How Moi created then decimated youth lobby

Sunday June 12 2016

Youth for Kanu ‘92 Chairman Cyrus Jirongo with President Moi before the 1992 General Election. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Youth for Kanu ‘92 Chairman Cyrus Jirongo with President Moi before the 1992 General Election. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KIPCHUMBA SOME
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In November 1992, Youth for Kanu ‘92 Chairman Cyrus Jirongo suspended his vice-chairman Gerald Bomett and the group’s treasurer Sam Nyamweya.

This was the culmination of a vicious internal battle that had impacted heavily on the activities of YK’92 and would end up consuming the group.

As the December 29, 1992 General Election approached, YK’92 was limping as a result of a sustained onslaught against it by the Opposition and the Kanu old guard. 

One of the cardinal rules of YK ‘92 was that none of its top members would contest in that year’s elections.

The only member to have defied this rule and won an elective seat was Mr Sammy Leshore, who was elected MP for Samburu East.

Mr Jirongo sacked Mr Nyamweya and Mr Gerald Bomett for interfering in Kanu nominations in Kisii district and for seeking the Baringo South parliamentary seats, respectively.

“I knew the politics of Kisii better than Jirongo and I wanted the party to field the best candidates,” Mr Nyamweya told the Sunday Nation in an interview for this series.

The group turned its guns on Mr Bomett, who walked away saying the lobby was a waste of time. However, President Daniel arap Moi rescinded the suspension and returned the two to the YK’92 fold.

But that spat had effectively spelt the death knell for this group of ambitious young men of privilege who, seeing their fortunes threatened by the Opposition wave, had banded together to change the tide in favour of President Moi in that year’s historic election.

The group split into two factions, one led by Mr Jirongo and the other by Mr Nyamweya, two successful youthful businessmen with egos the size of Mt Kenya.

“Nyamweya was very ambitious and attempted to upstage Jirongo at every turn and this caused a lot of friction amongst us,” Prof Chris Wanjala, one of the academic professionals co-opted into the group, says.

However, Mr Nyamweya said he was opposed to “Jirongo’s secret underhand dealings which he made in the name of the group. Secondly, he wanted a sycophant and I was not one”.

Other members, however, feel that the divisions that wrecked the group were being orchestrated by other people, perhaps the very person they were campaigning for: President Moi. 

“Kanu engineered the divisions within YK’92 to weaken us,” Mr Fred Kiptanui, one of the group’s founders who watched with bewilderment as their outfit splintered and withered, said.

JIRONGO'S DREAM
Mr Kiptanui was referring to the Kanu old guard who — fearing that the group’s leading lights were pushing them from the centre of power to the periphery — had waged a relentless war against it.

“I was simply opposed to their divisive brand of politics. I did not approve of their methods,” former Cabinet minister William ole Ntimama, then a key member of the Kanu establishment, said.

Although he had presided over the group’s official launch in March 1992, Vice-President George Saitoti is also said to have led a quiet onslaught against the group.

Prof Saitoti had fallen out with some members of the group after Mr Jirongo accused the VP of receiving money from Western governments to allow nuclear waste to be dumped in Marsabit.

“Moi might have liked us for what we were doing, but in the end Saitoti was his vice-president. Accusing him of such things was tantamount to accusing Moi himself,” Mr Kiptanui said.

Nonetheless, Mr Moi kept his cool. Despite the divisions, the group held on long enough to help the President win the first multi-party elections against a bitterly divided opposition.

Mr Moi won four out of the eight provinces, losing quite predictably in Central, Nairobi, Nyanza and Western provinces, which were firmly in the grip of the opposition.

The loss in Western province contributed to the barrage of criticism against Mr Jirongo who was accused of failing to deliver his home turf despite the massive resources Kanu spent there.

After Mr Moi was elected, the criticism against Mr Jirongo multiplied. This provided a perfect platform for the old guard who earnestly planned the downfall of YK‘92. 

Mr Jirongo said that, unbeknown to most members, two months after the elections, he tried hard to convince Mr Moi to appoint members of his group — and younger leaders — into key government positions.

He said that he proposed the appointment of Mr Musalia Mudavadi as vice-president in an attempt to bring fresh young faces to the country’s leadership.

“Moi was at first receptive of the idea but the old guard around him prevailed in the end,” Mr Jirongo said. Prof Saitoti was eventually reappointed to the position.

Mr Jirongo said he rejected Mr Moi’s offer to nominate him to Parliament and instead proposed Mr Abdirahman Bafadhil. This, too, was blocked by the party stalwarts. 

However, Mr Nyamweya claims that Mr Jirongo’s personal ambitions ultimately led to the group’s demise. 

“He formed a secret shadowy cabinet which he was preparing to swear-in,” he claimed.

Another key official, Mr Micah Kigen, said Mr Jirongo had developed an idea of being president in 10 years. “The plan was to have many YK members run for parliamentary seats in 1997.”

In 1992, only Mr Leshore won a parliamentary seat. But in 1997, Mr Jirongo (Lugari), Mr William Ruto (Eldoret North) and Mr Joe Kimkung (Mt Elgon) were elected to Parliament. 

“He (Jirongo) thought that Moi would appoint him vice-president in 1997 which then would have put him in a good position to contest the presidency in 2002,” Mr Kigen said.

INTIMIDATION OF MEMBERS

But the best laid schemes of men and mice often go awry. After the elections, the group met Mr Moi where they demanded appointment to top jobs in government.

“Of course we wanted to be rewarded,” Mr Bartonjo Chesaina, who had resigned from his senior position at the National Cereals and Produce Board to join the group, said.

However, Mr Moi had other ideas and barely a month after they helped him win the presidency, he set in motion the process of disbanding the lobby. It began with an arrest.

In February 1993, Mr Ahmed Saddique Hersi, the group’s national publicity chairman, was charged alongside a National Bank of Kenya manager of defrauding the financial institution of Sh60 million.

On April 23, the President suspended the operations of the group, accusing some of its members of tarnishing the image of Kanu and people close to him, according to newspaper reports at the time.

In May 1993, Mr Nyamweya led his faction in urging President Moi to dissolve the group and “take stock of the actions of some of its members”.

On June 2, Mr Jirongo’s faction issued a public statement asking for forgiveness from those they hurt. But the apology appears to have come a little too late.

Ten days later on June 12, 1993, President Moi disbanded the group.

“Moi worried that we had become a law unto ourselves,” Kigen, who was caught up in the crackdown that followed, says.

Four days later on June 16, 1993, Mr Kigen, Mr William Ruto, and Mr Rono - who was the group’s coordinator in Kitale - were arrested and interrogated by police as part of the government’s intimidation plan.

Mr Kigen said: “I was taken to Central Police Station (in Nairobi) and told to record a statement disowning Jirongo. They said it was a directive from State House. I declined. Then they brought a document purportedly signed by Jirongo, Kenneth Matiba (opposition leader) and Yoweri Museveni (Ugandan President) in Tigoni on how they planned to overthrow the government. I told them it was hogwash. They released me after three days without a charge.”

However, the main target of Mr Moi’s strategies was Mr Jirongo. His offices at Nairobi’s Anniversary Towers were raided and documents carted away soon after Mr Moi suspended the group.

Later in 1993, the National Social Security Fund was ordered to cancel the purchase of 500 housing units worth Sh1.2 billion (equivalent to more than Sh10 billion today) at Hazina estate from Mr Jirongo’s company, Sololo Outlets.

In quick succession, Sololo was declared bankrupt and lawyer Mutula Kilonzo appointed the receiver. This was the beginning of a campaign to curtail Mr Jirongo’s ambitions by crippling him financially.

YK'S LEGACY

The plot to neuter the young businessman centred on Mr Kilonzo, a bright but scheming Kanu lawyer who would later be elected the Makueni County Senator before his death in 2013.

The extent of this scheming against Mr Jirongo became public after a trove of highly confidential documents between the lawyer, President Moi and other senior government functionaries came to light in 2012.

The resulting court case is still going on. Mr Jirongo is demanding Sh1.5 billion from NSSF for losses he said he incurred in addition to Sh490 million the corporation paid him in 2011.  

Since YK‘92, political lobby groups have come and gone every election cycle. But to date YK‘92 appears to be the only one that has captured the nation’s imagination — and remains the subject of debate more than two decades after its rise and fall.

“We made history and that’s why people talk about us all these years and I am proud to have been part of that history,” Nyamweya said.

Nonetheless, the real legacy of YK‘92 remains debatable. But in the larger perspective of political affairs, the group’s enduring legacy is best captured in a personal reflection by Prof Wanjala of the University of Nairobi, who was a member of the group. 

“YK taught me that power is sweet and that people can do anything to get and maintain it. I also learnt that money is a very, very powerful thing if you have it,” he said.