Who is John “Kimeendero” Michuki?

From Colonial Administrator to corrupt Minister in Kibaki’s Kenya

Michuki masterminded raid on the East African Standard

He is also known as “The Rattle Snake.” His Kikuyu nickname, Kimeendero[89] means, “the one who crushes” and can, according to Raila Odinga,[90] be traced back to his days in the Colonial administration where he worked as a District Officer. Michuki acquired his “rattle-snake” nickname after police raided the offices of The East African Standard Newspaper, burnt copies of the paper that were destined for distribution, shut down KTN TV station and made away with computer hard disks among other equipment. The paper came under attack after it reported an alleged secret meeting between Kalonzo Musyoka, then an ODM-Kenya Presidential aspirant, and President Mwai Kibaki at State House Nairobi.[91] After Michuki admitted that the government was behind the commando style raid, he told Journalists that, “When you rattle a snake, you must be ready to be bitten by it.”[92] The Kiruki report about the Artur brothers who commanded the raid accused Michuki “…of supporting and condoning illegal activities of the Arturs. It recommends his prosecution and ban from holding public office.”[93] In the past, Michuki has had to deny charges that he was against the Mau Mau freedom fighters[94] during the anti-colonial war for liberation when he was employed to serve his British colonial masters.

Among the fat cats who surrounded Kibaki, Michuki was initially not a key policymaker but later Kibaki had reason to listen to him after he displayed unmatched ruthlessness in dealing with Matatu operators across the country.[95] Just like Kibaki, Michuki worked with Moi in KANU then moved to Ford-People following the dawn of the Multi-party era but when it became clear that Simon Nyachae’s Ford- People (which he was a member of ) was heading into a ditch, Michuki jumped ship and joined Kibaki in NAK. However, he remains an old buddy of Kibaki who did not come into contact with the President for the first time after he left Ford-People.

Once he got the NARC nomination in the run up to the December 2002 election, Michuki surprised Kenyans when one of his agents openly began to bribe the youth with money as part of Michuki’s election campaigns. In November 2002 at Iyego location, Michuki rebuked a group of youth who threw back a wad of Ksh50 bank notes back to an agent who was distributing the money. According to the youths, the Ksh50 “was an insult.” Upset that the youths were rejecting cash handouts, Michuki called their attention. According to one media report, “Former Kangema MP John Michuki, however, rebuked them by telling them that they were not mercenaries for hire and should take whatever was available.”[96] When the emissary who had been rebuffed fled to Michuki’s house, amid hot pursuit, The Daily Nation wrote that Michuki came out and gave the youths an additional Ksh50 each[97] thereby calming them down. After the 2002 elections, a report by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission claimed that Michuki was seen bribing voters in a by-election in full view of police.[98] Whether this amounted to vote buying or influence peddling is unimportant because Michuki was never charged. What is known is that Michuki is an old-timer who understands the money games in Kenyan politics and whose links with Kibaki dates back to the 60s when Kibaki was Assistant Minister of Economic Planning. In 1965, Michuki was appointed the first African Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and when Kibaki moved to the Finance Ministry in 1969, he worked with Michuki. It was after this connection that Michuki was appointed the Chief Executive of the Kenya Commercial Bank where he worked under Kibaki for nine years before plunging into elective politics.

Turbulent background

Kibaki was rounding up his fourth form at the colonial Mangu High School[99] when Michuki joined, and unlike other rich friends of Kibaki, the two are old buddies who did not bump into each other at Muthaiga golf course. Secondly, Michuki was the first African DC in Nyeri, Kibaki’s hometown, so he has been playing a huge leadership role in Kibaki’s very backyard. Another common Kibaki- Michuki denominator is that before Michuki joined Mangu High School[100] in 1951 where Kibaki was already a prefect, the “Rattle Snake” studied at Nyeri High School, which was also located at Kibaki’s home ground. It is from Nyeri where Michuki relocated his studies to Mugoiri Boys Secondary School,[101] which, unlike Nyeri, was a day school so he could commute between Chief Ignatius Murai’s home where he took refuge when life became difficult and Mugoiri Boys. Chief Murai was a personal friend of Michuki’s late father and he had no difficulty accepting to adopt the young Michuki.

When he joined Kibaki’s fat cats after NARC seized power in 2002, Michuki’s turbulent background may have had something to do with his “no-nonsense” position, especially during times of dispute regardless of whether the subject of dispute was a political entity like LDP or a blood relation. Michuki’s nephew Priest, Mr Bernard Njuru Mugo, knows better because he once found himself in court after he constructed a church next to Michuki’s land in Kangema.[102]

The ruthlessness and “tough attitude” of Michuki could also be linked to his tough life as a toddler and conflicting childhood experiences that he could have been trying to reconcile when he was Minister of Internal Security. A brief sampling of Michuki’s tribulations as a child could help deepen understanding of the rattle snake: For one, his peasant mother, Maryana Wanjiku, could not afford his school fees of fifty cents per month; Michuki had to trek from Kangema to Ngumberi to pick coffee at Cianda estate for ten cents per day to save money to finance his primary education; He dropped in and out of school when money ran out and worked as a tailor employed by an Asian in Nairobi to sew buttonholes in army uniforms where he was paid a shilling per dozen uniforms[103] done. His father, Chief Michuki wa Kagwi, who had forty-three women[104] and several children, passed away when Michuki was only eight-years-old and throughout his childhood, he had to struggle alongside his hard-working mother[105] who was determined to beat the odds. Still trying to deal with the tragic loss of his father, Michuki began life from humble beginnings by joining Primary school where he reportedly used to attend class without shoes.

Despite the rough and tumble of life, Michuki did make it to Worcester College in Oxford to study Administration between 1970 and 1979. Michuki is one of the pioneer Kikuyu nationalists who took a break during his studies to set up GEMA,[106] an ethnic outfit that sought to amend the Kenyan Constitution to block former dictator Daniel arap Moi from succeeding Kenyatta in the event of Kenyatta’s death. He set up GEMA together with Njenga Karume,[107] another Kikuyu die-hard who has been working hard apparently to pursue “Kikuyu interests” in Kenya’s political establishment.

When Karume switched sides in 2002 elections to support KANU against Kibaki, thinking that Moi’s Uhuru Project could succeed to enable Kenyatta to take over Kenya’s Presidency, he had to depend on his old friend Michuki to find his way back to Kibaki’s circle of rich friends when the Uhuru Project collapsed and Kibaki seized power with the help of Raila Odinga. When Karume began to make his ways back to Kibaki, Raila was already at loggerheads with Kibaki because of the MoU, which Kibaki refused to honour since doing so could have sabotaged the Mount Kenya Mafia agenda that took over the leadership of Kenya through the back door led by top fat cats under the umbrella of DP’s “Council of Elders.” As he tried to search for serious political direction after Kenyatta died in his sleep in Mombasa, enabling Moi to begin entrenching himself in power, Michuki soon discovered that rubbing shoulders with GEMA ideas wasn’t so progressive at a time when he was not even a Member of Parliament. The situation worsened when he found himself in court charged together with Karume for failing to file returns for GEMA in the 70s. From then on, he cooled down his GEMA profile as he maintained his membership in KANU to search for new fortunes. The GEMA project was derailed because Moi was in power and the emergent cartel that came to surround Moi was hostile to GEMA forces, an organization that was seen to be anti-KANU. Michuki simply took his cue.

Land grabbing at Karura forest

When the “Rattle Snake” came back from studies in Oxford, he was already a political animal. He had so much confidence in his ability to dethrone Mr. Joseph Kamotho from his Kangema Parliamentary seat that he gathered the courage to make a debut in Parliamentary politics but failed because Kamotho beat him at the polls. He never gave up. In the 1983 snap elections, Michuki was at it again albeit under different circumstances. Kamotho had been tainted with the “Njonjo affair” and Michuki took advantage of Kamotho’s tribulations and diminishing popularity to capture the Kangema seat for the first time and enter Parliament — but that was then.

The Michuki who linked up with Kibaki after the December 2002 election was a new Michuki who had gone through a complete economic metamorphosis, in the process, transforming himself from wannabe GEMA supremo to become one of the “fat cats” who had a pivotal role in the running of the Kibaki government. He had acquired wealth or made enough money to enable him set up the exclusive Victorian-style Windsor Golf Club in Nairobi while he had (in his growing business empire) the Country Club also situated near the city centre. According to former Cabinet minister Francis Lotodo, the Windsor Golf Club was illegally allocated land at Karura forest together with the Belgian Embassy,[108] an issue that disturbed Lotodo because no one was talking about it. The grabbing of Karura forest was big news in Kenya, which prompted environmentalist Wangari Maathai to begin a campaign to save the forest. Michuki’s enemies have been accusing him (rightfully or wrongfully) of all sorts of misdeeds. In May 1999, Joseph Kamotho accused Michuki of having bought all tea seedlings in Muranga so as to ensure that other farmers did not plant tea.[109]

When NARC seized power, Michuki was not regarded as a critical member of Kibaki’s “inner circle” although he was one of the first Kibaki supporters to emerge in public with information that the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru (GEMA) communities had decided that they would support Mwai Kibaki as Presidential candidate in the December 2002 elections following a meeting of 40 GEMA MPs.[110] After the 2002 elections, Michuki worked his way meticulously using old links with the President and close contacts who had Kibaki’s ear. When Kibaki set up his Cabinet in January 2003, Michuki was handed over the Ministry of Transport and Communication (a distant Ministry) because he did not have the credentials necessary to get him a post within the Office of the President where the majority of the President’s trusted friends from DP were nestling. However, he remained a staunch Kibaki supporter and an opponent of the delivery of the Bomas draft of the Constitution because of his opposition to the creation of two centres of power.[111] At a public meeting, Michuki told his listeners that they should not worry about certain sections of the Constitutions, which Kenyans thought should be changed because political conditions that led to the proposals no longer existed since Kibaki was now in power.[112] He was suggesting that Kenyans should forget about the creation of the post of Prime Minister because Kibaki’s rule was fine. Michuki said that the Bomas draft of the Constitution “was drafted with Moi in mind” and since the former dictator was no more, the Constitutional talks had lost meaning.[113] Despite having been left out of the Office of President, Michuki’s luck was on the way. The ruthlessness with which he handled the marauding Matatu operators in the streets especially in Nairobi, together with his controversial policy of compulsory seatbelts[114] and speed governors for Matatus earned him accolades within Kibaki’s hawk-eyed cronies. After bamboozling Matatu operators with new rules to be implemented at short notice, Michuki was moved in to the Internal Security docket, hopefully to control crime that had spiraled across the country as idle unemployed youths sought food to eat in the absence of welfare.

Seat belts scandal

It did not take long before the “seatbelts and speed governor” rules drew eyebrows in Parliament. Macharia Mukiri, MP for Molo, demanded a Ministerial statement from Michuki “to clarify why the seatbelts and speed governors arrived at the port shortly after he gazetted new rules requiring that Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) be fitted with the gadgets.”[115] Mukiri also wanted to know why the containers used in importing the gadgets were marked as ordinary cargo and why the Kenya Revenue Authority could not ascertain their owner.

Once the issue of the seatbelts blew up in the open, the four 20-foot containers with the gadgets disappeared from Mombasa port although they were later tracked down by the media on their way to Nairobi after they were cleared in two batches. According to a report carried in The Standard, the seatbelts were imported from the UK in August 2002. The first batch of two containers aboard MV Float Bek were cleared by KenFreight forwarders, container number MAEU 6713984 aboard MV Ottensen was cleared by Mast Investment while the final consignment (container number GASU 2173078) was cleared by Saheh clearing agency.[116] When pressed by the media, Container Terminal Manager Mr. Julius Alusa did not have further details.

That is when the mystery around the speed governors also emerged. The speed governors were imported in 1995 by Kamsons Limited when the idea of speed governors first came up. The interesting aspect of this importation is that Kamsons Limited was owned by none other than Deepak Chimunlal Kamani[117] who was at the centre of the mega Anglo-Leasing scandal that nearly led to the collapse of the Kibaki government. Conspiracy theorists wondered why specifications of speed governors recommended by the government fitted those that were imported into the country a long time ago. Matatu Owners Vehicle Association was convinced that Michuki had been holding consultations with Deepak Kamani and Dickson Mbugua (regarded as a sell-out by Matatu owners) in a hotel in Nyeri.[118] If these allegations were true, then they could throw some light into the underhand dealings of Minister Michuki. Be that as it may, the new rules ignited Matatu owners to threaten strike actions as Samson Kiamati, Chairman of Matatu Owners Association, called on Kibaki to sack Michuki from the Transport Ministry because he was “an arrogant and ivory tower”[119] leader whose agenda, Kiamati claimed, was to plunge the industry into chaos.

There was no investigation by the government despite the serious allegations and the seatbelt rule was implemented to the letter. Michuki was not new to controversy. In November 2003, he was summoned to appear before the Public Investment Committee together with Professor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o and Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Industry Minister, in connection with a cranes contract worth Ksh1.5 billion for Mombasa port. The three had allegedly postponed the tender twice to allow for Numerical Machining Complex, a parastatal, to place their bids[120] although the rules barred ministers from interfering with the tendering process. The critical problem for critics such as MP Otieno Kajwang’ was that the postponement may have been linked to shady deals with Michuki having been accused of fronting for another unnamed company.[121] According to a report published in The Nation Newspaper, “Mr Kajwang’ said Prof. Nyong’o and Dr. Kituyi had sought an extension of the tender to allow Numerical to put in their tender, while Mr. Michuki had allegedly acted in the interests of one of the companies” [122] believed to have been the Nairobi-based Triton Solutions whose Managing Director was Mr. Raj Devani.[123] When the PIC submitted its report, it ruled that “…Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi and Mr John Michuki interfered with KPA tendering process, contrary to government procedure.[124]” The scandal deepened even further when Mr. G.O Magore, Chairman of Numerical Machining Complex that was allegedly behind the Ksh1.5 billion bid, disowned the bid, saying that the Complex had not entered into any joint ventures with Industrial Plant (K) Limited[125]that was allegedly neck deep in the scandal. The bid was later quashed by the government amid calls that Michuki and other Ministers who were involved resign or face the sack. However, nothing happened.

The ink had not dried when Michuki got into new controversy, this time involving his son Francis Michuki. The problem was that Michuki had directed Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) to lift a waiver for Siemens Atea (in which Michuki’s son was an agent) requiring a 30 percent local shareholding for telecommunication companies that wanted to operate in Kenya.[126] CCK had previously turned down requests by the company for the waiver and when Michuki overturned the CCK decision in a case that involved his son, critics saw a clash of interests in the case, putting Michuki under fire. According to Mutahi Ngunyi, who wrote an Opinion piece in The Nation Newspaper, Michuki was engaging in corruption in relation to both the cranes tender and the waiver saga of Siemens Atea in which his son was involved[127] even though Michuki denied wrongdoing. Then there was the case when Ntonyiri MP Maoka Maore demanded explanations in Parliament as to why Minister Michuki had travelled to China and allegedly met Huawei Company management as a tender related to the firm was pending before him.[128] At the time of the trip, Maoka Maore was unsure whether the tender had been opened or not while it was also not clear why Telcom bosses visited Huawei Company before the tender was awarded.[129]

Other scandals that followed Michuki after he became Cabinet Minister simply disappeared into thin air without proper explanations, probably because of the influence he wielded in government. For example, the “Government’s Property Investigation Committee” reported that along with other Cabinet Ministers like Prof George Saitoti, Michuki had acquired a government house in Nairobi’s Upper Hill on Menengai Road, demolished it and developed a block of maisonettes while the Committee also found that in 1969, Michuki acquired a government house that was the residence of Kangema District Officer in Kangema township, Michuki’s Constituency.[130] No action was taken on the reports.

Michuki had earlier been named in Parliament by MP Orwa Ojode as the Minister who demanded US$3 million from Artur Margryan and his brother Artur Sargsyan (drug peddlers) as “protection fee.”[131] In another development, the April 20, 2007, edition of The East African Standard reported that Michuki was the Minister whose name featured in an alleged plot “…to kidnap and possibly assassinate Baringo Central MP Mr. Gideon Moi.”

Crime had reached an alarming level in Kenya, ranging from car jackings and armed robberies to bank heists and highway robberies. It is at this time that the cabal around Kibaki decided to bring Michuki in to be in charge of internal security to save the government’s image that was going down the drain with each and every media report about crime. One of the first drastic measures Michuki took was to order police to “shoot to kill” anybody found carrying firearms,[132] a call that drew outrage from religious groups, civil society and politicians alike who were all getting concerned that Michuki was driving Kenya back to the days of the Moi dictatorship.

Michuki lived up to expectation because when the election was rigged, he was in charge of internal security, which was responsible for security forces that killed hundreds of Kenyan protestors in the streets. When the rigging became public knowledge, Michuki slapped a ban on live reporting by Kenyan media “for security reasons” as the new Kibaki administration, which had been sworn in after Raila Odinga’s Presidency was stolen, began to systematically convert Kenya into a police State.

Raila Odinga’s Stolen Presidency (p 68-75) By Okoth Osewe


[89] Joe Ombuor: “Michuki: From ‘Kimendeero’ to Security Minister” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 21.05.2006

[90] Ben Agina: “Charge Michuki With Treason, MPs Demand” – The East African Standard (Nairobi)12.072006

[91] “Riddle Over Story Source Triggers a Political Crisis Like No Other” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 03.03.2006

[92] “State Owns Up to Raid” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 02.03.2006

[93] “Top Names That Should Be Probed for Their Role in Saga” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 28.09.2007

[94] Abiya Ochola: “I Wasn’t Against Mau Mau, Says Michuki” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 24.10.2007

[95] Muriithi Muriuki: “Michuki: I’ll Not Budge On ‘Matatus’ – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 30.01.2004

[96] Antony Kariga: “Youths Turn Down Cash Handout” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 15.11.2002

[97] Antony Kariga: “Youths Turn Down Cash Handout” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 15.11.2002

[98] Alex Ndegwa: “KNCHR Releases Bribery List Implicating Ministers” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 05.11.2006

[99] Joe Ombuor: “Michuki: From ‘Kimendeero’ to Security Minister” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 21.05.2006

[101] Joe Ombuor: “Michuki: From ‘Kimendeero’ to Security Minister” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 21.05.2006

[102] “Court adjourns Popat case” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 31.10.1998

[103] Joe Ombuor: “Michuki: From ‘Kimendeero’ to Security Minister” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 21.05.2006

[104] Joe Ombuor: “Michuki: From ‘Kimendeero’ to Security Minister” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 21.05.2006

[105] Joe Ombuor: “Michuki: From ‘Kimendeero’ to Security Minister” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 21.05.2006

[106] Gordon Opiyo: “Ties That Bind And Blind Kibaki Government” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 11.12.2005

[107] Gordon Opiyo: “Ties That Bind And Blind Kibaki Government” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 11.12.2005

[108] Njeri Rugene: “I’ll Never Revoke Karura Allocations’ – Lotodo´” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 11.12.1998

[109] Muthui Mwai and Macharia Wa Mwati: “Kibaki A Paper Tiger – Kamotho” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 30.05.1999

[110] “Kibaki Our Man, Say Gema MPs” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 07.02.2001

[111] Maina Muiruri: “LDP, NARC Battle Takes Centre Stage At Bomas” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 14.09.2003

[112] Macharia Gaitho: “Michuki’s Goof Highly Disturbing” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 16.09.2003

[113] Fred Oluoch: “Does Kibaki Have the Will for a New Dispensation?” – The East African (Nairobi), 22.09.2003

[114] “Seatbelts for ‘Matatus’ in Safety Crackdown” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 08.10.2003

[115] “House Demands to Know Seatbelt Owners” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 16.10.2003

[116] Willis Okech: “Seat Belts Leave Port for Nairobi” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 03.2003

[117] Otsieno Namwaya: “What You Did Not Know” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 03.11.2003

[118] Otsieno Namwaya: “What You Did Not Know” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 03.11.2003

[119] Bernard Namunane: “Kibaki Urged to Sack Transport Minister Michuki” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 22.10.2003

[120] David Okwembah: “Three Ministers Face Grilling Over Contract” – The Daily Nation, 08.11.2003

[121] Ben Agina: “Ministers Challenged On Kenya Ports Authority Tender Saga” – The East African Standard, 08.11.2003

[122] David Okwembah: “Three Ministers Face Grilling Over Contract” – The Daily Nation, 08.11.2003

[123] “Public Investments Committee Questions Michuki for 90 Minutes Over Tender” – The Daily Nation, 18.11.2003

[124] Joseph Murimi: “How State Firms Lost Billions in Bogus Deals” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 11.11.2004

[125] David Okwembah “Firm Disowns KP Tender Bid; Three Ministers Summoned By Public Investments Committee” – The Daily Nation, 11.11.2003

[126] Mwenda Njoka “Query As Michuki Clears Son’s Firm” – The Daily Nation, 15.11.2003

[127] Mutahi Ngunyi “Sacrifices the President May Have to Make” – The Daily Nation, 16.11.2003

[128] “Claim of Michuki Trip to China Stuns House” – The Daily Nation, 23.07.2004

[129] “Claim of Michuki Trip to China Stuns House” – The Daily Nation, 23.07.2004

[130] Patrick Mathangani: “Ministers Saitoti, Michuki May Face Cabinet Probe” – The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 28.09.2003

[131] Alex Ndegwa And Peter Murigi: “MP Claims Security Minister Demanded $3 Million From Arturs” – The East African Standard, 20.04.2007

[132] Cyrus Ombati: “Security Minister Issues Shoot-to-Kill Order” – The East African Standard (Nairobi), 22.03.2005

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7 comments

  • Well written. It would be interesting to read a good critique about “Who is Raila” in the same critical way as you do to the other guys. Otherwise sampippo might think you are biased.

    KSB: This is an excerpt from the book “Stolen Presidency” which also covers Raila Odinga. The part about Raila is much longer than what you have seen here while analysis of the man and his politics runs throughout the book.

  • Michuki is a Hague candidate highly suspected to be on Ocampo’s list for serious atrocities ranging from the extra-judicial killings, to innocent deaths during the PEV.

  • Michuki is the most famous rigging mastermind in Kenya. Known for his ‘rattlesnake’ temper, he has a tongue that dates back from colonial administration and is the shadow president of Kenya. Look at his eyes, cunning and foxy. He is the power-behind-the-throne.

  • Now that he’s dead and where some of my younger EAK contacts on FB & Twitter express their feelings for the man “who invented the seat belt” in EAK (sic!), another rhetoric question could probably also be why someone at the age of 80 still needed to occupy a ministry seat whereas the country is full of qualified academics who could do a better job. But then again, I take it that it’s just this “African chief”-thing where they prefer dying in action, this hippo generation. Imo, all of the “colonial” discipline that brought them up and in business was in vain if they miss that wisdom to retire when it’s about time.

  • WoW!!!!….I was just searching up info about this guy now that he is dead….This guy walked barefeet to class and ended up owning Windsor…..This article was supposed to vilify this guy but I ended up admiring him…i mean…How many “Evil” politicians end up with something like Windsor…..I should join Strategic Politics.

  • Francis Mathangani

    You did your homework well, I must say i am impressed. Looking forward to more from you.

  • Pingback: Once Again, a Ban on Matatus in the Nairobi City Center Has Failed – SmartCities.org

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