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Wahiga Mwaura with DP Ruto: interviews that open closed doors

A reporter asked Deputy President William Ruto if Moi helped create Ruto’s wealth. The answer brought out a made-for-TV moment.

“Moi was a very generous person,” Ruto said on Citizen TV on February 6. “My first interaction with Moi when it comes to what you’ve just said, a few of us university students, we went to see him at one point. And we asked him to give us a piece of land in Eldoret. And he actually did. And we sold the piece of land. And with that piece of land I remember I bought my first car.”

It was one of those moments that demonstrate how journalism should work. The Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya had just said, on record, that he started out thanks to patronage of the highest office in the land.

A clearly experienced Wahiga Mwaura of Citizen TV, sitting with Ruto at his official Karen residence, promptly called out the Deputy President on this.

“Was this [Moi’s] personal property that he gave you?”

The Deputy President realised he had just put his foot in his mouth and tried to untangle himself.

“There were a few pieces of land that were being given for development in Eldoret town,” Ruto said. “So, four of us university students went and he gave us one plot. Because we asked, ‘Mzee, please help us.’ So, he said, OK. And asked somebody, ‘Please help these young people.’”

The DP didn’t seem to realise he was digging himself into a hole.

Mwaura: “Were those procedural ways of assisting people to do business?”

Ruto: “I think they were procedural ways. Moi just wanted to help. And he wanted to help people within the law.”

Besides this fresh information on how Ruto acquired his first piece of land, the interview also disclosed to Kenyans, for the first time, behind the scenes goings on during two momentous events that preceded the end of Moi’s 24-year reign.

First, March 2002: the KANU/NDP merger, the quintessential it’s better to have your enemies within the tent pissing outside than outside pissing in, when Moi brought Opposition leader Raila Odinga into a coalition government of sorts. What was going on inside KANU?

DP Ruto narrated history with ease. Moi’s decision to work with Raila produced two axes in Kanu, he said. On the one side, the Kabisa axis of Joseph Kamotho, Nicholas Biwott, George Saitoti was uncomfortable with the merger.

On the other hand, younger politicians like Ruto, Julius Sunkuli and peers,were able to reach Moi and spearhead campaigns for Moi’s chosen successor: Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kabisa axis never recovered.

Second, December 2002: Project Uhuru is lost. The decision to concede. Mwai Kibaki will be president. What was going on inside State House?

And with this Ruto’s best storytelling came out. He said: “We voted, then we went to State House to wait for results. We were many KANU people from across the divide. There’s a TV there. The numbers are coming in. The gap is widening. And I remember Musa Sirma and other people sitting there asking, “Is Moi aware that these results are coming in this way? And at what point is he going to do something about it?’”

 A chuckle.

“Somehow, people believed that Nyayo could do something, some miracle, so that the results would change,” said Ruto.

Nothing happened. Instead, a side door burst open. Moi stormed in and ordered Ruto to find Uhuru and prepare a concession speech.

A chuckle.

Kabaki was sworn in as the president. And, Ruto said, still chuckling: “People like Njoki Ndung’u came and said, ‘Oh, we want the keys to this place’.”

What was outstanding about this interview? Skilled interviewing techniques. This brought out a rarity:  the audience heard candour. Straight talk. From a politician’s mouth. The entire time.

First, the setting. A lush green lawn in the DP’s own compound. Subjects will be more at ease in their own, familiar tuff.

Second, the mood. Mwaura appeared to be just chatting with DP Ruto. A conversational interview relaxes the subject.

Third, question and answer style, tone and pace. Mwaura deployed Larry King’s famous interviewing style. He asked short, clear questions. Never combative, even with difficult questions at the end about Moi’s breakup with Ruto and the latter’s relationship with Senator Gideon Moi.

Throughout, Mwaura’s posture was engaged and fascinated by the moment. Yet, he seemed to fade into the background. Instead, he just let his subject speak. Mwaura rarely cut in, except to flesh out juicy details or call out his subject on a contentious point.

This style allowed DP Ruto to become comfortable and speak with candour, to the point one would think the DP forgot he was on camera speaking for the record. The result was a richly informative history of behind the scenes episodes that Kenyans never knew.

The next day, Mwaura’s interview generated headlines across media houses. That’s how you measure success of a high-profile interview.

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