Security officers escorting Paul Muite to custody from Kiambu Law Courts, Nov 19 1991. [File, Standard]

Lawyer and politician Paul Muite has new friends. They are businessman-turned-politician Jimi Wanjigi, Deputy President William Ruto, and MPs Rigathi Gachagua and Oscar Sudi.

The five met at Bomas of Kenya on Monday, March 21, and said they shared a vision.  “We will work together with Safina (Muite’s party) into the future because we have the same vision”, said the DP at the function to which Muite happily replied: “Safina is aligned economically and socially with UDA because the vision UDA has for this country is identical to that of Safina.”

The DP was accompanied to the function by Gachagua and Sudi who, too, were very pleased to have a new friend in Muite. On his part, Wanjigi, who at the function was crowned Safina presidential candidate, was all cheers as he declared: “This system is rigged and is broken. There is no point in having a country with one per cent millionaires and 99 per cent poor people.”

Pattni’s ‘friend’

Many years ago on December 8, 1998, one Kamlesh Pattni called a press conference to claim that at one time he too had made ‘friends’ with Muite and given him Sh20 million. He gave a chronology of events leading to the disclosure.

The money was allegedly to silence Muite, who he said had lodged a personal ‘vendetta’ against him from mid 1992 to mid 1993 through the press and Parliament regarding the multi-billion shilling Goldenberg affair.

To end the ‘vendetta’, Pattni claimed that in July 1993, a friend of his by the name Isaac Githuthu offered to arrange for private meetings with Muite presumably for a discussion on how to end the hostility.

According to Pattni, the meetings took place at a private residence on Hatheru Road, off Gitanga Road in Nairobi. He said that after the meetings he gave Muite, through his company called Multiphasic Export Limited, a cheque for Sh15 million and Sh5 million in cash.

He also alleged that after the ‘gift’, Muite went silent on the Goldenberg matter for five years until December 1998 when he raised it again in Parliament to Pattni’s great disappointment. Pattni told the press conference that it was with ‘great pain’ he had decided to spill beans on what allegedly transpired between him and Muite.

Muite denied it all. He said it was a political plot to tarnish his name. But he didn’t sue for defamation or libel.

Pattni was tried for the scandal and acquitted.

Strange bedfellows

There is nothing wrong with making new friends, sharing a vision, or even getting a ‘gift’ from a ‘friend’. Only that Muite has a background and record of public life that makes him such a bird of different feathers to flock together with Pattni or with any of his new found friends. A good starting point to illustrate how different Muite is from his said friends is to trace who he was and what he did in 1992, and what his friends were and did the same year.  

In 1992, Muite was a youthful firebrand lawyer in the frontline in the fight for a multi-party democracy in the days of single-party Kanu rule. He was in a team of like-minded radicals dubbed the Young Turks. They included, among others, Raila Odinga, Martha Karua, James Orengo, and Dr Mukhisa Kituyi. A picture of who Muite was then is best captured in memoirs of then US Ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hemsptone, referring to their chance encounter in Mombasa in August of 1992.

He wrote: “I sent a note to Paul Muite who was vacationing with his family at the nearby Nyali Beach Hotel, suggesting that we breakfast together the following morning at the Mombasa Club. I signed the note with my Swahili nickname Nyama Choma, not that that would fool the Special Branch (secret police) who certainly were following Muite and in all probability monitoring me.

Muite was right on time at 8.30 a.m. Over boiled eggs and bacon, we talked of this and that. Muite, who was chairman of the embattled Law Society of Kenya, said he expected to go to jail in October after a trial in which he and six other attorneys would face contempt of court charges stemming from their defense of Kamukunji demonstrators.

I asked him how his family felt about his prospective stay in Hotel Moi (prison) which is not renowned for its amenities. “They are very supportive,” he replied. “The children kid me that I must stop putting sugar on my porridge because they don’t give you sugar in prison.” At forty-seven, he is one of Kenya’s most successful lawyers. But underneath his $600 suits, he is as tough as steel. Some say he has a desire, a need for martyrdom.”

That was Muite of 1992 when multi-party had just been allowed and the opposition set to take on Kanu in the election set for December.

Gung-ho outfit

 In the same year, William Ruto, then 26 years old, fled University of Nairobi before completing a masters course to join a gung-ho outfit called Youth for Kanu ’92, specifically assembled to ensure–through hook or crook–that the opposition didn’t oust Kanu from power.

YK’92 was linked to various illegal activities, including violence and printing of fake currency to sabotage the opposition. In the years to come, remnants of YK’92 would be linked to massive theft of public land and looting of State-owned financial institutions.

On his part, in 1992, Gachagua–in those days he was known as Geoffrey Gachagua–was a district officer (DO) recalled from the field to work in a team at Harambee House at a time when Kanu was applying all tricks in and outside the book to win that election.

On his part, in 1992, Wanjigi, the son of a Kanu-era Cabinet minister, had returned from education abroad to run the family business. On his own he would soon discover a far more lucrative, quicker and bigger money-minting occupation–reportedly as a go-between linking government and big-time contractors bidding for public tenders.

Last in the list of Muite’s new comrades is Sudi. In 1992, he was 12 years old and herding goats in Trans Nzoia before his family re-located to Uasin Gishu. Details of his education background are misty and the subject of an ongoing court case challenging the validity of his academic certificates.

By his own account, Sudi, who owns a Sh100 million home in Eldoret, says he started off as a matatu tout before moving on to multiple unspecified businesses – a jack of all and any trade – then joined politics.

Postscript: Whatever vision or value–political or otherwise–there is for Muite in his latest company, he surely must be missing the companionship of his 1990s comrades-in-the-trenches who are all now in the opposite political divide. But never mind, that is life.