Politics

Mlevi wa Taifa: How Kenyan Presidents… staggered at State House!

Is there anything wrong when the Head of State ‘thanks his body’ with excessive drinking?

Commander-in-Drinks: President Uhuru and his Old Guy, founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. One of them was a moderate drinker, built the economy…the other one Jeso Kristo!

By Mbatia wa Njambi

Visiting Thinker

Uhuru Konyagi. Jameson Wanjohi. Lawson Wamashati. Kinyua. Drunken Master. Commander-in-Drinks. These are the counter of nicknames Kenyans have tagged President Uhuru Kenyatta on social media. They are all related to his drinking habits now rather too obvious for his handlers to shield. Jameson is a blended whiskey while Wanjohi is fleshed from njohi, Kikuyu for alcohol. Kinyua means a drinker and Uhuru is a survivor of many “a well-fought bottle.” 

And Uhuru’s looks are telling: Puffy cheeks. The kind you spot among drinkers of makali who when roast meat comes, only pick a few ribs before continuing to bend elbows. Let us skip the gunshot eyes. His hair has turned more grey. He needs to keep appointments with his barber. The steel-wool beards cry for trimming.

Uhuru now has that ka-utambi peculiar to drinkers whose movements are restricted between the drinking glass and urinal. He has been concealing the ka-utambi inside those coloured shirts from Rivatex. Uhuru is also Kenya’s only chain-smoking president. Is there anything wrong when a president ‘thanks his body’ with excessive drinking?

Well, the law is soberly silent on presidential excesses in the alcohol department, but surveyed closely, Presidents who drink too much-Like Uhuru-perform as dismally as those who don’t drink- like the late President Daniel arap Moi. Does Deputy President William Ruto cut pints?

Uhuru’s capacity to hit the bottle with unending percussion, has even attracted murmurs of discontent, Eminent economist David Ndii has often lamented about Uhuru’s inability to discharge some duties including meeting dignitaries, keeping time during addresses to the nation. Even voluble Cotu boss Francis Atwoli, one of his political mouthpieces, has begged him to go slow on the bottle as “you have a large constituency that loves you.”

Nairobi ‘Half-Governor’ Mike Sonko, who offered Hennessy to residents as one way of fighting ‘Miss Rona’, recently mouthed  that he signed the Deed of Transfer which transformed the County into Nairobi Metropolitan Services after too much alcohol at State House Nairobi. No one has refuted the claims so far.

Uhuru is said to drink too much, Moi almost never. Both seem to have taken Kenya very far- in the wrong direction

Sobering signatures: Nairobi ‘Half-Governor’ Mike Sonko blamed too much whiskey at Uhuru’s State House for signing his County away.

Uhuru’s drinking is being noticed now that he’s president. But James Mukuru, the area Chief of Ichaweri, Uhuru’s home in Gatundu once recalled their many sessions of drinking the finest muratina inside a mud hut not far from the palatial pad. That was in the early 1990s. Uhuru, now a guka, was then still a bachelor. He also had not joined politics. Mukuru, now 72, was also to ensure no drunkards gate-crashed during family functions. Rewards were good. As MP for Gatundu South, Uhuru once gave the former teache Sh50, 000, just like that-which was a lot of quid then.

Chief Kanyui: Former Ichaweri Area Chief, James Mukuru, recalled the many muratina drinking sessions with Uhuru long before he joined politics.

But do teetotalers rule any better than those who are always high like kites? Not really. Records show moderate drinkers make better Presidents.

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and retired President Mwai Kibaki were not binge drinkers. They both achieved an equal seven percent economic growth rate despite ruling over 30 years apart. President Uhuru and Moi were on extreme ends of each other. Both seem to have taken Kenya very far- in the wrong direction!

 The same case is reflected elsewhere. US President Jimmy Carter had a colourless presidency. He never drunk and politicians suffered long arid evenings at the White House. Franklin D Roosevelt, on the other hand, was the longest-serving president who took America out of the Great Depression and World War II with a Martini at his elbow. ‘Happy Hour’ at the White House involved Roosevelt mixing stiff cocktails for friends in his study.

President Barack Obama brewed his own alcohol using honey produced by the bees at White House

President Lyndon B Johnson loved “whiskey, sunshine and sex.” He is remembered for ending racial segregation during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s when African-Americans were also given the right to vote. Johnson succeeded John F Kennedy who loved sipping his Bloody Mary cocktails, but was more comfortable with women than wine.

Pressure of the Watergate Scandal forced President Richard Nixon to rely more on drinking and sleeping pills. He became the first US President to resign from office. Donald Trump, on the far end of the opener, does not drink alcohol- and besides becoming one hilarious laughing stock and he has returned America to the Dark Ages.

The most successful Presidents, it appears, are those who find balance at the bottom of the barrel. Like Barack Obama who brewed his own using honey produced by the bees at the White House. Here is a cocktail of verdicts on Kenya’s four Presidents:

President Jomo Kenyatta: Smuggled VAT 69 into Presidential limo

Head of Crate: Mzee Jomo Kenyatta fished out a bottle of VAT 69 inside his limo shocking Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda whom he had picked from the airport.

Although he sold Nubian chang’aa at his shop called Kinyatta Stores (no spelling mistake) in Dagoretti, founding President Jomo Kenyatta preferred muratina for which the missionaries tried discouraging him to no avail. That was in the 1920s. As President, he still preferred muratina, the Kikuyu traditional brew, but most times smuggled bottles of VAT 69 into the Presidential limo. He often joked that VAT stood for “Vatican” and 69 was the Pope’s direct line as Duncan Ndegwa notes in his 2013 memoirs, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles: My Story.

But after suffering heart problems, he eased on drinking towards the end of his life in 1978. But civil servants and alcohol were a different ball game. Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo had his daily lunch time champagne in his socks at State House Nairobi.

First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta stocked cold Tuskers for Finance Minister whenever he took his thirsty throat to Ichaweri

Bending elbows: Finance Minister James Gichuru drunk overnight and missed the official opening of Central Bank of Kenya…yet he was the one with President’s speech.

 Ndegwa also recalls that the  home of the Kenyattas in Ichaweri had a well stocked bar for the likes of Finance Minister James Gichuru for whom First Lady Mama Ngina served cold Tuskers when he dropped by. Kenyatta didn’t mind his ministers and their drunken ways: Gichuru was often given “alcohol breaks” while reading the Budget in Parliament. He was lucky sessions were not televised live in the 1970s.

Gichuru once went to his favourite Karai Bar in downtown Nairobi, chewed a blackout and didn’t attend the official opening of the Central Bank of Kenya in 1966…yet he had Kenyatta’s speech!

President Daniel arap Moi: He loved ‘dawa ya Mzee’ from Israel

What Doktari ordered: Family members who did not drink received more financial help from him than those who hardly drew sober breathes.

Owing to his religious persuasion as a strict African Inland Church faithful, the second President neither smoked nor cut a drop, but he preferred wines during official balls.

Frost Josiah, former Chief of Protocol recalled in February 2020: “I never saw Moi drink beer or smoke. However, he took wine while toasting during events. And these were particular wines like Black Tower and Spanish Rosily.”  His personal physician, Dr David Silverstein, recalled that Moi also loved sacramental wine from Israel, ‘dawa ya Mzee.”

President Moi was often offended by the late American Ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, who appeared at State House Nairobi for diplomatic meetings smelling whiffs of cigarettes, aggravated by fumes of his beloved Jack Daniels’s from the previous night.

Moi equated alcohol to poverty and even banned its sale in his home village of Sacho

Nyama choma ambassador: Smith Hemptsone, the late US Ambassador, often complained his problem in Nairobi “was availability of enough bottles of Jack Daniel’s.’

Civil servants knew the best way of offending Moi was smelling something stronger than bitter goat head soup. An incident is told of how he saw a big building under construction along the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway on his way to his Kabarak home in Nakuru County. Peering through the presidential limo, Moi asked whether it was a church. On being told it was a bar and disco he retorted: “Why would anyone build such a thing here?”

Prisoners were let loose on the property the following day. The developer found rabble with explanation that “Moi doesn’t like bars.”

Moi’s family kept off his radius when drunk during family gatherings 

Moi equated alcohol to poverty and even banned its sale in his home village of Sacho when he became President after Kenyatta’s death in 1978. Chiefs in Tenges, Kabasis and Timboiywo also enforced closure of bars leaving Kabarnet, 20 kilometres away, as their nearest watering hole.

He also ordered endless crackdown on illicit brews during his 24 year presidency besides his family keeping off his radius when drunk during social gatherings.  Family members who did not drink received more financial help from him than those who hardly drew sober breathes. But his sobriety did not help us much. By the time he left office in 2002, the economy had sunk to negative growth rate territory.

President Mwai Kibaki: He hated noisy bars, gossip and throwing rounds

Mbili-mbili kama kawaida: Retired President Mwai Kibaki was a moderate drinkers due to age, responsibilities of high office and health issues.

The popularity of Whitecap lager went through the roof when it became public knowledge it was Kibaki’s lager of choice. For years, Kenya Breweries hardly advertised it for fear it would overtake Tusker, its flagship brand.

A tightwad, Kibaki rarely bought fellow tipplers rounds of booze at Muthaiga Golf Club where he was a member, and never did he discuss politics when drinking. He also hated noisy pubs, bar gossip and drinking with garrulous characters. He eased his peddle on Whitecap after his road accident in 2002. He is still reeling from the effect to date. One reason the likes of Kibaki are moderate drinkers as presidents is age and responsibilities of high office. He was 71 when he became President in 2002 and staggered the economy to an annual 7.5 percent growth rate last seen witnessed in the regime of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta during the coffee boom of the 1970s.

President Uhuru Kenyatta: Demand his whiskey inside a Cathedral

Dregs of the day: President Uhuru Kenyatta consoles the family of the late Safaricom boss Bob Collymore at the All Saints Cathedral. Bob had reserved for him a 50 year old whiskey.

He has been known to drink the most of all previous Kenyan Presidents, but in whose tenure the economy took thorough thrashing despite all the goodies Kibaki left him. Uhuru doesn’t shy from making everyone know he loves his whiskies. Whether he benefits from any ‘alcohol induced-intelligence’ is a matter for another stiff drink. In fact, it is telling that alcohol and cigarettes were listed as ‘essential products’ alongside food and medical supplies during lockdowns and curfews.

During the Requiem Mass of the late Safaricom CEO, Bob Collymore at the All Saints Cathedral on July 4, 2019, Uhuru demanded for the 50 year old Johnny Walker Director’s Blend which Collymore had kept for him in his cellar. Collymore had unleashed it on his Boys’ Club and which they shared as their last moment together in his Kitisuru home in Nairobi.

Uhuru was asking for his alcohol inside a Cathedral, in front of the Provost! Peter Kenneth and others in the Boys’ Club imported another bottle for him at over Sh400, 000.

Uhuru was also visibly drunk during the annual Akorino Conference at Kasarani in June 2017

During the burial of kikuyu Benga musician, John De’Mathew (and Uhuru is about to break the record for presidential burial attendance), on August 24, 2019, he narrated how he and De’Mathew swilled choice whiskies inside the road show truck during presidential campaigns two years earlier.

Pub-crawler: Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja broke curfew rules, went binge drinking and was arrested at the Ladies Lounge in Kilimani. Civil servants, sometimes, follow the leader.

There are some issues with an ever high Head of State. For one, the Tangatanga wing of Jubilee Party once complained that Uhuru’s drinking has been interfering with discharge of national duties like chairing Cabinet meetings besides creating a negative impression during televised national events. The launch of BBI Report at Bomas of Kenya was one morning incident in which the president appeared visibly still high, laughing inappropriately when no jokes had been cracked and throwing unnecessary high fives.

Uhuru was also visibly drunk during the annual Akorino Conference at Kasarani in June 2017 and during his visit to his alma mater, St Mary’s School later that October. A president who drinks too much ends up leaving the economy high and dry!

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