Kenya’s longest serving spy chief James Kanyotu is dead. He died last night at Nairobi Hospital where he had been rushed for treatment. It has still not been revealed to the press what he was suffering from. He was 76.
Kanyotu led the infamously cruel Special Branch from 1965 to 1991. Interestingly circumstances surrounding his dismissal by Moi in 1991 are worth noting here. It is said that shortly after then Health Minister in the Moi government, Mwai Kibaki announced his resignation from government in Mombasa on Christmas day 1991, then president Moi called Kanyotu and angrily asked him why he had not been made aware that Kibaki was resigning from his cabinet to form a political party. Kanyotu replied politely that he was not aware. Moi asked him angrily what he would do if he fired him. Kanyotu politely replied that that was the prerogative of the president. And that’s how Kanyotu left.
It is widely believed that Moi thought at the time that Kanyotu had held back the information from him deliberately because he came from the same tribe as Kibaki. Those who know Kanyotu say that he was too professional for that and are still very surprised that the man ever got involved in Goldenberg.
Moi seems to have had a phobia concerning Kibaki’s perceived political clout and during the first multi party elections that followed shortly in 1992, efforts were made to dig up all the dirt that could be found about Kibaki. That is when the infamous Mugumo tree quote first emerged. Moi’s think tank spent a fortune carrying ads giving negative “facts” about Kibaki. However it was soon clear that Moi had nothing to fear because Kenneth Matiba who ended up second, trounced Kibaki in those first elections and for a time Muranga Kikuyus were angry at Kibaki because he had denied their man the presidency by splitting the Kikuyu vote. Combining Matiba’s votes that year with those of Kibaki would have given Matiba a clear win.
Back to Kanyotu. The man made a remarkable recovery in terms of favor from Moi and the establishment and ended up being one of the main suspects of the Goldenberg scandal. He was in fact a director of the Kamlesh (Paul) Pattni’s Goldenberg International. This was hardly surprising because a man with the volume of information and secrets on the country that Kanyotu had was naturally a very dangerous man outside government.
In fact Kanyotu has taken with him to the grave many secrets that may have helped Kenyans understand the country better and prepare for the healing process that must follow soon if this nation is to be saved.
P.S. The Special Branch metamorphosed into today’s NSIS (National Security Intelligence Services) that was built up almost single handedly by President Moi’s former aide de camp, Maj Boinett. He moved quickly to get rid of most of the torture experts who had been used on proponents of democracy and who had been involved in some very nasty business getting rid of President Kenyatta and President Moi’s perceived political threats.
Interestingly the current NSIS is again at a cross roads after being misused by President Kibaki and the hardliners in his government to supply intelligence information that was obviously used to rig the December 29th polls. It is clear that NSIS needs to be reformed once again to stop future president’s using the important national institution for their own personal and selfish political interests.