Much is being said and written about John Michuki with his passing this week. The best I have read so far is here from Charles Onyango-Obbo: “Michuki was the bad guys’ good guy, and he was not afraid to take action.”
To some, Michuki gets some real credit for the fact that Kenya’s economy isn’t worse (Ken Opalo’s blog: “Michuki was among the group of super-wealthy conservative elites who at independence took over power and managed to quiet the more radical elements of the independence movement. Under their watch Kenya emerged as a capitalist enclave even as its many neighbors flirted with communism and African Socialism, with disastrous consequences.”) I am not an enthusiast of that view. My perspective would be to say that perhaps a bit of credit is due, in the sense that Kenya could certainly have done worse, but it could also be said that Michuki and his cronies helped assure the triumph of neo-colonialism over a robust national market economy, helped assure the growth of tribalism over the development of national identity and more generally stymied the opportunity for a competitive democratic system and political liberty. As far as the economy, lets not forget that State ownership has been a big presence in Kenya’s economy even if less than in some others. Likewise, privatization remains a highly politicized and extremely opaque process that seems to tie to the funding of election campaigns rather than to “technocratic” considerations (witness “Mobiltelea” and the Safaricom deal rushed through at the end of 2007 and unaddressed since). In other words, to me not going Communist/Socialist is not nearly enough to justify the costs imposed on Kenyans by KANU and its successor as served, with effectiveness, by Hon. Michuki. By any account, the Cold War has been over for a long time.
I did not meet Hon. Michuki and I do recognize that he was an accomplished man with friends beyond his politics and I appreciate that his command of “the Michuki Rules” was missed on the roads and highways during my time in Kenya in 2007 and 2008. At the same time, the Standard raid cast a shadow over the Kenyan election campaign when I arrived in mid-2007 and he was the identified proponent of the raid (I give him his due for the courage to “own” the raid, when others, including the President were relatively speaking “shrinking violets,” but the conduct was indefensible). LIkewise, Michuki was the Minister of Internal Security when the country became insecure with the election crisis and the security forces protected Uhuru Park instead of the public, and he issued the order banning live broadcasting. I respected his abilities, but I wished that he had stuck to his positive strengths when I was working to assist Kenyans in their democratic processes.
Most recently, Michuki has been Environment Minister and will be remembered in this last role for spurring the cleanup of the Nairobi River–certainly a task of government for the “common good”. Here is a clip from NTV covering his recognition at a UN environment meeting he would have hosted: