He is, perhaps, the most eloquent Kenyan alive. For Prof Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba, the former anti-graft czar hounded out of office in 2011, is a master orator in English and Kiswahili, who wows his listeners wherever he speaks.
The walls in his Upper Hill, Nairobi, law offices speak for him on who his real heroes are. Portraits of Martin Luther King Jnr, Tanzania’s founding father and philosopher, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, and India’s Mahatma Gandhi peer at you.
PLO, as he is popularly known, this week spoke candidly about his dramatic exit from the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, blaming his naiveté and politicians from the Nyanza region for hatching the plot to topple him three years ago for his predicament. Now the director of the Kenya School of Law, PLO believes President Kenyatta is lukewarm in the fight against corruption.
Question: Reading maketh a man. What kind of literature made you what you are today?
Answer: I read very widely across disciplines. I read the arts, sciences, philosophy, sociology and even anthropology to understand what the world is all about. Reading is what energises a man’s mind and vision. It also makes one humble. If you see any person who is arrogant and claims to be knowledgeable, you must question that knowledge. When the oracle of Apollo went out to ask who was the wisest man in Greece, the verdict was Socrates, because he said the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing.
I am fascinated with all kinds of knowledge. When you look at the plays, the Greek tragedies and read Sophocles and his Theban plays, it is fascinating. When you go to science and read people like Einstein and Newton, it is fascinating. When you go to economics and read John Maynard Keynes and Thomas Mann, it is fascinating.
Q: What are you reading now?
I am reading The New Harvest sent to me a while ago by Prof Calestous Juma of Harvard Kennedy School. I am also reading God Is Not a Christian by Desmond Tutu; Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Decolonising The Mind; Kidagaa Kimemwozea by Ken Walibora and a little play by Okoiti Omtatah on the life of Luanda Magere, the Luo hero. Then there is Heaven and Earth, a dialogue between Pope Francis and a Jewish Rabbi called Abraham Skorka, Salt of The Earth by Pope Benedict XVI and Kusadikika by Shaban Robert.
How do you juggle all that reading with your day-to-day work?
At any one time, I will be reading very many books because they are placed in different places, in my car, my room, my library and when travelling and almost everywhere. I pick up a book, read it up to some level and when I think I’ve stopped, mark the chapter and then pick up another title. So within one month, I will have read anything between 10 to 15 books because of my reading style. When I wake up in the morning, I read for one hour.
Your stint at the defunct Kenya Anti-corruption Commission (KACC) was as brief as it was dramatic, lending credence to those who say good speakers are rarely good leaders.
The world does not have a place for men and women who speak the truth. And I have discovered that being honest and truthful is a very painful and lonely affair. An honest man has the chance of a snowball in hell to survive in this country.
It is only by God’s grace that some of us continue to survive, given the number of threats I used to receive. You have no shortage of enemies, particularly in the political class. They want material things they think will give them happiness and should you stand on their way, they will annihilate you, they will consume you.
Did you talk yourself out of the job?
I took the view that corruption is a sin that we must talk about. I remember some politicians used to say “he is talking a lot” but I used to respond that I have not talked enough because as long as the sin is there, we’ve got to talk about and against it.
The current style taken by EACC is very different from ours and I have no problem with them. When talking, you also say many things which annoy people. In fact, I was the first Kenyan to be removed from office by a bill of a tender. Parliamentarians sat down and took the stand.
I knew it six months in advance that I was going to be removed. One MP said that if we allow this man to remain in office, all of us will be in jail. And the House was unanimous on this. It demonstrated that even the ethnic equation could take a back seat on this. All the people who have been removed in public before and after me were defended on the basis of their ethnic extraction.
The people who attacked me the most were Luo MPs.
And what is the genesis of the bad blood between you and Luo politicians?
So many of them fell under our anti-graft radar and they thought I would handle them with kid gloves. I am also told that because I denied them the chance to speak during my mother’s funeral, they vowed to kick me out. Why would you really want to politic at a funeral? It is one of the grudges they held against me. That is how banal they were.
But some thought that you were engaging in too much activism at the expense of your work.
A good anti-corruption boss must be an activist. Those who want to change the society must be activists. Martin Luther King Jnr was an activist, Jesus Christ was an activist, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta was an activist.
I was not an armchair fighter of corruption. I put my body and life in the streets and that is what they don’t like because such an individual is irritating. But when you get too cosy with people in government, then it becomes difficult to investigate and prosecute them.
At KACC, you were the highest paid public servant, how did it feel like losing all those millions?
I have been a lawyer for over 20 years and not a bad lawyer at that. I have also been an academic for over 20 years. Some of us, when we seek public office, we do not seek it for the salary. I was earning Sh1.9 million a month, but in my law firm I have earned reasonable amounts of money and my lifestyle has never changed; we live as modestly as we must.
There are people who think that when you leave a public office then that is the end of your life. After I left KACC, I have been doing consultancy locally, in Tanzania, South Sudan and I have made more income with greater freedom.
Do you regret your style of leadership given the manner in which you were hounded out of office?
Perhaps, I was a little naïve. The basis of my naïvetè was the assumption that the political establishment was supporting the crusade against corruption, that what they said in public is what they meant.
The truth is, politicians in this country say with one side of the mouth what they don’t mean, and with the other side of the mouth they mumble what they truly mean.
My purported great supporters in public who were saying let him prosecute were the same persons who, when we started investigating, hatched the plot to remove me in South Africa. The plot was hatched in one of the politicians’ house there. It is because we had started investigating the relative of that individual.
So I was naïve in that sense.
The tolerance for corruption in this country is very high. The Department of Immigration was allowing people to come into the country irregularly just because they could part with cash at our borders. Strangers were issued with identity cards and passports, and we were opening floodgates for danger.
Now, the chickens are coming home to roost and it is a tragedy of gigantic proportions. It is now a cancer in our bodies.
Is President Uhuru Kenyatta committed to the fight against corruption?
What we have now is a lukewarm approach to corruption. I want to hear my President say corruption is a national disaster because it is, the same way we said HIV and Aids was a national disaster.
It must be fought at two levels: Eliminate individuals who abet it in offices and then re-examine the anti-graft law. The President must lead from the front. He must be the crusader, like President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Ian Khama of Botswana and even Michael Sata of Zambia, so that he is the chief warrior in the fight against corruption.
Together with John Githongo and Tom Mboya, we wrote to him over the Standard Gauge Railway project and as law abiding citizens, we wanted him to convince us that this is a good deal.
Did he respond to your letter?
The following day, he gave the State of the Nation address. As to whether it was because of our letter or it was pre-planned we do not know but in his address, he said that the project would go on anyhow.
My view is that nobody can quarrel with the railway project, but to the extent that Kenyans within their constitutional rights have raised issues with it, you must bring the details before the public so that the doubting Thomases can be ashamed and then you become stronger.
Senior lawyers have painted a grim picture of the young generation of Kenyan lawyers, saying they lack the intellectual rigour befitting their high calling. What are you doing as the Director of the Kenya School of Law to reverse the situation?
There is a crisis in the sense that we have too many law schools that are accepting into the study of law men and women who may not have been motivated to study law. Remember in the olden days we admitted the very best.
Because of the numbers of students and the lack of lecturers now, the quality has been suffering. Going forward, as law schools, the Judiciary and The Law Society of Kenya and the Kenya School of Law, we must rethink and reorient legal training to focus on skills and ethics to produce a lawyer who is powerful.
What book would you recommend to President Uhuru Kenyatta?
He should read Shaban Robert’s Kusadikika. It is a book that explains visionary leadership and how a country can be destroyed if the leadership is retrogressive.
Another I would recommend for him, the Deputy President and the Cord leadership, and which they must watch its movie version, is the Hindu epic The Ramayana and Mahabharata, which comes in 28 compact discs. The writer of the epic summarises it by saying, “he who has not read Mahabharata has read nothing” and I agree with him.
Your critics argue that your elocution is artificial
Ha ha ha. Of course, if it is artificial it disappears. I started reading very early on and I remember my Indian teacher in Form One, who taught us Literature in English, called Mr Ashraf. He could ask us to read The Concubine by Elechi Amadi, in rounds and after I had read for the first time, he said that nobody else should read except me and a classmate called Gishinga Kariuki. He said we articulated and pronounced the words correctly.
So it is something I have acquired over time but not consciously. When you read and are confident, it gives you the energy to speak with authority because you know. I don’t write my speeches.
Do you speak like that in your house?
People ask me that. But, of course, I am not giving speeches in my house. The truth is that I believe in articulation and elocution at all levels.
What one lesson did you learn from your stint at KACC that you can share with current civil servants?
When you enter into any public office, you must have an exit strategy. Never have photos of your family there or personal effects because in Kenya you can be removed from office any time for no reason. So you live by the day. That is the tragedy in this country.
I used to walk with a briefcase with all my personal effects so that when I am sacked, I don’t need to go back to that office. This I also learnt at Constitution of Kenya Review Commission. It’s a lesson that can help those in office now.