How opposition united to kill the ‘Moi project’

Friday April 21 2017

‘Riding on a Tiger’ is the autobiography of ex-Vice-President Moody Awori. PHOTO | NATION

‘Riding on a Tiger’ is the autobiography of ex-Vice-President Moody Awori. PHOTO | NATION 

By MOODY AWORI

By January 2001, activities within Kanu had intensi­fied. President Moi had just 24 months before his last term ended on December, 31 2002. All political activities were geared towards one direction — President Moi’s succession.

He was fully aware that it was only through Par­liament that a candidate could successfully campaign for the presidency. Moses Muhia had beaten Uhuru Kenyatta in the parliamentary race for Gatundu South seat and spoilt Moi’s succession plan during the 1997 elections. However, he was determined to get Uhuru into Parliament through nomination, but there was no vacancy.

The law was clear, that no nominated MP could be removed from Parliament unless he or she was convicted of a criminal offence. However, a nominated MP could voluntarily resign, which is what the then nominated MP, Mark Too, a con­fidant of the President, did. Uhuru was promptly nominated to Parliament and appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Local Government.

In the meantime, Raila Odinga and his NDP party had been cooperating with Kanu and the relationship had developed into a partnership. Raila Odinga was named the Minister for Energy and two of his colleagues in NDP — Adhu Awiti and Orwa Ojode — became Minister for Planning and Assistant Minister respectively. Then President Moi announced that there would be a joint National Delegates Conference of Kanu and NDP at the Kasarani Sports Complex in March, 2001 to chart the way forward for the future of the country.

Kanu was, of course, headed by President Moi as the national chairman, George Saitoti, the country’s Vice-President was Kanu’s national vice-chairman and Joseph Kamotho was the secretary-general. Saitoti, Kamotho and Biwott were great friends and had been close confidants of the President for a long time. However, ever since the 1997 elections and the Raila factor, the President started distancing himself from them. Of the three, the biggest casualty was Saitoti, who endured four years of untold public humiliation from his boss. Saitoti took the humiliation stoically but Kanu was not through with him yet. His day of reckoning was about to come when history would repeat itself.

CUTTING LINKS

One day, the President travelled to Maasailand accompanied by his Vice-President. In one of his addresses, he said people were constantly asking him to name his successor. He paused for effect, then said that as far as he was concerned, there was no one present in his entourage who was capable of leading the country after his retirement. He told the crowd that he would soon show them the man who had the ability to lead Kenya. The President then looked over where his deputy sat and told the people that Saitoti was only his good personal friend but that he does not “mix friendship with leadership.” This was said in Saitoti’s home turf. It was not long before Moi revealed his choice, which was quickly termed “Moi Project”.

President Moi then heightened his campaign for Uhuru Kenyatta in public rallies across the country. Quite a number of senior Kanu members, including myself, started meeting to share our dissatisfaction with what was happening. We did not want our meetings to be misconstrued as a conspiracy against Moi and his “project” because it was still too early for that. We merely wanted to talk to one another according to the regions we represented in Parliament.

Representing Western Province, I approached Raila Odinga with the idea and found him way ahead of me in the matter of slowly cutting links with Moi. He agreed that we needed to start with covertly forming an outfit we called Western Alliance, covering Nyanza and Western (excluding Bungoma, which was solidly in Ford-Kenya). Our target was to recruit our fellow Kanu members who were not keen on the direction the party was taking. Apart from Raila, who was the Secretary General, Musalia Mudavadi was the other heavyweight from the region. We had to have him on our side. By mid-2002, the seed of rebellion had been firmly planted in Kanu.

Kalonzo Musyoka had, for the first time, declared his interest to vie for the presidency but appeared to be working on his own. Saitoti, who was still the Vice-President, had had enough and was willing to join hands with anyone with the credentials that would thwart the plans of the party he had served so loyally for so long but which treated him contemptibly. I was happy that Kalonzo and Saitoti, two influential and loyal Kanu players, were spoiling for a fight. I was the liaison because I knew each member of the group personally. We started holding meetings away from the glare of other political players and the media and discussed strategies for defeating Moi’s presidential project. The president had ears everywhere and it did not take him long to realise something was afoot. He immediately summoned us (Vice-President Saitoti, Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and me) to State House. We were ushered into President Moi’s office immediately. The President wasted no time. He told us that he wanted a smooth transition because he would be heading for retirement at the end of the year, as was stipulated by the Constitution.

He added point-blank that he thought the best person to take over from him was Uhuru Kenyatta and that he wanted us to support him. After speaking for about 20 minutes, quite uncharacteristic of Moi, he asked us to be free and frank in giving him our comments individually. Obviously, he wanted to know if the grapevine was accurate, regarding what was cooking.

Raila Odinga sat at one end and was the first person to be given a chance to speak. Raila, a man who shoots straight from the hip, had been waiting for such an opportunity. He grabbed it and ran away with it! He candidly pointed out to Moi that we were in a multi-party democracy and that the President should let the people decide Kanu’s flagbearer in an open and competitive process.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka leads his visitor, former Vice President Moody Awori to his office, in his new official residence in Karen Nairobi today. PHOTO | FILE

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka leads his visitor, former Vice President Moody Awori to his office, in his new official residence in Karen Nairobi today. PHOTO | FILE

NEW POLITICAL PARTY

Saitoti was next. Calling Moi “Your Excellency”, he told the President that there would not be any problem with his proposal but that he should have first called a party meeting to discuss and ratify the matter. Moi fired right back, “But I’m speaking to you as Kanu National Chairman. Isn’t that official enough?” Moi was a master at the carrot-and-stick play. He leaned over towards Saitoti and told him, “By the way, I’m informed that your security detail is in place outside.” Saitoti said nothing.

Kalonzo Musyoka was next, and there lay our biggest shock. Kalonzo had been one of Moi’s staunchest loyalists but on this day, he was in a fighting mood! He bravely faced the President and said, “Mzee, you should keep yourself out of succession politics. Leave us alone to direct the show”.

That was a bolt out of the blue for all of us. We did not imagine Kalonzo could muster such guts! Moi could not believe what he was hearing either. He was flabbergasted. He made no rejoinder.

He gestured to me. I told him quite candidly that it was not his choice that I had trouble with but the manner in which he was going about it. I insisted that he should not have decided for us his successor. I informed him that there was no way he could arbitrarily choose a successor, no matter his pedigree, who had never been tested in elective politics. His nominee could just not work.

The President had never encountered such political revolt in his presidency and must have known that there was no point in further discussion. He was probably smarting from the tone of Kalonzo, his very loyal Kanu hawk. The meeting ended and he told us to rethink the matter for another meeting later. When we got out, true to Moi’s word, Saitoti’s security detail was waiting for him. As we entered our vehicles, we had all resolved that we would neither return for another meeting nor support the President’s nominee.

We thought about forming a new political party but we knew that Moi could make the registration of such a party impossible. We called the other leaders in our group who included Assistant Ministers and MPs, and informed them that we had rejected Moi’s “project” and that there would be no turning back. We also announced that all Kanu officials in our team would have to resign from both their party and government positions. We formed a committee to handle the announcement to the media and Kenyans.

We prepared a statement to be read at a press conference and I was appointed spokesman. The date for the mass resignations was set.

For nearly a year, the activities of the trio of Mwai Kibaki, Charity Ngilu and Kijana Wamalwa had ended in a solid alliance and we knew we would play second fiddle if we asked to join them. We had to have our own political party, so we searched for one.

There was a group of people who had made a habit of registering political parties so that when general elections were called, they would make money by selling the parties. Luck smiled on us and Dennis Kodhe approached us and told us that, in partnership with some Kenyans of Indian origin, he had registered a political party called the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). He was willing to arrange a meeting for us to meet his associates to discuss the way forward. He did this and we ended up taking over LDP with a skeleton of party officials.

It was September and the general elections were expected to be held in December, barely three months away. LDP did not have the necessary structures. President Moi had already hit the road campaigning for his nominee and NAK had an agreement in which Kibaki would be their presidential candidate, while Kijana Wamalwa would be his running mate. Simeon Nyachae had also started his presidential campaigns as the Ford-People candidate. They were all in the field already campaigning. In our camp, we were joined by other senior Kanu officials and Cabinet Ministers such as William ole Ntimama and Fred Gumo, who had also decamped.

Although no widespread violence was reported in 2002, the political atmosphere was very tense because that was the first time a sitting President was not campaigning for re-election. There were dangers in every constituency and Kanu politicians put up a spirited fight to retain their seats all over the country.

The next public rally was organised by William ole Ntimana in Narok and it was also very successful. By that time, the star of our rallies was Raila. He was truly a crowd puller. It was at that time that he started composing political satire using football analogies, a tactic that proved very popular with the crowds we addressed. As we traversed the country, our campaign teams became bigger and bigger, resulting in huge financial demands to cater for transport and other logistics.

ELABORATE RECEPTION

As presidential candidates, we did not have individual presidential posters except Kalonzo Musyoka, who had de­signed posters as a presidential candidate long before we came together. Kalonzo had started his presidential campaign before anyone else in our group. He had also established an office at Serena Hotel in Nairobi. It was a kind of presidential suite with a bedroom and a sitting room large enough to accommodate 20 people. Kalonzo allowed us to use this suite so that whenever we came back to the city from our campaigns upcountry, we would sit there to strategise on our next course of action. One of our strategists was Job Omino, a close friend of Raila.

Parallel with our efforts, Kibaki was busy campaigning under the NAK banner. He did this accompanied by Ford-Kenya’s Kijana Wamalwa and SDP’s Charity Ngilu. We had not yet converged in any one town for political rallies until we took our campaigns to the Coast.

On that occasion, we had organised a rally at Tononoka Grounds in Mombasa. On boarding a Kenya Airways flight in Nairobi, I found Kibaki and Beth Mugo already seated. We travelled together and on disembarking at Moi International Airport, Mombasa, we found a huge crowd waiting for Kibaki. Karisa Maitha had organised a NAK rally somewhere in Mombasa and an elaborate reception party for Kibaki, complete with traditional dancers and what looked to me like a guard of honour. Karisa Maitha’s crowd did not pay any attention to us as we left the airport to take a different direction.

However, it was later reported that the crowd that gathered to hear our speeches at Tononoka was one of the largest they had witnessed. For a city hitherto a Kanu zone, we felt we were moving in the right direction. When we returned to Nairobi, we discussed our progress and acknowledged the fact that the opposition had attracted the largest rallies across the country in the election years of 1992 and 1997 but still lost to President Moi and Kanu. What would prevent this from happening again? We could fall into the same trap, ending up with a minority Kanu president. We needed only one presidential candidate in LDP, either Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, George Saitoti or me.

We reached out to Simeon Nyachae of Ford-People, who agreed to work with us in principle. We duly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with him and started sending emissaries to Kibaki. At first, the response from the NAK wing was lukewarm, though we felt our teaming up with Nyachae gave us a decided edge. However, we still felt we needed the NAK camp of Mwai Kibaki. If we could get together, we knew our candidate would become the third president of Kenya.

We, therefore, decided to organise a mammoth public rally at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park on October 14, 2002. As was customary, the leaders first met at Serena Hotel before proceeding to the park. Our plan was to walk together to the park so that people could see our sense of unity. When we enquired about Kibaki, we were told that he had earlier been at Malindi but was then back in Nairobi. We sent a message that we would wait for him at Serena Hotel.

We waited for Kibaki at Serena Hotel for quite some time. The crowd across the road at Uhuru Park was getting restless. Eventually, we decided to cross over to Uhuru Park to start our rally. Nyachae was also with us. I had never seen such a large crowd as we crossed majestically from Serena Hotel towards Uhuru Park. However, our progress to the podium was hampered by those who wanted to see us. One could not see the end of the sea of humanity gathered there from all directions. It was incredible! But we were in for another pleasant surprise that day.

As soon as we started our speeches, we saw the attention of the crowd diverted towards the direction of Serena Hotel. Kibaki and his team had come to join us! It turned out to be the most successful public rally of the entire 2002 campaigns.

Though Moi was not in the presidential race, our younger colleagues, in particular Omar Hassan and George Khaniri, took shots at Moi. Addressing the crowd in turns, they faced the direction of State House, each waving a finger ostensibly at Moi, asking him to pack his belongings and leave. We noted, however, that Kibaki came with only the DP wing, not the whole of NAK. However, he promised to have discussions with his colleagues of Ford-Kenya and SDP. He promised us that he would bring his entire NAK group to our next joint rally. As a result, we designed a programme to meet the NAK partners not represented on that day.

We passed a resolution that there would not be any competition among ourselves and that every decision would henceforth be made by consensus. The immediate need was to get all of us in the opposition to work together. That was our most important objective. We were conscious that our hardest task would be to agree, by consensus, on one opposition candidate acceptable countrywide who would be supported by all leaders of opposition parties. This decision could not be made at a public rally and no single political party in the group could be trusted to decide on its own. It was agreed that I convene at my Lavington home a meeting of the leaders of LDP, Ford-People and NAK. Each party was to bring 10 people, making a total of 30.

As it turned out, over 100 members from the three parties turned up. The agenda was to chart a way forward for naming one presidential candidate. Among all of us gathered, Mwai Kibaki was the longest serving leader. Having been an MP for almost 40 years, serving for decades in senior ministerial positions as well as the vice-presidency, he was the first among equals. No one disputed that he was the ranking politician in our fledgling alliance. We, therefore, floated his name as a possible compromise candidate. Most of those present did not have a problem with that, except Simeon Nyachae.

NOTHING PERSONAL

During our meeting, we would sometimes break into small groups for consultations. Nyachae had been accompanied by among others Kipkalya Kones, his influential Rift Valley kingpin. A problem arose when a DP supporter argued with Kipkalya Kones and an altercation ensued. They nearly exchanged blows! They were standing near the swimming pool edge and I feared they would end up in the pool.

When calm returned, we re­sumed our meeting. I then confronted Simeon Nyachae, my old friend. He was more than just a friend. Our relationship went back to the colonial days when his father was a senior chief in Kisii and my father was a roving missionary, covering Western and Nyanza. The two old men were great friends. We followed in their footsteps. Furthermore, Nyachae had helped me a great deal when I became an Assistant Minister in 1983. He was then the powerful Chief Secretary. He was also instrumental in the formation of the District Focus for Rural De­velopment Programme, a precursor to devolution years later. Whenever I had needed help in government circles, I had al­ways called upon him and he had always helped me.

I now faced my friend and asked why he was so strongly opposed to Kibaki being our joint presidential nominee. He told me that he had nothing personal against Kibaki but that he was irked by the method we were using. Nyachae was a stickler for rules and protocol. He told me he respected institutions and that there were clauses in the Ford-People constitution that did not allow him to make a decision without consultation. It was on a Saturday and I reminded him that all we wanted was to be heard on Monday, speaking in one voice.

Time was of the essence. Our supporters were growing weary of promises that we would field a single presidential candidate. 

We did not want to go into the general election under the name of any existing political party. NAK was good enough because it denoted an alliance. However, it was associated with only half of the opposition (DP-SDP-Ford-Kenya). There was genuine fear from the other half of the opposition that using NAK might have been construed to mean that LDP had been swallowed up or that LDP would be a junior partner.

Thus, we settled for the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (Narc). While the NAK symbol, mwenge or beacon was already known in NAK strongholds, we agreed to abandon it. After serious discussions, we settled on a rainbow. Charity Ngilu, however, opposed the rainbow, explaining that in Ukambani, a rainbow was viewed negatively. Eventually, she was prevailed upon to accept the majority view.

It was at this stage that we decided to form a Summit comprising already declared presidential candidates — George Saitoti, Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Mwai Kibaki, Kijana Wamalwa, Charity Ngilu and myself. The Summit would be the topmost decision-making organ for the coalition. I was honoured to be its chairman.

Narc was registered as a coalition of many parties associated with NAK and LDP. There was a lot of consultation and we had to work round the clock because there was no time to linger. Every time we tackled one issue, we encountered opposition from this or that quarter. After agreeing on the party colours, it was time to write a manifesto. Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o and Dr Mukhisa Kituyi were entrusted with the job. They were given the mandate to pick anyone to help in the work.

From then onwards, Narc worked as a team with a national strategy. We divided our leaders into broad groups that represented the eight provinces for ease of management. Each leader was to rally their troops in their areas of influence and organise public rallies for us in those areas. This helped to surmount very challenging logistical problems, given that we had only a short time to campaign around the country.

Immediately after we formed Narc, we organised another mega public rally at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park to be addressed by all the leading lights of Narc led by the Summit leaders. This rally was envisaged to announce the formal commencement of the Narc campaigns and set the stage for a bruising battle with Kanu. In this first Narc rally, we still held on to the forlorn hope that Nyachae would join us. So we left the door open for him. On the appointed day, Nyachae did not turn up. The meeting was, however, a success beyond our expectations. It was a mammoth rally. People had turned up to witness Kenya’s first truly united opposition rally against Kanu in years.

The Summit leaders were received with a roar that echoed across the city. The surprise of that day was Raila Odinga. The man knows how to connect with his audience. He used his usual metaphors and riddles (vitendawili) and the crowd cheered him on after every few sentences. He was sending them wild.

Then he thundered “Tunamaliza wakati tukitafuta candi­date yetu, si Kibaki tosha?” (We are wasting time looking for a candidate, isn’t Kibaki enough?).

From that moment onwards, the die was cast. Mwai Kibaki would be Narc’s presidential candidate. No one ever dared to question that fact. From that day, all leaders in Narc would coalesce around Kibaki.

As ex­pected, Nyachae was very miffed by the turn of events. When he heard about our declaration, he immediately sent his point man, Kipkalya Kones, to see me. Since I was the chairman of the Summit, Nyachae felt I owed him an explanation as to why we had jumped the gun. I explained the Summit position and Kipkalya relayed the message to him.