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Rashid Echesa's biography: From primary school dropout to upper echelons of power

Few people of Rashid Echesa’s social and educational background have had the good fortune to rise to national prominence, becoming a former CS and close friend of President William Ruto

President William Ruto with Rashid Echesa

Rashid Mohammed Echesa's rise from a primary school dropout to the national stage at a young age is a remarkable story of overcoming adversity.

Born into a modest family in the Mumias Sugar Company neighborhood in Western Kenya, Echesa faced a challenging future due to the region's prevalent poverty.

Rashid Mohammed Echesa, despite his humble background, managed to rise to national prominence at a young age.

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He was born into a modest family in the neighbourhood of Mumias Sugar Company in Western Kenya.

Echesa's father, Mohammed Lukungu, worked as a company driver, while his mother sold bananas in Shibale market.

Growing up in a region plagued by material deprivation, Echesa's future seemed dim.

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At a young age, Echesa abandoned formal education at Shibale Primary School where he studied from 1990 to 1997, and engaged in trading and menial work in Shibale.

Eventually, he found employment as a manual labourer at Mumias Sugar Company, which exposed him to politics and trade unionism.

Echesa's leadership and mobilization skills caught the attention of political figures in the Kakamega region, particularly Mumias, which was a significant political battleground.

His tenacity and bravery made him a valuable asset in the adversarial politics of the region.

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Echesa's involvement in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the dominant political party in the Mumias area at the time, solidified his position as a potential future leader of the region.

His alliance with Raila Odinga, the party's leader, further enhanced his political standing.

However, after Raila's defeat in the 2007 elections, Echesa shifted his allegiance to Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who were Odinga's political rivals at the time.

Echesa's ability to mobilize support for his new patrons demonstrated his growing influence and improved fortunes.

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In 2017, Echesa stood by Kenyatta and Ruto, aligning himself more closely with Ruto's faction of the ruling coalition. He was rewarded for his loyalty when Kenyatta nominated him as the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Sports, Culture, and Heritage.

However, his appointment was met with criticism from opposition members who argued that Western Kenya had more educated and refined leaders who could better represent the region.

Although Echesa faced scrutiny during the parliamentary vetting process due to his limited education, he emphasized that ministries are run by technocrats, including highly educated Permanent Secretaries, who could compensate for his educational deficit.

Echesa believed that his appointment represented the constitutional imperative of inclusivity in government, reminding the vetting board that he was appointed because he was a child of the poor, aiming to uplift others from humble backgrounds.

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Running the Sports, Culture, and Heritage ministry proved challenging for Echesa. He faced numerous pitfalls, including wrangling, attempts by cartels to evade detection, and competing interests within the ministry.

The ministry had a broad mandate, including developing and implementing sports policies, managing sports facilities, promoting cultural heritage, and nurturing talent through sports academies.

Echesa's performance in the ministry was not without flaws. Former President Kenyatta expressed disappointment with the state of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga's mausoleum during his visit to Bondo.

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Additionally, Echesa made blunders in protocol and engaged in political pronouncements, unaware that cabinet secretaries were prohibited from politicking.

Echesa's tenure, which lasted for thirteen months, was marred by controversies and adverse reports.

Despite his shortcomings, Echesa oversaw some achievements during his tenure. Kenya continued to participate in international sporting events, including the Commonwealth Games and the IAAF Championships.

Efforts were made to renovate stadiums, such as Nyayo Stadium, Kipchoge Keino Stadium, and Kamariny Stadium.

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Echesa's political career took a significant blow in February 2019 when he was arrested and charged with multiple offences related to a fraudulent military equipment deal.

The case alleged that Echesa, along with several co-accused individuals, attempted to defraud foreign investors by promising to sell them military equipment worth billions of Kenyan shillings.

The scandal generated significant media attention and raised questions about Echesa's integrity and involvement in illicit activities.

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Eventually, he was dismissed from his position in Cabinet in early 2020, although no reasons were given for his removal.

Throughout the legal proceedings, Echesa maintained his innocence, claiming that he was a victim of a political witch-hunt and that the charges against him were politically motivated.

Nevertheless, the court process continued, and Echesa faced a lengthy legal battle to clear his name.

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In May 2021, a significant development occurred in Echesa's case when the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) withdrew the charges against him and three other co-accused individuals.

The DPP cited insufficient evidence to sustain the charges, leading to the release of Echesa and his co-accused from the legal burden they had faced for over two years.

The withdrawal of charges marked a turning point in Echesa's political career, providing him with an opportunity to rebuild his reputation and revive his ambitions.

Following his legal victory, Echesa intensified his political activities, seeking to regain his position within the political landscape.

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He continued to align himself with the political faction led by President William Ruto, actively participating in campaigns and rallies in support of Ruto's bid for the presidency in the upcoming 2022 general elections.

Echesa's reemergence into the political scene drew mixed reactions.

Supporters praised his resilience and viewed his legal victory as vindication, reinforcing their belief in his leadership capabilities.

However, critics remained skeptical, questioning his integrity and suitability for public office due to the corruption allegations that had surrounded him.

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As the 2022 general elections approached, Echesa declared his intention to vie for political office.

Eventually he ran for the Mumias West parliamentary seat on a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party ticket but was defeated by Johnson Naicca who was elected on an ODM ticket.

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