, branding, photography and videography.

Mr Sakaja was the head, Mr David Nzioka did SMS campaigning, Mr Patrick Ngatia focused on grassroots drives, Mr Marvin Tumbo handled digital media, Mr James Muriithi was in charge of branding while Mr Itumbi was in charge of media and press.

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The team’s office was in an ageing two-storey house on Amboseli Lane in Lavington, Nairobi. In the years they spent toiling to build Mr Kenyatta as a viable candidate, they called it “Deep End” and later, “The Dungeon”.

By the time Mr Sakaja left the job to help found The National Alliance party, the team had about 15 young people.

Their work would eventually help Mr Kenyatta get the top job, overcoming hurdles like the ICC and cases about his eligibility.

On July 10, 2013, President Kenyatta invited the Editors Guild to a meeting at State House where he introduced his communications team.

The head of the unit was Mr Esipisu, who had been head-hunted from

the African Development Bank.

At the first meeting of the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU), something happened.

It would recur many times.

As Mr Esipisu set the agenda for the unit, Mr Itumbi repeatedly interjected.

He kept saying the President gave him instructions directly.

The team Mr Kenyatta picked from The Dungeon comprised Mr Itumbi, Mr Kinyua, Mr Buku and Mr Ng’eno.

Mr Itumbi had made a name for himself as a whistleblower/blogger at the height of the ICC cases.

He was apprehended several times by President Mwai Kibaki’s government, including one arrest in 2012 for which he was compensated Sh5 million in January 2018.

Mr Buku, a former senior editor at Standard Media, had been Mr Kenyatta’s spokesman at the Ministry of Finance and Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

He was the presumptive State House spokesperson before the President settled on Mr Esipisu.

For his speechwriter, Mr Kenyatta appointed Mr Ng’eno, a former lawyer who had initially been seconded to the campaign by Mr Ruto.

Mr Ng’eno first met Mr Ruto when he worked for him as a researcher and secretary during the 2007/8 Serena negotiations on the post- election violence.

The most quiet of the four was Mr Kinyua. He had worked at State House before. Though he did not design things, his eye for detail fitted well into the digital campaign.

Because the four had expected Mr Buku to be made head of the unit, their disdain for Mr Esipisu began on the first day and escalated with time.

It would embarrass the Presidency and make State House look disorganised.

By July 2016, Mr Kenyatta could handle it no more. The trigger was an international incident that should never have become a crisis.

It is difficult to tell when the attempts to get Mr Esipisu dismissed began. But from 2013 to the time he was made Kenya’s ambassador to the UK, he was in a permanent defence mode. He fought back by locking the four out of the President’s international trips and they responded by removing any mention of him in press releases.

The PSCU directors later decided to get control of the President’s website.

Through this, they engineered their attacks. When Mr Esipisu called press conferences, they would ensure they were never published on the website.

Former State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu addresses the media at State House on March 28, 2015. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

As the face of the Presidency’s communications unit, Mr Esipisu took measures to gain control of the website.

In mid-2015, he reached out to the ICT Authority and had the IP address withdrawn from the website, secretly had another created and pre- populated with previous stories.

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However, the State House Twitter and Facebook accounts would prove difficult.

With the website taken and without access to the official President’s social media accounts, the directors created alternative accounts beyond the “PSCU Digital”, “PSCU Diaspora” and others.

The four created @PresidentKE account, which they packaged as the official account for the Presidency.

The @PresidentKE account would soon find itself in controversy.

It posted information that went counter to the official narrative.

After the terrorist attack in Yumbis in 2015, for example, the team posted condolences to “fallen security officers” even as the Interior

It would embarrass the Presidency and make State House look disorganised.

By July 2016, Mr Kenyatta could handle it no more. The trigger was an international incident that should never have become a crisis.

It is difficult to tell when the attempts to get Mr Esipisu dismissed began. But from 2013 to the time he was made Kenya’s ambassador to the UK, he was in a permanent defence mode. He fought back by locking the four out of the President’s international trips and they responded by removing any mention of him in press releases.

The PSCU directors later decided to get control of the President’s website.

Through this, they engineered their attacks. When Mr Esipisu called press conferences, they would ensure they were never published on the website.

As the face of the Presidency’s communications unit, Mr Esipisu took measures to gain control of the website.

In mid-2015, he reached out to the ICT Authority and had the IP address withdrawn from the website, secretly had another created and pre- populated with previous stories.

However, the State House Twitter and Facebook accounts would prove difficult.

With the website taken and without access to the official President’s social media accounts, the directors created alternative accounts beyond the “PSCU Digital”, “PSCU Diaspora” and others.

The four created @PresidentKE account, which they packaged as the official account for the Presidency.

The @PresidentKE account would soon find itself in controversy.

It posted information that went counter to the official narrative.

After the terrorist attack in Yumbis in 2015, for example, the team posted condolences to “fallen security officers” even as the Interior

insisted he could still access the House on the Hill.

They were not dismissed in 2018; they continued to get salaries as the government waited for their contracts to expire this year.

The four are a long way from the four years (2010-2013) that built them, where they were part of a team that seemed to perform magic in changing public perception.

With no more fight left in them, the PSCU Four retreated to Mr Ruto’s corner, on the promise they could replicate the 2010-2013 success for his 2022 presidential run.

There too, Mr Itumbi attracted attention and the long arm of the law when he was charged with being the author of a letter alleging a plot to assassinate Mr Ruto.

The letter implicated several Cabinet secretaries. Mr Itumbi denies the charges.

In 2010, Uhuru was older, smarter and more careful. He had to carve for himself a name separate from the weight of family and his sponsors. It was fairly easier because most of the voters were young. He had time and knew the man for the job.”

By Nation


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Ruto: I helped Uhuru pick the BBI team but its mandate was changed to include changing the constitution without my knowledge

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Deputy President William Ruto has said that the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) committee was not meant to change the Constitution.

While acknowledging that he had a hand in nominating the team members led by Senator Yusuf Haji, he said that the mandate of the team soon changed.

“When we were nominating those people, changing the Constitution was not part of their brief. That’s why if you look at the nominations that came from the Jubilee side, we were nominating people whose brief was to bring people together. Generally peace briefings. That’s why we nominated the chairman of the Kisii elders, the Kalenjin Council of Elders, Maison Leshomo (Samburu Woman Rep),” he said in an interview that aired on Citizen TV on Thursday evening.

“Be that as it may, when this exercise was concretised into a Constitution (issue), it was necessary for us to step in and say okay, let’s look at what proposals are being made. Some of the interventions that we have made are not unreasonable,” he added.

“I know there is a lot of push…that the train has left the station. But it is never too late to do the right thing,” DP Ruto said.

He also insisted that there is no legal framework within which the push to amend the Constitution is being made.

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The Deputy President also reiterated his preference for a multiple choice referendum, noting that it would give Kenyans the latitude to make decisions on an article by article basis.

“It (multiple choice) is the best way to fashion our referendum. Parliament is already fashioning a referendum Bill that gives the possibility of us going to a referendum with options. It is not something far-fetched,” the DP said.

The DP said that he does not need to get all he has demanded in the constitutional referendum debate, even as he insisted that the issues he was raising were reasonable.

He said the TangaTanga group he leads is not being belligerent in demanding fresh changes to the BBI Bill, whose proponents have already collected over four million signatures in one week.

“We do not have to get everything we want,” the DP said in a live interview with Citizen TV.

The DP’s group has demanded a multiple-choice referendum held alongside the General Election, the provision to vary by 20 per cent the proposed 70 constituencies as well as the amendment of the provision for the proposed Judiciary Ombudsman to be nominated by the President and vetted by the Senate, saying the office holder should instead be named by the Judiciary.

“I have nothing to gain or lose in this referendum. My only stake is that if we are changing the Constitution, we are changing it to go forward, not backwards. Two, is to make sure that we do not divide Kenyans,” the DP said.

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Referendum

He added: “If what we are saying is of merit, we can republish this Bill before signatures to IEBC. We can have Parliament to have a Bill to give Kenyans the chance to vote on multiple choices and not pushing them to a corner.”

He insisted that the option of a multiple-choice format referendum was Kenya’s best chance to not have a situation of throwing away the baby with the bathwater in the BBI

“We believe it is possible to have a referendum where Kenyans vote on articles independently. As leaders, we have to change of how we view Kenyans. Their views, concerns, ideas, proposals also matter,” the DP said, defending his call for Kenyans to vote for the different issues separately.

“There is a tendency to underestimate the ability of the common Kenyan to comprehend issues and make a decision. If you have six issues and you are telling them to make a decision, what is the problem?”

He said experts can package the sections of the BBI that go together, suggesting it could be divided on the basis of the changes to the Legislature, the Judiciary, Parliament, Executive, devolution, and the proposed 70 constituencies.

He cited cases he said were happening in Liberia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Peru, and the United States which he cited as those that have done multiple-choice referenda.

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“It is not something far-fetched,” he said.

Divisive referendum

“The position I have taken is that a referendum is possible, that we can have a win-win outcome that we do not need have a divisive referendum…As a deputy president, I have a duty to do everything in my power to ensure Kenyans travel together.”

Citing instances of Covid-19 infection and deaths and the economic burdens that come with it, the DP reiterated his position that the referendum be held alongside the 2022 General Election.

“Kenyans are asking themselves are we mad? Why hold a referendum now instead of 2022? We have debts, people are losing jobs, parents do not know where to get [school] fees next year, NHIF is not paying bills….Surely, let us be serious,” he said.

He defended his defence of the Judiciary independence given his comments after the Supreme Court nullified the presidential election in 2017.

“An independent Judiciary is good for me whether I am in government or the opposition,” said Dr Ruto.

He insisted that President Kenyatta shares with him his vision of a united country.

“The President is my boss and my friend. These are things we have shared. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that he shares with me the hope of a united country,” he said.

-Nation


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KQ loses second pilot to Covid-19 in London

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The national carrier Kenya Airways has lost another pilot to Covid-19.

Captain Salah Salim Jeizan, 57, died at a London hospital on Wednesday, the airline’s chief human resources officer Evelyne Munyoki said in a condolence message.

Captain Jeizan flew to London’s Heathrow Airport on November 7 from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport but developed difficulties in breathing while in a London hotel.

Jeizan was rushed to the hospital from his hotel room and put on oxygen.

According to Ibrahim Johnny, a close colleague, the deceased will be buried on Thursday in London under the Islamic law.

Captain Jeizan joined the national carrier in 2001 as a junior pilot and rose through the ranks to his last position as a senior captain on the Boeing 787 fleet.

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He flew to different international destinations in Europe, US and the Middle East.

“On behalf of the board of directors, the management and staff of Kenya Airways, we join the family of the late captain Jeizan in mourning their beloved one and pray that the almighty God will strengthen them during this time of sorrow,” KQ said in a statement.

In April Kenya lost its first captain, Daudi Kibati, days after commandeering a flight that evacuated Kenyans stranded in the US after the outbreak of Covid-19.

The captain was taken ill on March 29 after returning from New York and he died on April 1.

By NN


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DP Ruto: Unbeknown to many, I have been advising Uhuru on BBI issues

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In a wide ranging interview with Citizen TV’s Joe Ageyo at the former’s residence in Karen on Thursday night, Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto disclosed that he, infact, advises President Uhuru Kenyatta on Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) matters.

DP Ruto said: “As his principal assistant, yes I advise him. This is a constitution-making process. The constitution is about every Kenyan, myself included. If it is being amended, I do not have the luxury to stand aside and do nothing about it…I do not want history to judge me for not stepping out to speak out.”

He added: “Consensus for us is on content, process and timing. We have almost concluded consensus on content. We agree with the 70 additional constituencies but have IEBC delimit the areas…We are not saying our proposals must pass, we are saying that our proposals are reasonable.” Watch:


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