Student becomes master: Staff who took on bosses in politics

They made their debut in elective politics by understudying their masters before emerging from the shadow to forge their own destiny.

Having got them to run errands, some menial, a number of their former bosses are yet to come to terms with the new status of their one-time aides.

Today, you will find some of them in Parliament while others are in the counties.

But it is Kipipiri MP Samuel Gichigi and his Bobasi counterpart Stephen Manoti who embody rebellion that has become characteristic of the country’s cut-throat politics.

Mr Gichigi, the chairman of the Aberdares West parliamentary caucus — comprising MPs from Laikipia, Nyandarua and Nakuru counties — stunned many when in 2013 he sent packing Mr Amos Kimunya, a powerful minister in the Kibaki administration.

He had been Mr Kimunya’s campaign manager in the 2007 elections but turned the tables five years later.

Mr Manoti, too, overthrew Kisii Senator Chris Obure who had employed him as his personal assistant first in 1992. He unseated him in 2002 before the senator reclaimed the seat in the subsequent contest in 2007. Their long streak of wins and defeats was ended by the former minister’s choice to go for the Senate seat in the 2013 polls.


In all the cases where such individuals have taken on their former employers, the leaders have termed it an unpardonable degree of betrayal.

“He (Mr Obure) felt bad about it. He thought I had betrayed him but the bad blood did not last long. He retreated to his businesses immediately after that,” Mr Manoti told the Nation. He said they are the best of friends now.

For most of this group of politicians like Mr Gichigi, who was not available for comment, the subject had better be left alone as they do not want to be reminded of how they begun.

Another sitting MP, told the Nation off the record that the plot to turn ones political guns on the boss must be meticulously undertaken lest one goes down with it.

Most of them seem to be good students of Robert Greene who in his title The 48 Laws of Power says in such an undertaking, one must deploy “decoyed objects of desire and red herrings to throw their masters off scent”.

It must not be known that they are interested in overthrowing the prince until it is the right time to deal a lethal blow. It is akin to the model of apprenticeship but where learners end up upstaging their teachers.


With Deputy President William Ruto’s legal advisor Korir Sing’oei, the Secretary for Youth Affairs Nixon Korir, and the director of communications Emmanuel Tala – all his personal assistants throwing their hats in the ring, it appears the DP could produce more of such students in the 2017 elections than any other politician.

While Dr Sing’oei is gunning for the Kwanza parliamentary seat, Mr Korir wants to be Lang’ata MP and Mr Talam is seeking to oust the outspoken Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter-all angling for Jubilee party tickets. “I have leant a lot from him. I admire his brand of politics and that’s my motivation to go out and empower the people,” Mr Talam says of his boss.

History is replete with cases of individuals who began as aides to politicians and used it as a springboard to elective politics. Lawrence Sagini from Kisii was perhaps one of the first casualties of such “betrayal”.

When Dr Zachary Onyonka came from the US where he had gone to study, Mr Sagini, the MP for Kitutu West, took him around the constituency, boasting to the people how the region’s profile had risen overnight now that from among them came a PhD holder in what turned out to have been direct endorsement for the young scholar.

Dr Onyonka would later ride on this goodwill to take on the minister and floored him in the 1969 polls. Taking cue from some of these cases, some politicians have been very cagey with their assistants to avoid being deeply embedded in their camps.

But the stark reality is that a politician must somehow entrust strategic information with their lieutenants.

Deputy minority leader in the National Assembly Jakoyo Midiwo thinks it would be imprudent for politicians to suppress their staff’s ambitions. “I see a personal assistant’s job as transitional to becoming a lawmaker or other elective slots. How else will we develop talent? You can only counsel them as a father or mother figure if you feel they are making a grave mistake particular on judgement — one that could end up being counter-productive,” he said.

The Gem MP added that the category of employees have the advantage of prior knowledge about the job which they acquire from their superiors.


Prof Ben Sihanya, a political analyst, said those who end up challenging their bosses often times know the weaknesses. Or are just being opportunistic. “In most cases, they are the custodians of databases, strategies and implementers of the same,” he said.

While it is a breach of trust, Prof Sihanya said there was nothing to stop aspirants keen on upstaging their bosses. “Non-compete agreements or contract in restraint of trade do not apply in politics,” he said.

He predicted that more of such cases are bound to be witnessed as elective positions become more lucrative.

There is yet another set of politicians who do not take on their “masters” but instead use their closeness as a springboard to charter their political paths.

Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong was, for instance, Cord leader Raila Odinga’s personal assistant just like the Speaker of Embu County assembly Kariuki Mate was President Uhuru Kenyatta’s aide.

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i got his first practical training in public life working for the former powerful minister Simeon Nyachae while the solicitor-general Njee Muturi was Mr Kenyatta’s assistant.


It is a well-trodden pathway. Siaya Senator James Orengo rose to prominence by being an aide to the doyen of opposition politics Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and the former Webuye MP Musikari Kombo was under the tutelage of the late influential lawmaker from Kitale Masinde Muliro.

Jaramogi fondly referred to Mr Orengo as his “right hand man”, something the senator explained in a past interview. “Whenever he wanted something written down I would help. And he reciprocated.”

And there are those who rose from lower rungs. Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi is said to have at one point driven controversial businessman Don Bosco Gichana. Nominated MP and former TNA party chairman Johnson Sakaja was a personal assistant to Mr Patrick Ngatia, who was a director for Vijana Na Kibaki lobby. He would later become Mr Kenyatta’s aide.

“Serving under him moulded me into what I am today. I learnt how to manage my time and make good judgement of character from him,” said Mr Sakaja.

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