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Questions that remain unanswered five years after Saitoti’s death

Thirteen days before he met his death in a fatal helicopter crash, Internal Security minister Prof George Saitoti presided over the official launch of his party’s website in Naivasha, in one of the pointed steps towards his resolve to become Kenya’s fourth President.

Prof Saitoti, also a former vice-president, had also signed a pre-election agreement with Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. Details of the pacts remain a guarded secret to date.

Former vice-president Moody Awori, who worked very closely with him, remembers the professor of mathematics as “a very decent and highly principled man”.

Mr Awori describes the former Kajiado North MP as a man “whom you could fully rely on his word”. The import of this is that had he lived, he would have accordingly honoured his political pledges.

The organising secretary of Saitoti’s Party of National Union (PNU) Maina Kamanda, hinted after the former VP’s burial that the signed deal was about Saitoti’s quest for presidency.

Having taken the leadership of President Mwai Kibaki’s 2007 re-election vehicle, PNU, Prof Saitoti was firmly in control of Kibaki’s succession.

He faced some competition, though, from Mr Kenyatta, the Kanu chairman, and Kalonzo of ODM-K, all who wanted to inherit Kibaki’s political constituency to face off with then Prime Minister Raila Odinga of ODM.

But this was not to be as Prof Saitoti and his assistant minister Orwa Ojode died in a helicopter crash on June 10, 2012. Two pilots and two bodyguards also died.

As Kenyans mark the fifth anniversary of his death, the one question that lingers on in the minds of some is: would Saitoti have become Kenya’s fourth President had he lived?

THERE COMES A TIME…

Indeed so much has happened since Kenya’s longest serving vice-president exited from the scene and it is probably impossible to predict how Kenya’s fluid political scene would have changed.

Nonetheless, would he have remained loyal to President Kibaki to succeed him in 2013? And what would have become of the political fortunes of other key political figures at the time?

Would Mr Kenyatta or Mr Kalonzo have eclipsed him to succeed Mr Kibaki? And what would be Deputy President William Ruto’s position in Kenya’s politics today?

“Owing to the fluidity of Kenyan politics, it is not easy to say precisely what would have become of his political fortunes.

Nonetheless had he lived, he would certainly be in the country’s top political leadership today,” says Mr Awori, the former Funyula MP.

Jimmy Wanjigi, a close business associate of the late minister and one of his strategic advisers, remembers Prof Saitoti’s famous refrain during a Kanu delegates conference just before the 2002 general election thus; “There comes a time when the country is bigger than any one of us.”

“Kenya was truly robbed of a most gallant son of our soil. George’s brilliance, intellect and wisdom would have been priceless today.

At this election period on our country, let us all remember George as one who stood above tribe, above class and above self during his call to duty,”  said Mr Wanjigi.

The man who succeeded Prof Saitoti in Kajiado North following his death, Moses Sakuda revealed how the late Minister confided in him that he would not seek re-election come 2013.

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

Mr Sakuda had challenged Prof Saitoti for the parliamentary seat in 2007 but lost controversially.

“A year to the accident, he called me and we had a lengthy meeting. He told me that he would not be seeking the Kajiado North seat again and I was free to start my campaigns. He also told me I would be his presidential campaign manager. He had set aside Sh19 billion of his own as a start. Were it not for the accident, or whatever you call it, Saitoti would be the president of this country today,” recalls Sakuda.

Nairobi County Speaker Alex Ole Magelo had spoken to Saitoti barely 25 minutes before the crash occurred. He says it took him two years to overcome the grief.

“There is no doubt he would be the president today. He had no political enemies. He had even forgiven Moi and his people after mistreating him. Moi appointed Saitoti using very foul language in 1999 and then unceremoniously sacked him in 2002,” he said.

Noting that the Internal Security minister was already committed to getting power, Prof Macharia Munene predicts competition in the Kibaki corner would have been the “mother of all battles” given that Prof Saitoti had amassed a war chest and would not have been ready to sacrifice his ambition having done so in favour of Mr Kibaki in 2002.

Prof Amukowa Anangwe, a political science lecturer at University of Dodoma, is certain Prof Saitoti would have become President in 2013 — pointing to his wealth, power and network built as Internal Security minister and previously as vice-president.

“Had he lived, probably Uhuru Kenyatta would not have become the President of Kenya,” says Prof Anangwe.

“It is true that Saitoti was the man to beat in the Kibaki wing and that also explains why the Uhuru candidature came in late,” said Prof Munene.