Mwai Kibaki’s rise to the presidency is famously attributed to the declaration “Kibaki Tosha” (Kibaki is the one) made by Raila Odinga at Uhuru Park on October 14, 2002, two months before the election that year.
Today we can shed light on the backroom politics and manoeuvring that culminated in the Tosha declaration and the anointment of a reluctant Mr Kibaki as the Narc candidate.
According to a diary by a serving Cabinet minister made available exclusively to the Sunday Nation and cross-checked with people in the know, the countdown to the famous slogan began with a secret meeting of representatives from main opposition parties, dubbed the Progressive Elements Forum on August 3, 2001 at Trisan Hotel on Nairobi’s Turbo Road.
Among attendees were Mukhisa Kituyi, Waithaka Mwangi, Moses Wetang’ula, Kipruto Kirwa and Noah Wekesa. Willy Mutunga represented civil society.
Mr Kibaki’s rise to the top came in two stages. The first was his selection as the joint opposition candidate of the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) made up mainly of his DP party, Michael Wamalwa’s Ford Kenya and Charity Ngilu’s National Party of Kenya (NPK).
The second stage was the declaration that he would be the candidate of the larger amalgam of NAK and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), also known as the Rainbow Alliance. The larger grouping dubbed the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) was his springboard to State House.
Information seen by the Sunday Nation indicates that although Mr Kibaki was the main beneficiary of the manoeuvring that led to Narc ousting the Kanu government, he was a very reluctant, even ignorant, actor in the proceedings, leaving others to do battle for him.
We can now reveal that Mrs Ngilu had to literally drag him to a key meeting on August 26, 2002 at the Milimani Hotel where he was declared the Nak candidate.
Had he not been present, there could have been strong lobbying at the plenary for NAK to pick a neutral candidate from outside the orbit of DP, Ford Kenya and NPK.
The name floated, according to the Cabinet minister’s notes, was that of then National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) chief executive, the Rev Mutava Musyimi, who is now the Gachoka MP.
The other alternative, strongly backed by Ford People’s Simeon Nyachae, was to select the Nak candidate through a primary. But the physical presence of Mr Kibaki, backed by strong lobbying by Mrs Ngilu and Mr Wamalwa, carried the day.
Two weeks earlier on August 11, 2002 at another joint opposition gathering at Elmenteita Lodge, Mrs Ngilu and Mr Wamalwa had salvaged Mr Kibaki’s shot at State House when they convinced him to change his party’s hardline position on whether to dissolve the constituent parties in Nak, the opposition alliance.
New information indicates that behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by former Vice-President Moody Awori and Cabinet minister George Saitoti succeeded in convincing Mr Odinga to make the Kibaki Tosha declaration that served as the springboard for Mr Kbaki’s successful bid for State House.
Initially, Mr Odinga had planned to have the LDP (also called the Rainbow Alliance) ignore the Kibaki/Wamalwa/Ngilu Nak axis and team up with Nyachae’s Ford People.
In this alternative alliance, the two would have held a primary election to pick a joint candidate. Indeed, the morning before Mr Odinga made the Kibaki Tosha declaration, the Rainbow Alliance signed a memorandum of understanding to work with Mr Nyachae.
Mr Odinga’s calculation was that in the event of a face off with Mr Nyachae, he could easily floor him. And with Mr Nyachae and Rainbow Alliance behind him, he would be left to tackle two other presidential candidates, Nak’s Kibaki and Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta.
Odinga strategists calculated that with two strong opposition candidates from the Mount Kenya bloc spoiling the chances for each other, their candidate would face an easy victory.
But according to the minister’s notes, while Mr Odinga was secretly talking to Mr Nyachae, Mr Awori and Mr Saitoti were scheming with Kibaki people behind his back.
When the possibility of a split Rainbow Alliance — with one side going to Mr Nyachae and the other to Mr Kibaki — finally dawned on him, the ever-pragmatic Raila Odinga knew when to say Kibaki Tosha.
Had the opposition split into two strong factions, there was a significant possibility that Mr Moi’s Uhuru Project could have carried the day.
According to the minister’s notes, Mr Kibaki did promise to be a one-term president should the joint opposition pick him as its candidate.
The pledge was made at the Nairobi Club on October 10, 2002, four days before the Tosha declaration, at a secret meeting attended by the joint opposition chiefs. The notes indicate the promise was verbal as Mr Kibaki said it was a “gentlemen’s agreement”. His position was heartily supported by Mr Saitoti and Mr Awori.
The notes also reveal that even after being surprised by the Tosha declaration, Mr Nyachae still insisted that the joint opposition pick its candidate through a primary.
Mr Awori attempted in vain to convince him that time constraints and fear of interference from Kanu dictated that the alliance pick its candidate through consensus. Mr Nyachae resolved to go it alone on a Ford People ticket.
Earlier in the year at a meeting at the Trisan Hotel on January 29, 2002, Mr Mutunga of the Kenya Human Rights Commission suggested that National Alliance for Change (Nac) be the movement’s name.
Three committees were formed to guide the new alliance on strategy, constitutional reforms and coordination.
It was at the next meeting on May 31, 2002, when the first cracks in the nascent alliance emerged that threatened to have the Kibaki group locked out. The bone of contention was whether the constituent parties in the alliance should merge into one entity or retain their identities within the coalition.
Mrs Ngilu and Mr Wamalwa strongly favoured a one-party umbrella to take on the newly merged Kanu/NDP. On the other hand, Team Kibaki insisted that parties remain intact but field a joint candidate.
It was at that point when strong comments were made on the floor of the plenary that the Kibaki group might as well take a walk if they were not about to abandon DP for the alliance party to be created.
As recounted above, Mr Kibaki’s drive to State House was saved during an August 11, 2002 meeting at Elmentaita Lodge.
Aware of the secret plans to lobby for a neutral opposition candidate who would turn the tables on the Kibaki-Wamalwa-Ngilu trio, the latter two had worked on a counter-scheme that would have them go to the Elmentaita meeting with a proposal for a single alliance party that would field presidential, parliamentary and civic candidates.
The idea was to catch flat-footed the sitting MPs who were for the idea of a neutral candidate but who naturally would jump ship at the prospect of finding themselves without a party, granted that the neutral candidate would not come with a political party.
The plan was to offer Mrs Ngilu’s National Party of Kenya (NPK) as the joint opposition party; the new outfit would be called the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK), with letter “p” being omitted from the acronym.
Come the Elmentaita parley, the resolution to have a single party umbrella was passed, and the Ngilu-Wamalwa-Kibaki trio was asked to go and decide among themselves who would be the NAK standard bearer. They were to do that and report back to the plenary session to be held at Nairobi’s Milimani Hotel in two weeks’ time.
But the anti-Kibaki troops in the new alliance had not given up yet. As the trio debated who would be the candidate — actually they had resolved much earlier it would be Mr Kibaki — the anti-Kibaki group went into overdrive to push the idea of a neutral candidate, but one who would come on board on a NAK ticket adopted at the Milimani meeting.
According to the minister’s notes, the ringleaders in the push for a neutral candidate were then MPs Shem Ochuodho and Otieno Kopiyo. The Cabinet minister, however, discloses that many others were behind the move but kept their peace lest they antagonise their respective party chiefs who were already set on Mr Kibaki.
On the eve of NAK’s last meeting held at Milimani Hotel on August 26, 2002, Mrs Ngilu and Mr Wamalwa sensed things would not be easy at the plenary where they would be presenting Mr Kibaki as their choice for the top seat.
Surprisingly, the notes indicate, Mr Kibaki was taking the whole matter very easy to the great consternation of his two key allies.
The Cabinet minister, who attended an advance meeting of the trio at the Hotel Intercontinental, recalls Mrs Ngilu almost pulling Mr Kibaki by the hand as she impressed on him what a turnaround effect his physical presence would make at the Milimani meeting.
Mr Kibaki’s position was that MPs Ochuodho and Kopiyo were lightweights who could not sway the plenary with their neutral candidate “nuisance”.
The minister reckons that aware of the anti-Kibaki feelings among their own troops, Mrs Ngilu and Mr Wamalwa were, to the contrary, convinced that Kibaki’s absence from the Milimani parley would definitely turn the tables on their game plan.
Mr Kibaki finally showed up at the meeting, and the Ochuodho/Kopiyo group was overwhelmed, but not without a fight, the Cabinet minister recalls.
Elsewhere, things were moving fast and furious.
Mr Moi had unilaterally picked Uhuru Kenyatta as Kanu’s presidential candidate, setting off a rebellion that saw Raila Odinga bolt the party together with traditional Moi allies, including Mr Saitoti, Mr Awori, Kalonzo Musyoka, Joseph Kamotho and William Ntimama.
But while the group that came to be known as the Rainbow Alliance and later coalesced into the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was united in humiliating Mr Moi and his Uhuru project, it was not unanimous on which political grouping to join, less so on who would be their brigade leader.
The Rainbow Alliance could choose between two groups, the Kibaki Nak alliance or the Nyachae group, which up to this point had left its options open.
That all was not well in the Rainbow Alliance came out in early September 2002 when key luminaries in the group held a strategy meeting at the Norfolk Hotel. Mr Kamotho, who attended the meeting and would later become LDP secretary general, reckons that the Norfolk meeting never made a specific resolution but agreed on further consultations before a joint position was made public.
However, and to the surprise of those in attendance, recalls Mr Kamotho, Mr Odinga came out to declare that the meeting had resolved to form a Rainbow Alliance. “That took all of us by surprise as it had not been resolved at the meeting,” Mr Kamotho recalled.
Insiders reckon that it was a typical Raila Odinga strategy to capture the ball and run with it. “Of course, he wanted to send out the message loud and clear that he was the de-facto Rainbow leader,” said a source familiar with the goings-on at the time.
He added, “That way he would be able to whip everybody else into toeing whatever political line he took in the name of Rainbow Alliance.”
It is the seed of suspicion planted at the Norfolk Rainbow conclave that gave birth to a month-long flurry of behind-the-scenes activities as two camps within Rainbow, the Raila and the Saitoti/Awori axis, tried to outdo each other by making secret overtures to both the Kibaki/Nak and the Nyachae groups.
The main difference, said one insider knowledgeable about the goings-on, was that the traditional conservative establishment types in the Saitoti/Awori group were uncomfortable with the idea of the supremacy of Raila Odinga, the latter having been active in opposition/radical movements.
On the other hand, the radicals in the Raila group did not entirely trust any of the conservatives, be they Kibaki or Nyachae, and hoped to manipulate the situation to a position in which they would be calling the shots.
With no camp assured of a clear victory, the result was an amalgam of the conservatives and the radicals that made Raila Odinga say Tosha on October 14, 2002.
Perhaps history repeated itself this year on February 28 when the same characters, Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga, signed a pact to form a grand coalition government.