The soft-spoken and humble man behind the General’s tough face

The no-nonesense Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery was all smiles when met these students of a secondary school named after him. [Photo: file, Standard]

Behind the firm-faced, bully-like general was a humble, loving and dedicated family man.

This is the face of former army Major-General Joseph Kasaine Ole Nkaissery that Kenyans didn’t know as narrated through his wife, his close friends and himself in a rare interview with one of the local dailies and television station after his appointment to the Interior ministry in 2014.

Contrary to his no-nonsense, bare knuckle approach to issues security and politics, the man Hellen knew was a loving husband and father, an elder and cheerful giver.

Unknown side

She opened up on her husband’s unknown side during the interview. “He is a very soft person. A very humble and down to earth man. There is nothing in him to make anyone fear him,” said Hellen.

She left a well-paying job to support him in his demanding political career after his election to Parliament in 2002, a few months after he retired from the military.

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“I am more of a background person and I do a lot to support him. When he went into politics, I realised I had a bigger role to play,” she said.

Growing up in the Maasai community, where he was an elder at the time of his death, only a few were lucky to go to school and all the ‘educated’ members of the community knew each other, he said.

Nkaissery met Hellen, the daughter of a colonial chief, during their secondary school days. They got married in 1981 and have four children, two girls and two boys.

In the interview, Hellen was full of praise for the tough-talking, no-nonsense Cabinet Secretary. She described him as neat, hardworking and strategic, a jovial man who loved cracking jokes.

She said he was a staunch Christian who started his day with prayers followed by a 40-minute exercise. He never missed his workout, no matter how tight his schedule was.

A great supporter of English side Manchester United, Nkaissery shared his love for football with his entire family. Hellen, whom he fondly referred to as “mama”, also supports Manchester United as does one of their son. The girls support Chelsea while their other son supports Arsenal.

Nkaissery served in the military for 29 years, rising to become a Major General before retiring to join politics.

“As a young military officer, he used to travel a lot. Most of the time, I was alone with the children and when they reached school-going age, we decided to stay in Nairobi for his convenience,” Hellen said during the interview with the local daily.

Despite his busy schedule, he spent any opportune moment with his family.

During his stint with the military, Nkaissery defied an order to go back to school after he was forced to cut short his training in India when then Uganda President Iddi Amin chased away Indians.

Efficient and reliable

“I returned home and opted to go back to Kenyatta University to complete my course. The military bosses ordered me to repeat the course, which I had left three months to completion,” Nkaissery said during the interview.

“To repeat a cadet course is the worst thing anywhere in the world. It is very tough, a nightmare to cadet officers. I stood my ground and refused to repeat. I was in the same class with the nephew of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who also refused to go back.”

Their refusal shook the military and they were summoned before the Commander-in-Chief. “Wewe kijana ndiyo naskia umekataa kazi (Are you the one refusing to obey orders),” Nkaissery recalls President Jomo Kenyatta shouting at him.

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He confessed that he cowered before the President and had nothing to say. Words failed him.

“Don’t call me sir, am not a kaburu. I am the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and you must follow orders,” he recalls the President telling him.

At the end of it all, the President gave him two options — to return to the barracks or serve time at Kamiti Prison.

President Kenyatta allowed them to rejoin the training at an advanced stage. He recalled the President singling him out during his passing out parade and telling him he was destined for great things.

Nkaissery believed his leadership skills date back to his time as a cadet, but Hellen said it started during their days in high school.

“When he was in high school, he brought students together to form Matapato Students Association. They saved part of their pocket money and whatever little money they would get to put up a nursery school,” said Hellen.

She noted that some of the schools he started from scratch are Maparasha Primary School and Ilbissil Girls Secondary School, both in Kajiado County.

Nkaissery joined politics out of pressure from the community in 2002, just three months after retiring from the military.

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He only campaigned for three-months, winning the Kajiado Central seat with a landslide. He represented the constituency since his election in 2002 until 2014.

Throughout his time as Interior CS, Nkaissery cut an image of an efficient and reliable worker.

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