Apology: I take this opportunity to apologize to all my readers for failing to make a post yesterday as I had earlier promised. It was due to unforeseen and indeed unavoidable circumstances. To partly make up for this, this weekend special posts will extend to Tuesday.
It has to be the most fascinating incident in the history of politics in Kenya. And it all happened at Kasarani Stadium sometime in March 2002. The occasion was a special Kanu national delegates conference called to pick the party’s presidential candidate for the elections later that year.
The meeting had created great excitement because everybody knew that Moi was not going to run again in 2002. And still most folks were putting their money on Kanu and so whoever was elected the Kanu presidential candidate on this particular day would without doubt end up as president. Or so they assumed. The reason was that senior political analysts knew that Moi always fixed the elections and he was bound to rig it in favour of the Kanu candidate.
And so with this kind of knowledge in mind the stakes were bound to be pretty high. And they were.
It is also important to note that prior to this historical Kanu delegates conference a number of people had been promised the presidency by Moi.
Raila Odinga had merged his party NDP (National Democratic party) with Kanu after being assured by Moi that he would the party’s chosen one for the presidency.
Kalonzo Musyoka after years of faithfully serving Moi had also been assured that the presidency was his for the taking.
Long serving Vice President Professor George Saitoti had also been assured that he would be the next president of Kenya. And what was more is that Saitoti had a precedent to support his bid for the presidency. After all Moi had been faithful to Kenyatta and had ended up ascending to the presidency. And Saitoti was more than faithful to Moi. It was almost amusing at public meetings whenever Moi mentioned Saitoti’s name, he would spring up to his feet at such lightning speed like a high school student vigorously campaigning to be appointed head boy. Saitoti knew how this pleased Moi a man who had never seen the four corners of an A-level classroom let alone a university lecture hall. It pleased Moi to no end that this extremely educated “professor” would jump up like something had bitten him, the minute he mentioned his name.
Still Saitoti had made sure not to take any chances and had spent a small fortune the previous night canvassing delegates from all over the country to vote for him. He assumed that the whole thing would be put to the vote.
Now the fascinating incident happened when moments after the delegate’s conference started Saitoti realized that his name was not even in contention for the party’s presidential candidate. Instead Uhuru Kenyatta was the sole candidate for the nomination. George just lost it then. Others would say that he went berserk. The good mathematic professor started shouting all over the place. His loud voice attracted the attention of President Moi who quickl barked a command; “professor Kimya” (roughly translated this means, “shut up professor”).
Saitoti ignored his master’s command and continued to make plenty of noise throwing his hands all over the place. Moi had to repeat his stern command and the third time he did so stood up and gave Saitoti the kind of look that young folks like calling “daggers”. Saitoti finally quieted down and sat meekly on his seat.
Now all this had taken place with TV cameras rolling. And the clip got through the “self censors” at the KTN TV station that evening and was aired. Kenyans stared at it in fascination. Most folks had never seen anything like this before. Not in the carefully choreographed Kenyan politics everybody was accustomed to. Especially where the president was involved.
Actually the incident highlighted the desperate power struggle that had been going on for the presidency which had started as early as after the 1997 presidential elections when everybody knew that Moi was not going to stand again for president. Some of those desperate for the presidency had even figured out Moi’s biggest challenge in leaving the presidency and had spent fortunes reassuring his Kalenjin community on the ground that all would be well with them if they became president after Moi. I am of course talking about people like Kalonzo Musyoka and Raila Odinga.
Moi’s challenge was to leave the presidency and stay out of prison and still have the vast fortune he had accumulated as president intact. Some of his close advisors advised him against leaving the presidency and put considerable pressure on him to stay on at all costs. They even created viable plans that would have allowed him to almost legitimately stay on in power. But once again Moi was too clever for most folks. He had made up his mind to leave the presidency and had carefully devised an exit strategy that would keep the country together and allow him at the very least a quite retirement. In doing so he took most of his opponents and many Kenyans completely by surprise.
Even more surprising was Moi’s choice for successor. He had settled on the rookie Uhuru Kenyatta son of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta. Actually his choice was not surprising if you understood that above all else Moi wanted to protect his wealth. Uhuru had inherited a lot of grabbed property from his father (the first president of Kenya). In wanting Uhuru to be his successor Moi was sure that whatever happened Uhuru would not come after him without badly exposing himself and his family. It was as simple as that.
Moi’s plan would have succeeded except for one small detail that went badly wrong. Moi assumed that in the same way that the Kiambu mafia had been forced to accept him as president after Kenyatta’s death, there was little that other pretenders to the throne would do to stop Uhuru Kenyatta. The mistake made here was to fail to recognize the fact that a lot had changed since 1978 (24 years earlier). And even when George Saitoti defected to the opposition shortly after the Kasarani incident, Moi ignored the move as being of inconsequential. And indeed in a way it was. Saitoti has always struggled to win back his parliamentary seat in Kajiado let alone having any kind of national support that one could speak of. But what actually changed the whole equation was the defection much earlier of Raila Odinga. The man had the organizational ability to turn tables on Moi as he was to prove.
Most analysts believe that Moi had grown a little too overconfident for his own good and this too was a major contributing factor to the big defeat he was to suffer in 2002.
All eyes remained focused firmly on Kanu and few Kenyans paid attention to the developments in the opposition. After all many had already written the Kenyan opposition off. They had failed to unite and agree on one candidate since the advent of multiparty politics in 1992. Most people including Moi himself were sure that the greedy lot who all wanted to become president would never agree on a single candidate for president. Again this assumption was correct except for one little incident that happened at Uhuru Park when Raila Odinga stood up to address the mammoth crowd that had gathered. Everybody was wondering who the candidate for the star studded opposition line up would be. Many expected it to be George Saitoti others even thought it would be Raila Odinga himself. Moi’s think tanks (he had several) were busy mapping out a strategy for either of these front runner candidates. After all everybody knew that Kenyans would never accept another Kikuyu for the presidency and in fact saw a great weakness in Kanu’s presidential nomination. The Kikuyu’s had the numbers but one needed the other 41 tribes as well. All signs within Kanu were that Moi was preparing to take on a non-kikuyu candidate on behalf of his protégé. It is important to note here that although Saitoti is a Kikuyu (his real name is George Njuguna Kinuthia and he changed to it to Saitoti to facilitate higher education at a time when the colonial government would never have approved a Kikuyu for higher education out of the country).
The Kenyan opposition in the run up the 2002 elections showed a resolve to get their act together this time round from very early on. Three significant opposition parties led by the late Michael Kijana Wamalwa, Charity Ngilu and Mwai Kibaki had merged and indicated that they were determined to field one opposition candidate to face Kanu. Still they were clearly not strong enough to topple the formidable Kanu political machine. When the Kanu rebels led by Raila Odinga and George Saitoti joined them, things changed. Still it looked like the whole game plan would collapse the minute they would have to name a single opposition candidate amongst them. This looked even more unlikely with characters like Raila and George Saitoti. Moody Awori, William Ole Ntimama and others now in the mix.
All that changed with a single statement from Raila on that memorable day in Uhuru Park, Nairobi. Raila captured the mood of the crowd perfectly. Having been outsmarted many times before by Moi Raila was very determined and focused on defeating Moi at all costs. His single statement: “Kibaki tosha” changed everything. Thus history repeated itself. Just as his father had stood up at the Legco to pour praise on Kenyatta in the 1950s and demand for his release before independence and had by doing this handed over the presidency to Kenyatta when he was not even in contention, raila had dome a similar thing for Kibaki. Raila’s statement offered Kibaki as the compromise candidate in the “star-studded field” and made all the difference. But Raila had not chosen Kibaki by accident. It was a shrewd move to neutralize the influential Kikuyu vote by splitting it between the two Kikuyu candidates. The good unintentional thing here was that the presidential elections was de-tribalized, which was critical for such a sensitive election but postponed the problem for much later in 2007.
Simeon Nyachae who had expected to make a strong bid for the presidency left Uhuru Park in a huff and mounted a solo bid for the presidency which predictably went nowhere. But the other main contenders realized that it was impossible for them to contest Raila’s “Kibaki tosha statement and quickly cooled their heels.
And so that is how Mwai Kibaki became the third president of Kenya. For the first time in history Kenya had a popularly elected president who had been elected in a competitive atmosphere.
Few would have imagined that his election was the beginning of major problems and that Moi’s steady but firm (and at times dictatorial) hand on the leadership of the country would be sourly missed.
To be continued.
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