How Karume sold the idea of forming DP to Kibaki
In the run-up to era of multi-party politics, alliances were shifting and politicians were shopping for parties to propel them to power. In the third part of the serialisation of his autobiography, politician Njenga Karume reveals the intrigues of how DP was formed
Like the ludicrous KANU elections, the 1988 Parliamentary elections were a farce, as well. They are remembered for their gross irregularities and blatant rigging. Acting on his unique brand of ‘wisdom’, Moi decided that the elections would not be held by secret ballot but through the queuing system (like the ones for the KANU elections) whereby voters would line up for the candidates of their choice and then be counted manually. Such retrogression was an incredible example of the new style of government.
Protests were widespread when many candidates were rigged out because they did not meet dubious standards of slavish loyalty. Such actions were intended to kick out popular ‘dissidents’ who had the support of their constituencies. The rigging was so blatant that even when it was totally obvious which queue had the most voters, others would be announced winners. This went on to such an extent that in some polling stations, the supposed number of votes garnered by favoured candidates was far greater than the number of voters in the voting register. People were outraged and incredulous but Moi, as usual, was unmoved.
Luckily I survived the ridiculous queuing voting system with ease as I seemed to be quite popular with the voters. However, most significantly, my friend Mwai Kibaki, who had also been re-elected in Othaya, was nevertheless dropped from the Vice Presidency and appointed Minister for Health. At this time the Ministry of Health was bedevilled by mismanagement and corruption, and an appointment there was considered an insult.
Dr Josephat Karanja was selected to replace him and this did not go down well with Kibaki’s allies, or with the Kikuyu community in general. Kibaki was given a token Ministry to run and many of his friends and supporters viewed this as an insult. Surprisingly, Kibaki accepted the demotion without complaint and seemed oblivious to his humiliation. It was perhaps this embarrassing loss of Kibaki’s status that agitated the people of Central Province more than any other factor, and it was one of the major dynamics that led to the return of multiparty elections four years later.
Towards the end of the 1980s, Moi’s rule faced the strongest opposition it had ever had. People were tired of his authoritarian and irrational style of leadership and fed up with the extensive looting carried out by his lieutenants.
The economy was at the lowest it had ever been since independence and whispers of opposition became more audible until they were heard throughout the land. Bold politicians such as Kenneth Matiba, George Anyona, Charles Rubia, James Orengo, Raila Odinga and his father Jaramogi among many others, were openly agitating for the repeal of Section 2A of the constitution. Moi’s terror tactics could no longer stop his adversaries or the clamour for change, because the more he persecuted his opponents, the louder the shouts of protest became.
It was at this point that, Mr Matiba resigned from Parliament, and he and Mr Rubia started a serious and very vocal campaign to make Kenya a multiparty democracy. Chants of “Moi must go!” filled the land, and people started being openly critical of the President. Desperate to slow the tide, Moi threw both into detention. Moi’s feeble excuse was that Kenya was not ready for multiparty rule and that chaos and anarchy would ensue if multipartysm was permitted. Not many people agreed with his point of view, however. The opposition was concentrated mostly in Nairobi, Central Province and Nyanza where people had never been fully comfortable under Moi.
In order to establish a basis for his refusal to permit multiparty politics, Moi gambled by sending out a team, headed by Vice President George Saitoti, to gather the people’s views on the multiparty system. Perhaps it was not so much of a gamble as the team returned with the pre-arranged verdict Moi wanted. Kenyans supposedly did not want multipartyism.
KANU stalwarts such as Ezekiel Barngetuny and Joseph Kamotho still thought that KANU would rule forever. A KANU official told the youth to chop off the fingers of any opposition supporters who flashed the “two finger salute”. Kamotho said that KANU would rule for one hundred years.
Meanwhile, the protagonists of multipartyism led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, Ahmed Bahmariz, Paul Muite, James Orengo, Masinde Muliro, Martin Shikuku, George Anyona and others, formed an umbrella movement called the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). This movement included nearly all stakeholders in the fight for the so-called ‘second liberation’. It was at this time that Mwai Kibaki flippantly made the infamous remark, stating that “trying to remove KANU from power was like trying to cut down a mugumo (fig) tree with a razor blade.”
It is said that guns can stop an army, but not an idea whose time has come. The agitation for multiparty politics went ahead full throttle. During the National Delegates Conference at Kasarani, in mid-1991, there was complete silence when I moved the motion to repeal Section 2A and Moi finally, albeit reluctantly, agreed to repeal the Section. I guess many others in the forum would have liked to be in my place but they were afraid Moi might carry out some arbitrary backlash.
But I had a fairly good idea of the mood of the country and I believed the people really wanted more political parties. After all these years of Moi’s disapproval, what could he now do to me? His grip was weakening and he had realised that he could no longer just do whatever he liked.
The delegates approved the motion unanimously, and that was the end of KANU’s hegemony in Kenyan politics.
Moi must have been shocked and flabbergasted by this blatant, mass opposition to his own wishes.
Kangema MP John Joseph Kamotho’s arrogant assertion that KANU would rule for a hundred years now looked ridiculous and ignorant.
Shortly thereafter, FORD was registered as a party. Many people who were in full support of multipartyism did not, however, join this party. I was one of them. When I studied the core structure of FORD, I concluded that it was most likely headed for an acrimonious split since there were many wrangles and power struggles within the body. There were also many bloated egos which were bound to clash sooner or later.
A little later, I was present in Parliament and the voting on a certain motion was in process. Members were lining up to vote on the motion and I was standing aside in a corner of the House waiting for my turn.
With me were my two friends Mwai Kibaki and the MP for Kajiado North, John Keen. We were making small talk when I suddenly had an idea.
“Why can’t we form our own political party?” I asked Keen.
Keen looked at me like he had suddenly woken up.
“I can form one on the condition that you two join me,” he said with a dawning smile.
I explained that with a political party of our own, we could put forward our own political agenda to a better advantage. Kibaki and Keen had never considered this. Apparently they thought that anyone wanting to oppose Moi had to join FORD. I told them there would be no possibility of becoming party leaders in FORD because it was already like a top-heavy, overloaded ship that was bound to sink under the weight in due course.
Liked my idea
There were many people who were against Moi but they could not fit into the FORD party structure simply because there was insufficient space for them. It was inevitable that more parties would soon be created to cater for all sorts of interests, I argued, and there was nothing to stop us from forming our own. Kibaki and Keen liked my idea straightaway, and after a few discussions in which the three of us refined the concept, we finally decided to form the Democratic Party of Kenya.
“You are going to be the Chairman,” I said to Kibaki. “And you will be the Secretary General,” I told Keen. It was Kibaki who I had in mind for the post of Chairman because Kibaki was better educated and more experienced in politics and, if everything went well and DP happened to win the elections, Kibaki would make the better President. I proposed that John Keen should be the Secretary General of the party since he was a founder member. Kibaki accepted my proposal and we decided to make the announcement on 31 December 1991.
We met at Jacaranda Hotel nearly every day while forming the party.
I was initially against calling the new party “The Democratic Party” but Kibaki was very much for it. Since many Kenyans are still illiterate, every party also has an easily grasped symbol as their party logo. I wanted a lantern, to symbolise bringing enlightenment, but Kibaki wanted a certain animal which he felt would have greater impact. We finally settled on a lantern and I was pleased because it had always been my symbol in the Kiambaa Parliamentary Elections.
Kibaki announced his resignation from Parliament while in Mombasa, and a few days later he read a statement to the press at Jacaranda Hotel in Nairobi, giving details about the formation of our new party.
We then began to create a secretariat. We knew that a party which claimed to have a national outlook had to have national representation.
Party officials had to be people who shared a similar philosophy and views on national goals. Furthermore the party needed representatives from all over the republic. I approached Eliud Mwamunga from the Coast Province and invited him to join DP. The Democratic Party (DP) was one of the biggest parties formed after Moi allowed the return of multipartyism. Many people identify DP with Mwai Kibaki, but the fact of the matter is that it was my idea. I even suggested the name of the party and the party’s symbol, a lantern, to suggest that it would be bringing light to troubled Kenyans.
From Eastern Province, David Mwiraria and Joseph Munyao were brought on board while Mohamed Ogle was selected to represent North Eastern. The Treasurer’s post went to Mwamunga and Mohamed Ogle was chosen as the party’s Organising Secretary. Munyao was picked as the Assistant Secretary. Munyao had actually been poached from FORD where he was Life Member Number 69. A photo of our first full meeting somehow appeared in the newspapers and Jaramogi admonished Munyao for abandoning FORD. I, on my part, occupied the modest post of Chairman of the Board of Trustees which had eight representatives from each Province.
Matiba, who was one of the most prominent personalities in FORD, had been Kibaki’s and my friend for years. However, I did not want Matiba to hear that we had formed a party from anyone else but myself.
Matiba had fallen sick while in detention and was recuperating in a London hospital at the time. On the day that the formation of DP was announced, I went to John Michuki’s house, phoned Matiba’s flat in London and spoke to him at length, explaining that the creation of DP was meant in a democratic spirit and that our aim in forming the party was not to create conflict with FORD.
Matiba listened to me and then wished us all the best. I also informed Matiba that a few athuuri (elders) would be arriving in London that night to visit him and see if he was comfortable and check on his progress. Our delegation consisted of Dr Frank Njenga, Uhuru Kenyatta, and my son-in-law, James Kahiu.
However, not all of my friends welcomed the new party. Kibaki and I used to frequent Muthaiga Country Club and often met our friends and acquaintances there as we relaxed. One evening, when Kibaki and I revealed the fact that we were forming DP, our friends, who included Charles Rubia, Matere Keriri and Matu Wamae, stated that they were not in favour of the idea of creating a new party. They declared that the wisest option would be for everyone to join forces in FORD in order to ensure that they would have a majority and thereby defeat Moi. However, I maintained that FORD was a passing phenomenon.
There were rumours that Kibaki and Matiba had fallen out prior to the formation of FORD and that Kibaki was supposed to join Matiba in resigning from Parliament but he developed cold feet. Whatever the case, the relationship was never the same again.
Muthaiga Country Club has been one of the most exclusive clubs in Nairobi since colonial times. Its membership consists of the most affluent. Although not as famous as Muthaiga Golf Club next door, it is more selective.
By use of a parable Kibaki and I tried to explain that “DP was a small tree in the forest, and trees in the forest grow together and they do not fight.” I added that the tree would need water to grow and that “this small tree could one day be your shelter in times of need.” And my little fable proved to have some truth in it when people like Keriri and Wamae sailed through to Parliament in the 1992 elections after vying on a DP ticket.
Before FORD did actually break up, Matiba made a triumphant entry into Nairobi after his treatment in London. FORD had publicised the homecoming and urged supporters to come out and receive Matiba in style, but what happened far surpassed the party’s expectations.
It was a Saturday and most people were not working, so hundreds of thousands of jubilant supporters lined the road leading from the airport into the city. The massive crowds that turned up to welcome Matiba home had never been witnessed before and the popular reception could only be compared to the welcome Kenyatta received when he returned from London in 1946. The reception had the desired effect, which was to chill Moi and KANU to the bone. The massive outpouring of joy on Matiba’s arrival proved to sceptics that FORD was firmly on the ground and was unstoppable.
However an even more important and unfortunate consequence of the welcome was to hasten the break-up of FORD. There were some members of FORD who had always been in the Jaramogi faction while others had assumed Matiba would be the party’s Presidential candidate.
Observing the increasingly popular support for Matiba, the Jaramogi faction started drifting away and then attempted to popularize Jaramogi in order to lessen Matiba’s influence.
Both Jaramogi and Matiba were headstrong and proud, and very soon FORD split into two parties namely FORD Kenya and FORD Asili which endorsed Jaramogi and Matiba respectively.
The first DP rally at Uhuru Park was marked by exceptionally large crowds. Mwai Kibaki was endorsed as the party’s flag bearer.
We were pleased with the turnout and were confident that he would win. Naturally the two other large opposition parties also believed their candidates would be successful.
The same trick was used in 2002 when Kibaki made a similar triumphant return to the country after treatment in London after being involved in a road accident. This time round, the opposition trounced KANU. There was a joke going round that to win the Presidency, one needed to get sick and seek treatment abroad just shortly before the elections.
Each of the parties thought it had the capacity and public support to defeat KANU and Moi. All the parties’ meetings saw massive turnouts and the three parties were confident they each had what it takes to win the Presidency.
Jaramogi’s support was mainly from Nyanza and some parts of Western Kenya. Matiba’s support was from Central Province, Western and some sections of Eastern. Kibaki’s party had support from similar sections. Each of the three had almost equal support from sections of Nairobi city.
While it is true that the opposition supporters outnumbered KANU’s by a ratio of 3 to 1, the opposition still lost. In our conceit and self aggrandizement, our three parties had split the opposition vote so that none of the parties could possibly win on its own.
While each leader of the three believed they would be President, Moi cleverly consolidated the little support that remained for KANU into one solid block. He also employed his usual unorthodox and guaranteed method which had never yet failed to win elections for him.
As it turned out, Moi won, Matiba came second, Kibaki third and Jaramogi fourth. The opposition garnered more than twice as many votes as Moi and KANU, but the minority still won. It would be quite some time before the opposition learned to act as a united force.
For the first time since joining Parliament, I lost the elections. The people in Kiambaa voted in Kamau Icharia to replace me. I had taken a risky gamble by standing on a DP ticket and I lost. There was ‘Ford Asili’ euphoria sweeping over Kiambu and Murang’a (Matiba’s home area) and no one standing on any other party survived the onslaught.
The only survivor was Paul Muite who won the Kikuyu (now Kabete) Parliamentary seat on a Ford Kenya ticket.
Kiambu voters opted to support Matiba, a fellow Kikuyu from Murang’a, rather than support a person from Nyeri.
Ford Asili swept the board in Kiambu and Murang’a, while DP took all the parliamentary seats in Nyeri, Kibaki’s home area. Although I lost, I do not regret standing on a DP ticket. I knew I was going to lose. Matiba, and even my constituents, had told me so many times, but I just felt I could not abandon Kibaki.
“We love you very much but we have to vote for Matiba,” one elder told me.
During the next elections in 1997, the opposition still had not learnt their lesson. Matiba did not vie and Kibaki and Jaramogi’s son Raila refused to unite, thus Moi easily won the election, with Kibaki coming second. It was only in 2002 that the main opposition united and learnt that there is strength in numbers and managed to end KANU’s rule.
Well, what could I say to that?
Ford Kenya and Ford Asili both had thirty one MPs in Parliament, and therefore the problem of which party would become the official opposition arose. DP had twenty two MPs and it was obvious there would have to be some sort of compromise, possibly a merger of two parties, in order to have a solid opposition.
Jaramogi came to my house and urged me to persuade DP leaders to support Ford Kenya. Mwai Kibaki and John Keen were with me, and Jaramogi was accompanied by James Orengo and John Khaminwa, a lawyer. I offered them some liquor but Jaramogi said he preferred something soft, since he did not drink alcohol any more. I also had a goat roasted for them, and Jaramogi nostalgically remembered how I had barbecued goats for him and Kenyatta at my Molo farm almost thirty years previously.
As we got down to the discussion, however, we all agreed that DP would support Ford Kenya, and that Kibaki would write an official letter to the Speaker of Parliament to that effect. I do not know why they chose my house for these negotiations, but I guess it was because it was far from Nairobi and out of the eagle eye of the media. Anyway, as always, I enjoyed hosting them despite the fact that I had lost my Parliamentary seat.
So I found myself out of Parliament for the first time since Kenyatta nominated me MP in 1974. I took stock and decided it was time to relax from the hustle and bustle of politics. Eighteen years in Parliament is quite a long time, and I decided I should devote myself more fully to my businesses, some of which were struggling to survive. I have to say that I returned to business with zeal and enthusiasm, and continued acquiring and developing property. But the 1990s were a trying period for business.
Banks were charging interest rates as high as thirty per cent, profits were quite low and many businesses were forced to close down. Meanwhile, all during this time, I was still involved in the internal administration and financing of DP, in addition to acting as a key advisor to Kibaki who had now become the official leader of the opposition. I never contemplated abandoning DP at any time despite the fact that it had caused the loss of my Parliamentary seat.
The 1992 General Elections were a turning point for many members of the Kikuyu community. The Kikuyu who had settled outside Central Province became the targets of sporadic attacks. Their farms and businesses were looted and many of them were killed, especially in the Rift Valley and Coast Provinces. They were accused of being anti-Moi and of being ‘foreigners’ in those areas and they were told to move back to Central Province. Politicians such as William ole Ntimama and others made inflammatory statements which incited non-Kikuyu, especially in the Rift Valley. This occurred even before the election itself, and Moi’s government did little to quell the wave of violence and destruction aimed at the Kikuyu.
When the elections were finally held in December of the same year, Central Province had voted as a block and not a single KANU candidate made it to Parliament from the area. The community, whose leaders had agitated to remove Moi from power, had made their point. However, they were to pay a heavy price. The hatred against the Kikuyu was expressed through even more death, destruction and mayhem in those regions where they were considered outsiders. Kikuyus were killed or displaced and their property either looted or destroyed.
Extract and photographs published with permission of East African Educational Publishers (EAEP), publishers of Beyond Expectations: From Charcoal to Gold by Njenga Karume with Mutu wa Gethoi. © Njenga Karume
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