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Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi addresses traders during the launch of Meru County Post Covid-19 Recovery Strategy on March 4, 2021.

David Muchui | Nation Media Group
What you need to know:
  • In a widely discussed piece in all the major dailies, Mr Murungi described in great detail his near-death experience with Covid.
  • He lays bare his utter impotence in front of the virus. He says he was ready to meet his maker.

The Bible doesn’t have many people who were both villain and hero. Saul, the villain, later becomes Paul, the hero. By all accounts, Saul was an evil man. A Pharisee who mercilessly tormented the followers of Jesus. His confessions of atrocity are in Galatians 1:13-14 and in the Epistle to the Philippians. There, he admits to taking part in the stoning of Stephen. 

In the Book of Acts, Saul was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to find and persecute the followers of Jesus. That’s when he’s struck by a blinding light, and after significant torment, converts to Christianity and becomes Paul. Is Covid the blinding light that has hit Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi and converted him?

In a widely discussed piece in all the major dailies, Mr Murungi described in great detail his near-death experience with Covid. He lays bare his utter impotence in front of the virus. He says he was ready to meet his maker. He didn’t care whether he lived, or died, or whether he was rich, powerful, or popular. He spoke movingly about how the virus tormented him. He felt alone, and knew he would die alone, if he was to meet his end. Everything became irrelevant to him. After he recovered, he realised that he had lived a lie, a fake life driven by empty materialism and obsequiousness to powerful people. He vowed never to do so again going forward.

Which begs the question – is Governor Murungi genuine, and on the road to Damascus? Or are his confessions due to “long Covid”, the debilitating aftershocks brought on by the damage Covid does to the brain? In other words, is he “Covid-drunk” like a boxer who’s demented and “punch drunk” because of years of repeatedly being hit in the noggin? It’s too early to tell.

He announced that from now on, he would “follow the desires of my heart” and “ignore all the noise, the psychological burdens of friendship and idiocies of politics”. He says corona helped him “find myself” and “liberate me” from other people. He will now “reclaim my life”. It sounds like a conversion of the soul. 

'Obsessed with winning'

Mr Murungi called Covid his “own personal journey”. He starkly defrocks himself so we can see his vulnerabilities. He says “politics had robbed me of my life and my voice”. It had done worse and “robbed me of my freedom of thought”. He had been “obsessed with winning” and “advocated ideas and anxieties which were not genuinely my own”. Heavy stuff. 

Mr Murungi is one of the very tiny number of politicians who are intellectuals. He knows better than most. His moral downfall began with the Anglo-Leasing imbroglio early in the Narc Kibaki era. He was never the same again. He’s associated with Kenya’s corrupt, illiberal and abusive regimes. He’s been on the wrong side of history.

Mr Murungi and I were fast personal, political and family friends until the Anglo-Leasing scandal. That sad chapter put us asunder when I ended our relationship. I knew Mr Murungi quite well when he was admitted for an LLM degree at Harvard Law School. I was then running the Harvard Law School Human Rights Programme. Kenya was in the throes of the struggle for multipartyism. Both of us were in cahoots with the Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford), Kenya’s leading opposition party. Mr Murungi returned to Kenya and was elected MP on a Ford ticket. He was a part of Kenya’s hope among the “Young Turks” – Paul Muite, Peter Anyang Nyong’o, Mukhisa Kituyi, Gitobu Imanyara and others.

Ford later splintered, lost its left-progressive politics, and became an ethnic political party like all others. This is where we lost Mr Murungi. Where he was once a Kenyan, his vision shrank to a Mt Kenya politician, and then to a Meru potentate. His nationalist credentials evaporated as he veered irredeemably to the right. Members of civil society, of whom he once was, lamented that he had joined the “eating” gravy train. Mr Murungi, ex-CJ Willy Mutunga, Maina Kiai, Peter Kareithi, and I had formed the Kenya Human Rights Commission together in the US.  

We dropped Mr Murungi from KHRC’s board once he joined unsavoury party politics. Regrettably, his divorce from civil society became complete after Anglo-Leasing.

You don’t wish Covid on anyone. It’s very sad Mr Murungi got it. However, I am glad there’s a silver lining to the illness. But talk is cheap. Will Mr Murungi revert to the man I knew at Harvard? He was conscientious, funny, progressive and a champion for good government and social justice.

Will he return to the honest intellectual he was once? He must tell the full truth for transparency and accountability. He must clear the air on what he’s done while in government. We haven’t spoken in close to two decades but I believe in redemption. I’ve reached out to him to see if he’s truly coming to Damascus. By Makau Mutua, Sunday Nation

Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua

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