With Raila Odinga (Cord) and Paul Muite (Safina) vying for presidency, will this year’s elections be a defining moment for the Young Turks who fought in the second liberation?
While many are running for various seats in the counties, hoping to take a front position in the first government of the Second Republic, most of the seven elders who spearheaded the campaign for the return of multi-partyism under the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) in the late 1980s and the 1990s have since gone to their maker.
They include Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Masinde Muliro, Martin Shikuku, Philip Gachoka, and Salim Ndamwe.
If they were alive, they would be watching these elections with curiosity.
Is the hour of the Young Turks — derived from Mustafa Kamal, the founder of modern Turkey who led a liberation revolt in his country — finally here?
It started in earnest after the much discredited 1988 mlolongo (queue-voting) elections and grew into a monster under Moi’s dictatorial Kanu government.
In a small bar in a building called Mitugi in Nairobi’s Dagoretti, politician George Moseti Anyona from Kisii would meet his friends.
An intellectual educated at Alliance High School before heading to Makerere, Anyona (now deceased) and his peers planned a political party to challenge Kanu as they sat at Mitugi. It was said that they planned a coup d’état, albeit without arms.
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s advanced age and experience in playing peerage politics with President Moi prior to independence became an asset. But Moi would not go for him for fear of repercussions were he to die in prison and instead targeted the younger politicians, whom he regarded as Jaramogi’s spanner boys.
Anyona and his lecturer friends, Edward Oyugi, Maina wa Kinyati, Mukaru Ng’ang’a, and Katana Mkangi were detained before Anyona could announce the formation of the party in which Jaramogi was to be the leader.
But Charles Rubia and Kenneth Matiba, former ministers in Moi’s government, pulled the trigger by calling a historic press conference at the Hilton Hotel after the botched 1988 elections, demanding the re-introduction of multi-partyism.
They did what was at the time viewed as diabolical by advocating a repeal of the then Section 2(a) of the old Constitution that made Kanu the sole party by law.
They pointed out that Kanu had become intolerant by expelling dissenting members. Rubia and Matiba were expelled, like many others, on flimsy reasons such as arrogance, opposing maendeleo (development), and questioning party actions.
The two were bold enough to fire the first salvo for the second liberation. Their single bullet, for which they were detained, flowered into the struggle that played out in street riots, detentions, and sustained pressure for the restoration of democracy.
Ajuma Jaramogi Oginga Odinga
The father of Raila Amolo Odinga played a pivotal role in the second liberation. He dared the Kanu government by forming an opposition party “illegally”, marshalled public support to agitate for democratic space, and openly criticised the Kanu regime at a time when nobody would dare to raise a finger.
He became a father-figure to the opposition as others continued to sing “Kanu ni baba na mama” (Kanu is father and mother).
Jaramogi has been referred to as the doyen of opposition politics in Kenya, right from founding President Jomo Kenyatta’s era.
Prior to independence in 1963, he declared Kenyatta, then in detention in Kapenguria, as the “second god” and protested that there would be “no uhuru (independence)” without Kenyatta’s release.
After independence, Kenyatta made him Kenya’s first vice-president, but ideological differences, made worse by Kenyatta’s kitchen Cabinet, drove them apart and Jaramogi ended up being labelled a Marxist. The two parted ways in 1966, and successive governments by Kenyatta and Moi deliberately schemed to keep him out of power.
He was the official leader of the opposition and died in 1994 before realising his dream of one day ruling the nation.
Christopher Masinde Muliro
Also deceased, he played in the league of former President Daniel arap Moi. After Moi became president in 1978, the peerage syndrome became a liability in their relationship and they became — like school classmates who did not think much of each other — adversaries.
Muliro and Jaramogi used their advanced age, peerage, and intellect to challenge Moi’s power.
With Jaramogi and seven other disgraced politicians, they formed the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) — the precursor of all the Ford parties — as a society since the Constitution outlawed political parties. He died in 1992 before realising his dream of pluralism.
Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba
A successful entrepreneur, football administrator, civil servant, politician, and company executive, Matiba was detained at the height of multi-party pressure, suffered a stroke in prison, and has battled ill health ever since.
He too was among Ford’s founders and when the party broke up, formed Ford-Asili with Shikuku while Jaramogi and the Young Turks formed Ford-Kenya.
He vied for the presidency in 1992 but lost to Moi, and has since stayed out of subsequent elections. Matiba, 81, lives a quiet life in Nairobi.
Martin Joseph Shikuku
He was among the seven founders of Ford and fought sustained street battles with the Moi regime. One of the most enduring memories of Shikuku was when he was captured on camera on July 7, 1991 (also known as Saba Saba Day) on a pick-up along Landhies Road in Nairobi headed for Kamukunji to address an illegal rally.
A pre-independence hero, Butere MP, and critic of the Kenyatta and Moi governments, he was fondly referred to as “the people’s watchman”. He died in 2012.
Philip Gachoka, a little known politician from Murang’a, was also among Ford’s founders. It was said that he represented Matiba’s interests in Ford while he (Matiba) remained in detention. He died six years ago after leading a quiet life at his Murang’a home.
He was also a little-known politician from Kapenguria until he rose to fame as one of the founders of Ford. After the realisation of multi-partyism, he led an uneventful life in Kitale until his death four years ago in his Namanjalala home.
Charles Wanyoike Rubia
A fiery politician from Murang’a whose political base was in Nairobi, he was the first African mayor and later MP for Starehe. Rubia served in Moi’s Cabinet in the 1980s before parting ways with him and was among the Ford founders detained at the height of the pressure for pluralism in 1990.
When Ford broke up ahead of the 1992 elections, he teamed up with other politicians to found the Kenya National Congress, the party that Peter Kenneth is today using for his presidential bid.
Rubia, 82, lives a quiet life running his business in Nairobi.
George Wycliffe Nthenge
The last living politician besides Moi who went to the Lancaster House conference in London to negotiate Kenya’s independence Constitution, Nthenge too founded Ford and stuck with Matiba’s Ford-Asili to successfully become Kamukunji MP in the 1992 elections. He lost the seat in 1997 and today, at 80, lives in Nairobi, where he runs a curio business.
A Kenyan politician of Yemeni descent, he too rose to fame through Ford. He is remembered for his humour on the platform during the 1992 presidential campaigns for Matiba, when he would ridicule Moi’s popular parting phrase in his speeches; “Mungu awabariki na mukae hivyo hivyo” (God bless and stay in peace), by telling the crowd that Moi meant “even when sitting on nails or suffering, continue with your misfortunes”.
Bahmariz lives in Mombasa and shuttles between Kenya and Yemen on business.