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My dramatic encounters with Moi

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Previously, I have told in this column about my one-on-one exchange with President Moi. It wasn’t a friendly one and I narrowly escaped roughing-up by the presidential guards.

It happened in Njoro of the present-day Nakuru County at the height of politically instigated ethnic killings in January 1998. The President had just finished addressing a public rally and came where journalists were standing to lecture us on why we should be “patriots and love our country”.

As he made to leave, I shot at him a question: “Mr President, is Kenya not slowly but surely sliding the path of the 1994 Rwanda genocide?”

He wasn’t amused, prompting his bodyguards to move menacingly forward ready to pounce on me and “teach me good manners”. The President stopped them just as they were about to whisk me away.

In contrast to that first encounter, the next three occasions I met him were friendly and I came to know the other side of the old man.

Away from the trappings of power and protocols, he struck me as a disarming father-figure, one quick at playing on peoples’ psychology — and yes, generous to a fault.

Not long after the hostile encounter in Nakuru, Mr Wilson Chepkwony (may God rest his soul in eternal peace) was appointed the new Comptroller of State House.

Pleasant, honest men were a rare commodity in the Moi regime. Mr Chepkwony was among the few. I came to know him when he was Kiambu District Commissioner.

Shortly after his appointment as Comptroller, I bumped into him at a city hotel. He was pleased to see me and said he’d be inviting me to the House on Hill when an opportunity arose. I forgot about this promise until a week to Kenyatta Day of 1998 when a white envelope addressed to me landed at my desk.

Inside, I found an invitation card emblazoned with the national flag and coat-of-arms. It read: “On the 46th commemoration of the Kenyatta Day, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Kenya and Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces has the pleasure to invite you to a State luncheon and thereafter a garden party at the grounds of State House, Nairobi.”

Enclosed also was a car sticker indicating where to park inside State House grounds and a two-line handwritten note from Mr Chepkwony to inform me the invitation had come from him.

In State House invitations, a luncheon is reserved for select VIPs who join the Head of State for a meal in the dining room. The more “common” garden party invitation, is where all other people — including the media and the traditional dancers — gather for refreshments and are later joined by the President and other dignitaries who sit at the presidential dais.

In my case, I was to dine with the President and his special guests and later sit at the dais in the garden.

I, however, felt it would be awkward sitting on the “other side” away from my journalist colleagues. There was an even bigger problem. I worked for an opposition leaning newspaper and occasionally had, in the course of my work, crossed swords with some big names in government. I imagined how such people would react to seeing me.

I telephoned Mr Chepkwony, thanked him for his kind gesture, but told him about my reservations and why I was declining his invitation.

“Look, I have cleared your invitation where it matters. Anybody harassing a guest of the President inside State House would be in for a real firestorm,” he told me with the added assurance that he would place me on a table where I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable or give goose pimples to those I sat with.

“I’ll be coming,” he said.

President Moi played the perfect host on such occasions. He’d be the first to enter the dining room and stand at the end of the long corridor to shake hands and personally welcome every guest. As I approached, I didn’t expect the President to recognise me and was surprised when he said: “Welcome young man, I was told you’re coming.”

“Thank you very much, Sir, for the invitation,” I stammered as I quickly moved on to let him usher in the next guest.

True to his word, the Comptroller had placed me in good company in a table of four. With me were women leader Mrs Zipporah Kittony, Catholic Bishop Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki, and South African High Commissioner to Kenya Griffiths Memela. Typical of diplomats, the South African envoy was pleased to sit with a journalist and immediately we got into a conversation.

But what I dreaded happened at the end of the meal as we followed the President in a procession to the State House gardens.

I came eyeball to eyeball with a prominent Kanu functionary whose path I had crossed sometimes back after publishing a story that he’d been overpaid for goods supplied, and others not supplied, to a State corporation.

He gave me a cold handshake as his face furrowed to make it clear that were the circumstances different he would have used the nearest tree to hang me.

My next one-on-one with President Moi came a few weeks before his exit from State House in December 2002.

He was in an intense campaign to have his handpicked Kanu candidate Uhuru Kenyatta elected to succeed him. But all indications were that the opposition was unstoppable.

One morning, Mr Joseph Kaguthi, a long-serving Moi-era civil servant who is well-known to me, asked for my journalistic perspective on how the Uhuru campaign could be saved, including from a seemingly well-coordinated media onslaught from the opposition.

I replied that perhaps the best thing to do was to pick out specific issues the opposition was using to attack the ruling party’s candidate and counter them with facts and figures.

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“What is making candidate Uhuru an easy punching bag for the opposition?” he asked.

“Well, his age and perception that he is merely a Moi project with only a surname in his quiver!” I replied.

After a pause, he asked whether I could respond to those issues in a campaign booklet. I told him it would be difficult since I was in formal employment and not allowed to publicly identify with any candidate. However, I told him I could partly do the booklet in my private time with the help of a media consultancy owned by a friend.

“That’s fine,” he said. “Drop the outline in my office in the morning.” Hours after he received the outline, he called to ask me to be ready for a meeting with “the principal” at six in the evening the following day. I assumed “the principal” was Mr Kenyatta.

Come the appointed hour, I linked up with Mr Kaguthi at the agreed venue on Nairobi’s Ngong Road. Once inside his car, he said, to my surprise:

“I suppose you know we’re going to meet the President.”

When I told him I assumed “the principal” was the candidate, Mr Kaguthi responded:

“No, I meant the President. He is the chairman of the party (Kanu), so he is the principal. But anyway, you don’t have to worry.”

He assured me that all I needed to do was take President Moi through, “just as you have put it in writing”.

Unlike the State House, Mr Moi’s city private residence, Kabarnet Gardens, is homely and friendly. Except for two uniformed and armed GSU officers at the barrier just off the main road to Kibera slums, I saw no other officer anywhere in the expansive compound.

The only odd thing is that the two-floor building looks more like an office block than a residential house.

We were received at the outer veranda by a person whose face I recognised to be that of the President’s notorious personal assistant Joshua Kulei. I was ushered into one of the many rooms adjacent to the expansive lounge as Mr Kulei and Mr Kaguthi proceeded on the winding corridor.

I was hardly seated when a uniformed chef walked in with food in a tray. The portions in the plate were the “prescriptions” you get from a nutritionist. A piece of ugali-wimbi, the size of a folded-fist, three pieces of red meat — I counted them — a piece of fillet fish, and generous serving of mixed vegetables. For a chaser, there was a jug of hot water, honey and pieces of lemon.

I swept my plate clean and had just poured myself a glass of hot water when the door flung open. In came the President with Mr Kaguthi in tow. He was casually dressed in a flowing shirt, minus the trademark fimbo ya Nyayo.

“Welcome young man,” the President said as he shook my hand and asked me to sit next to him. I had been wondering how to address him when finally ushered into his presence, but his fatherly, disarming presence eroded all that and I found myself addressing him only as “Mzee” which he seemed comfortable with.

He asked me to take him through the outline of the Uhuru campaign booklet I had in mind, and attentively listened as I did so. He liked the idea and asked that I do a sample booklet for him to see.

Without asking me how much it would cost, he pulled a bundle of notes from the pocket of his trousers and handed it to me.

“I am sure that will be enough for the job,” he said.

Within a week, I was ready with the sample booklet. But Mr Kaguthi happened to be out of the country. Because of the urgency of the project, I requested prominent businessman and Kanu politician Stanley Githunguri to get my appointment to take the completed work to the President.

He got it and we were requested to be at State House for a 6.30am the following day. The President was great in keeping time and we were ushered into his office about ten minutes before the appointed time. He was pleased to see the finished work.

“How many do we print and what is your fee?” he asked. I suggested to him we start with 50,000 copies, and showed him the stamped quotation of printing cost from the well-known printers, Colourprint Ltd. To it, I attached invoice on my professional fee, all which was added up to a modest seven figure.

“How much discount do you give me?” he asked. “Your Excellency, I will give 10 per cent on my fee but the printing cost is fixed by the printer.” “All right,” he said and excused himself to the next room. He came back with a briefcase which he handed to me as he said. “Well, I have given you what you asked for and added something small for fuel.”

It occurred to me that the President’s generosity may not all have been to buy political support, but also had to do with something I saw in the generation of my own father who believed that you didn’t visit somebody’s home and leave empty-handed.

On the way from the State House, Mr Stanley Githunguri, who accompanied me remarked: “You must have surprised the President by billing him the exact cost and carrying supporting documents. He is used to dealing with crooks!”

I didn’t tell him this, but even though I am no saint and have no allergy for money, I have always tried my best to obey the eighth Commandment as was taught to me in Sunday school.

Postscript: I still retain as a souvenir the briefcase given to me by the President that day — only that it has never been re-filled and remains empty.

Happy birthday, Mzee Moi!

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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