Moi's fearsSometimes a writer starts off intending to write some brief piece but then it suddenly takes on a life of its’ own and writes itself into a lengthy prose, almost a book sometimes. This is exactly what has happened with my weekend special this weekend.
For that reason I will continue with part 5, 6, 7 and 8 next weekend.
For now let me wind up this weekend’s excitement with this last piece for this particular weekend.
That first cabinet meeting after Kenyatta’s death which was held on August 22nd 1978 was a very fascinating affair to say the least. During Kenyatta’s presidency the entire cabinet would usually assemble and wait for the president to arrive for the meeting. Conversation around the table would usually be in Kikuyu during this wait. This forced Moi who was Nilote to learn the Bantu tongue of the Kikuyus. Many times the cabinet would wait in vain for Kenyatta only to be told that he was not coming usually due to health reasons.
On this day of August 22nd 1978 all the cabinet members were there and this time they were waiting for somebody who had been one of them only the day before and somebody whom they had always derided. Moi did not keep the cabinet waiting and came in shortly after they were all there, accompanied by AG Charles Njonjo. All eyes were on him as he sat at the head of the table where Kenyatta used to sit. Moi’s eyes were red and he looked like he had been crying. For a brief moment members of the presidential press unit were allowed inside to take photographs which they did and left.
Moi had a difficult task ahead of him. Njonjo made it easy by making it almost unnecessary for him to speak although he was chairing that historic cabinet meeting. The main agenda for the day were the arrangements of the state funeral for Kenyatta the following weekend. Still Moi felt overwhelmed by the challenges ahead of him. The current constitution says that in the event of the death of the president, the vice president will take over for a period of 3 months pending elections for a new president. Three months is a long time and Moi must have had his uncertainties over ever retaining the presidency. More so if you take into consideration the curious incident with Njonjo which I recounted in the last post.
Moi avoided eye contact with most of those seated in the cabinet room with him. Amongst them were people who had plotted his murder only a few hours earlier to ensure that he would never rise to the presidency.
Dr Njoroge Mungai known to his fellow Kiambu mafia members as "Mr Fix it."
The two men he must have feared most on that table were Dr. Njoroge Mungai and Mbiyu Koinange. Both were very powerful and influential members of the Kiambu Mafia. Both had no doubt thought about this day many times over the years but not in their wildest nightmares did they ever picture Daniel arap Moi seated at Kenyatta’s usual chair in the cabinet room. Moi’s fears were not unfounded. It is widfely believed that both men went behind Kenyatta’s back and ordered the hit on Tom Mboya in July 1969. It is said that Kenyatta was livid after he found out what they had done but there was obviously nothing he could do about it. The two individuals were said to be very ambitious and determined that the presidency would fall into their hands on Kenyatta’s death. At one point Njoroge Mungai is said to have bluntly asked Kenyatta to name him as his successor.
The foreign press was even speculating that the real “matata” (political chaos and violence) would start after the funeral and when the presidential elections were announced. It was expected that a member of the Kiambu mafia would stand for the presidency against Moi. Others remembered Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who was also known to be interested in the presidency. Indeed Odinga had turned up to view Kenyatta’s body at State house and with cameras from the local and international press rolling, he had proceeded to utter many words in Dholuo over the body while waving his fly whisk. Those who did not understand the language speculated that he was thanking the gods for the death of a man he had lifted to the presidency only to be dumbed later by the same ungrateful man. For these reasons there was a lot of tension in the country.
Mbiyu Koinange the powerful minister of State and most respected member of the Kiambu mafia.
Nobody would have guessed that at the end there would be no election because nobody opposed Moi and he was confirmed as the next president of Kenya. So where did all these pretenders to the throne disappear to?
It is not clear exactly what happened but an interesting meeting of the Kiambu mafia shortly after Kenyatta’s death, attended by Kamba politician Paul Ngei may give us a few pointers.
It is said that most members of the Kiambu mafia felt that Moi was not a threat and there was no hurry for them to make a move because he was simply “a passing cloud.” Paul Ngei strongly disagreed with them and told them that the presidency was a very powerful seat and if they allowed Moi to be president even for a couple of weeks, they would never be able to remove him. It is not clear what Ngei was suggesting that the Kiambu mafia do to remove Moi because whatever it was it would have been unconstitutional. Not that the Kiambu mafia were not known for ignoring the constitution in their quest for the presidency.
To the Kiambu mafia anybody else as interim president would have been a threat but surely not Moi of all people. The man who had succumbed to so much humiliation including a search of his very private parts by a mere assistant commissioner of police when he was VP. The guy did not even speak English too well and this is what had forced some members of the Kiambu mafia to take over proceedings from him during those foreign trips. They had been ashamed of Moi. The man did not even look intelligent at all and some felt that Kenya was being painted in a bad picture with such a man as Vice president and leader of the Kenyan delegation. (You have to understand that throughout his presidency Kenyatta never boarded an aircraft and so Moi had to represent him in all foreign trips where the president was required to attend. Those were a lot of trips even in those days.) In other words what Ngei was saying about Moi being a threat was laughable to most members of the Kiambu mafia and those who thought they knew Moi well.
When you take this information and consider it along the bitter power struggle that was going on amongst Kenyatta’s insiders it all points to the fact that this decision by the Kiambu mafia to take their time and accept Moi as the sole compromise candidate for interim president is what dealt a death blow to the ambitions of many for the presidency. The role of AG Charles Njonjo in helping the president to quickly settle down and consolidate his position is yet another major reason.
In the end Paul Ngei’s words were to prove to be very prophetic indeed.
In this context it is easy to understand why so many political analysts divide the Moi presidency very neatly into two. Just like his predecessor, Moi started with very high ideals and determined to make a difference. Admittedly Moi’s honeymoon lasted a lot longer than Kenyattas’. It lasted a whole 3 years as opposed to the few months Kenyatta had before he started having nightmares of him and his family being executed in some firing squad after a successful coup in Kenya. This nightmare took over and guided his every decision as president from that point onwards. Exactly the same thing happened to Moi only that in his case he faced a real coup.
To be continued next weekend.
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