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How three men experienced Moi's face of wrath

Sunday February 9 2020

Daniel Moi

Kenya's former president Daniel Moi. As vice-president, he faced the political test all those who are a heartbeat away from the seat go through. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JOHN KAMAU
By JOHN KAMAU
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Once upon a time, according to Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, he was summoned by President Jomo Kenyatta to Nakuru – only to be humiliated by Provincial Commissioner Isaiah Mwai Mathenge.

Moi had apparently arrived early in the evening at State House, Nakuru, to see the old Jomo, but Mathenge and the President’s aide-de-camp kept him in the waiting room but allowing numerous groups to jump the queue in a bid to infuriate and humiliate Moi.

As Vice-President, Moi faced the political test all those who are a heartbeat away from the seat go through.

The former Head of State’s biographer, Andrew Morton, says that “when Kenyatta rang through to see who was left, Mathenge replied: ‘There is only Moi here.’ Then Kenyatta came out and started speaking Kikuyu, which Moi follows with difficulty. In the end, he asked Moi to listen to a choir with him before discussing some business.”

According to Morton, Kenyatta dozed off during the singing and Moi came to accept the regular humiliation he faced as part of the political game.

“His friend Ngala, among other political allies, could not believe that Moi should accept such consistent humiliation,” wrote Morton.

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MATHENGE THE TRAITOR

When the payback time came, Moi served it crudely – more based on the adage 'revenge is a dish best served cold'.

Mathenge was in a small coterie that included Rift Valley roads engineer Kim Gatende, who was more famous as a Safari Rally driver and as a millionaire.

Gatende would normally be a co-driver to the Lands and Settlement Permanent Secretary Peter Shiyukah, who in 1974 became the first African driver to obtain a manufacturers team drive with his Ford Escort RS 1600.

With money, hubris, and as pathologically narcissistic civil servants, Mathenge and Gatende made sure that Moi felt their presence in the Rift Valley.

Another one, working on behalf of Kiambu mafia of Mbiyu Koinange was Rift Valley police boss James Erastus Mungai.

While Mathenge would later make peace with Moi, albeit for a short period, both Mungai and Gatende would be the first to suffer the rise of Moi to the top seat.

By betraying some of his friends for Moi, Mathenge died a frustrated man – and lonely.

To save his skin and job, Mathenge had not only betrayed his closest friends – that is how he retained his position – but was also used to make political scares.

POLITICAL SCARES

For instance, on November 10, 1978, just three months after Kenyatta had died and Moi had been elected the President, Mathenge started calling Mungai during “odd hours of day and night”, asking whether he was still alive.

By this time, Moi had ordered Mungai to proceed on leave. Details of this scare were contained in a letter Mungai sent to Geoffrey Kareithi, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, as he begged to be allowed to return from exile in Sudan.

He revealed that Mathenge had been calling him. Scared of the calls from Mathenge, who was retained by Moi as Rift Valley PC until 1980, Mungai sold his Range Rover and took off to Juba, Sudan, (he left his pistol at the immigration desk) in the company of “two Turkana tribesmen” – as the then Criminal Investigation Department boss, Ignatius Nderi, described the men who escorted Mungai to the border – before taking a flight to Zurich.

It was during this period that Attorney-General Charles Njonjo told Parliament that there was a plot hatched in Rift Valley to liquidate senior politicians including Moi, Mwai Kibaki and Njonjo – another scarecrow used to silence all those who had been opposed to Moi’s rise.

Njonjo claimed that Mungai was behind the formation of the anti-stock theft unit, which had a different agenda aside from chasing cattle rustlers.

NGOROKO SAGA

According to Andrew Morton, “when Moi got wind of these machinations, he ordered an investigation into accounts that Mungai was training a special ‘anti-stock theft unit’. But before he received the report, responsibility for the police was transferred to Mbiyu Koinange”, an ally of Mungai.

This was, perhaps, a signal to Moi that Mungai was not up to any good. “What was abundantly clear was that Mungai’s 250-strong unit, known as Rift Valley Operations Team or Ngoroko, was acting as a private army whose ostensible purpose as a squad was to hunt cattle rustlers was an elaborate smokescreen,” Moi told his biographer.

When Mungai wrote a letter to Kareithi, he named Mathenge as one of the people who knew the activities and training of the anti-stock theft unit.

He was insinuating that if he was to fall from grace to grass because of that group, then all those who knew about the training should fall as well.

But even as he was naming Mathenge, he was still seeking “forgiveness”, saying “ … the anti-stock theft unit meant no ill will to anyone”.

The letter to Kareithi disturbed Mathenge since it wanted to incriminate him with the Ngoroko saga – as it came to be known – at a time when he wanted to extricate himself.

The letter was painfully written and Mathenge, according to some of his friends, sympathised with Mungai but could not show his feelings.

HARD-HITTING LETTER

The time for ‘everyone for himself and God for us all’ had come and as Moi had once told Ronald Ngala, “Take it easy, our time will come.”

When that time came, Moi started by scattering those who had hurt him most.

One needs to read Mungai’s letter to understand. “As I was instructed to go on leave,” Mungai said in the letter, “I have kept away from Nakuru just in case someone (meaning Njonjo or perhaps Moi) is thinking that I am interfering with the investigations going on there. I am, therefore, very far from Nakuru and I just came across someone coming by air to Nairobi (and I gave him this letter)….Just before I went on leave, I saw some reports about the alleged Ngorokos who had been stationed in the Rift Valley.

I was really frightened to read that they had been posted to the GSU and others will be detained. I took it that these were the men I had talked to you about in early June or July 1978.

Mr Kareithi, believe me, there was absolutely no plan to harm anybody. As I had told you, these men had been trained to deal with the Ngoroko cattle rustling in the Rift Valley.

Mr Henry Wariithi, our assistant minister, saw them in training at Maralal in April 1977 and he talked to them. Mr Koinange, the minister, saw them in April 1978 or thereabouts and talked to them. They were just dedicated policemen who were trained to deal with one of the menaces in the Rift Valley. I kept Mathenge, the provincial commissioner, well informed about their training.”

Mathenge got to read about this letter from the press and hit the roof, while Koinange and Henry Wariithi, a former MP for Mukurweini and assistant minister, did not make any public comments.

NO FORGIVENESS

Mungai had one plea to Kareithi: “Could Mr Kanyotu please be asked to reinvestigate the allegation … please help as I am really very disturbed … my children are all in school - two of them in secondary in Scotland - and I do not want to interrupt their studies … I might lose my job …. I have not told my wife where I am as I left my house in a hurry … please, please, plead with Mr Njonjo and the President for me….”

While the full story of the Ngoroko might be known one day, Moi never forgave all those who were implicated.

Mathenge survived because he was close to Vice-President Mwai Kibaki.

But when Moi started plotting the fall of Kibaki, he started by staging campaigns against Mathenge who was a powerful Kanu chairman in Nyeri.

In June 1988, Mathenge took on some Kanu councillors who had petitioned for his removal and called them “takataka”.

This saw Moi drive to Nyeri, where he chided Mathenge as a 'colonial overseer’ and rubbished Gatende as people who had returned to Nyeri to divide the people.

As Moi spoke, Mathenge refused to stand – after his name was mentioned as it was tradition.

It was the worst insult, and both him and Gatende were kicked out of Kanu and pushed into oblivion.

FACE OF WRATH

Gatende did not actually come from Nyeri but was born in Murang’a, but followed Mathenge to settle in Nyeri after they left Nakuru power base – to be close to each other. They died weeks apart.

Gatende was the traditional face of wrath and is famous for erecting unnecessary bumps on the road to Kabarak and for erecting road blocks to humiliate Moi.

It was this trio that tormented Moi in his backyard. On the night Kenyatta died, it had been alleged Mungai had made a major mistake, ordering a roadblock on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway to block Moi from leaving town to be sworn in. But it was too late.

When the time to revenge came, it was slow and painful. When I met Mathenge and we had tea in Parliament, he looked lonely and forlorn.

It was clear that the Moi revenge had been more than he expected. For his part, Gatende vanished from the limelight while James Erastus Mungai returned to the country and barricaded himself in his Nakuru farm.

As Vice-President, Moi’s resilience was shaped by Mathenge, Gatende and Mungai, and when the time came, they were scattered.

[email protected] @johnkamau1