Karume’s bid to join winning side flops as old friend he ditched becomes president
In 2002, another election was on the horizon. Moi finally agreed to retire but he was determined that Kanu should continue being the ruling party.
- Campaigns for the 2002 polls were in top gear and Njenga Karume had to make a tough choice between supporting his old friend Kibaki or
Uhuru Kenyatta. He explains his dilemma in the
final part of the serialisation of his biography
In 2002, another election was on the horizon. Moi finally agreed to retire (this was stipulated by the Constitution, anyway) but he was determined that Kanu should continue being the ruling party.
By this time, Raila Odinga’s National Democratic Party (NDP) had already entered into a partnership with Kanu and two of its members, Raila and Adhu Awiti, were Cabinet ministers.
Moi wanted Uhuru Kenyatta to be the party’s presidential candidate, but many members of the partnership were opposed to the idea. They felt that they were more highly qualified, due to their extensive political experience, than the ‘green’ young son of the founding father, President Jomo Kenyatta.
Raila Odinga, George Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi, among others, felt that they could do a much better job of leading the country.
When Kanu’s National Delegates met at Kasarani, ostensibly to decide on the presidential candidate, Moi manipulated the circumstances so that Uhuru was selected, much to the consternation of the others.
Raila, Saitoti, Musalia Mudavadi and others quit the partnership not long thereafter.
After quitting the partnership, Raila, Kibaki, Charity Ngilu and Simeon Nyachae were the leading opposition candidates. They had twice been beaten by Moi in the elections and they were somewhat wiser this time around.
While the opposition parties held frantic meetings to hammer out a power-sharing formula, Moi travelled around the country publicizing his so-called “Project Uhuru.”
When the opposition alliance was finally in place, it was named the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc). The main motive now holding the opposition together was that they realised Moi could easily be beaten if they could just stay united and select the most suitable candidate for the presidency.
Eventually, they picked Kibaki as the presidential candidate and Raila coined the famous phrase, “Kibaki tosha!” (Kibaki is enough!).
Then I must have surprised and confounded even my closest friends by switching my support from Kibaki to “Project Uhuru”.
I would like to elucidate this matter because I have been accused of lacking political loyalty by my actions in withdrawing support for my close friend and joining the camp led by Moi, who was my long-time adversary.
I know I have been accused of having been ‘bought’ and I would like to clarify that this was not the case at all. I basically have no price tag and no politician can afford me. If I was the ‘buying’ type, I would do the buying myself.
The decision to support Uhuru was not an easy one for me to make. I had become convinced that the opposition would be unable to maintain a united front and that Moi would be handed victory on a silver platter, as usual.
After all, we had already lost twice with DP in 1992 and 1997 and I was not prepared to lose again. I simply do not have a loser’s mentality — I just find it difficult to find myself defeated.
For me it was just a case of “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
I was convinced to support and endorse Uhuru when Mama Ngina Kenyatta visited me at my Cianda estate. She pleaded with me to support Uhuru for the good of the country.
“It will be Uhuru you are supporting,” the former First Lady told me, “not Moi.”
She reminded me of the relationship I had with Mzee Kenyatta, all the times we had spent together and then concluded by saying that I would act as an elder advisor to Uhuru should he become president.
So I thought about it and decided that Uhuru had higher chances of succeeding than a disunited opposition.
When people asked me whether I joined the Uhuru camp because of the kamwana (young man) euphoria that was sweeping Kiambu, I must categorically deny it.
Whatever the case, many in the opposition were outraged and shocked by this decision. I was roundly condemned, and in a rare show of hostility, my close friend Kibaki publicly censured me for joining ‘the enemy’.
I was angered by Kibaki’s criticism, but when contacted by the press over the remarks that had been attributed to Kibaki, I refused to comment and told the press that I would “reveal all” about Kibaki if my friend did not stop harassing me in public.
After all we had been friends for so long and, as is always the case with lifelong buddies, we harbour intimate and even embarrassing details about one another.
The clash between the two of us was given a great deal of publicity, and the press attempted to portray me as someone who had deserted his friend in time of need.
When it appeared that the disagreement might become more serious and acrimonious and lead to dividing the Kikuyu still more, two ‘elders’ in the form of Duncan Ndegwa and James Kome were sent to my Cianda House office where they pleaded with me to stop the quarrel since it was “causing a lot of embarrassment”.
I told them I had no malice, but that they should talk to Kibaki about the matter, instead. The ‘elders’ then talked to Kibaki, and the two of us did not mention one another in bad light in public again.
All the while I campaigned for Uhuru, I never derided or criticized Kibaki nor did I portray Moi as a good man.
Uhuru lost and Kibaki won, and I retained my seat on a Kanu ticket.
When Kibaki formed his coalition government and appointed affiliate party chiefs to important posts in his Cabinet, I was of course absent from the list.
My adversaries laughed at my fate. There I was in a weak opposition, while my former friend Kibaki and others, were now enjoying prestige and power.
But I had merely abandoned what I saw as a lost cause and placed my hopes on what I believed was the winning side.
Now I was in the opposition again, and it made good cannon fodder for my enemies. I had made a mistake by backing the losing horse but then, everybody makes mistakes.
But I was not affected by the temporary dispute between Kibaki and myself. Although our relationship cooled down for a while during the campaign period and shortly thereafter, the two of us still spoke occasionally, but some people might have looked at our conversations as awkward.
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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