MPs for sale? A story as old as Kenya

Saturday December 07 2019

In the first UhuRuto Parliament, talk of "bought" MPs was mainly confined to Parliament. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


As campaigns heated up in the recent Kibra by-election, I called a mechanic friend on Lang’ata Road who lives in Kibra to ask him whether widespread reports of voter bribery in the area were true.

“Why get it on hearsay?” he asked me. “Just come here in the evening and I’ll take you to three places where money is changing hands.”

Then early last week, I called Nominated MP Maina Kamanda to ask him to elaborate on his weekend remarks that MPs are trooping to a “hotel” in Karen to be instructed on how to sabotage the BBI report.

He replied in surprise: “Kamau, you must be the only journalist in town not aware of a hotel in Karen where MPs go for free lunch!”


Lunches — free or otherwise — aside, the phenomena of MPs for sale has shadowed Kenya’s “House of the Honourables” right from the First Parliament (1963 -1969) to the current 12th Parliament (2017- 2022).


In the 140 member First Parliament, there existed two hostile camps. One aligned to Cabinet minister Tom Mboya and one to Vice President Jaramogi Odinga.

The Mboya camp was actually the government side but President Jomo Kenyatta tried as much to give a facade of neutrality as the Head of State.

Though a one-party — Kanu — the House was sharply divided along ideological lines in those days of East-West Cold War.

At the outset, each side could count on up to 40 loyalist MPs.

With 80 already taken, the question was who would “buy” the highest number from the “neutral” 60 should push come to shove.

The stakes were high because the Constitution at the time stated that in the event of a vacancy arising in the presidency, Parliament would pick the acting president for the remainder of the term of the incumbent.


The talk in Parliament and outside was which of the MPs was paid in “red quid”, meaning they were in the payroll of Mr Odinga, who had financial support of the Russians and the Chinese, or who was paid in green buck (dollars), meaning in Mboya’s payroll, the darling of the Americans.

At one point, Home Affairs minister Daniel arap Moi publicly alleged that Odinga had received from his communist friends the equivalent of one million dollars to buy MPs to pass a vote of no confidence in Kenyatta’s government.

He used it as an excuse to expel from the country over a dozen diplomats and journalists from the eastern bloc countries.

In the wake of the bombshell from Moi, 15 MPs from the “neutral” 60 came together in an informal outfit they called the Kenya Group and vowed to always vote with the Kenyatta/Mboya loyalists. Soon they were joined by another 25.

Kenyatta/Mboya side now could count on at least 80 out of 140 MPs, which was double the number in Odinga’s command, with 20 still up for grabs.

A chance for a show of might came when the Odinga-leaning secretary of the Kanu parliamentary group, Pio Gama Pinto, was assassinated.

When Parliament sat to vote for his replacement, Mboya’s candidate won with 71 votes against 34 for Odinga’s choice.


Having smelled blood, the Mboya camp went for the kill, this time voting out Odinga allies from leadership of all parliamentary committees as well as installing their men as chief whip and deputy.

Outnumbered and pushed to the wall, Odinga gave up. He quit Kanu to form his own party, on whose ticket he returned to Parliament.

With the Odinga threat vanquished, the coalition that brought him to his knees split right down the middle, within Kanu and in Parliament.

There came Kanu “A”, or what was called the Kiambu Mafia, and Mboya’s Kanu “B”.

At stake was the question of Kenyatta succession. Suspecting Mboya had the numbers to upset the apple cart in Parliament, the Kiambu Mafia bulldozed a constitutional amendment to remove the provision that Parliament picks the acting president in the event of a vacancy, and replaced it with one that it is the vice president to act for 90 days.

Evidence of the vicious wars between the two camps was to emerge from a seven-page letter Mboya wrote to his American friend, one William Scheinman, minutes before he was shot dead.

In the letter, he appealed for funds to help him tackle his political adversaries who, he wrote, were hell-bent to ensure his allies in Kanu and Parliament were routed in the scheduled party and parliamentary polls.

Too late though, because it turned out that by then, Mboya’s enemies had decided to sort him out through the bullet, not the ballot.


Talk of “bought MPs” would return in the JM Kariuki saga.

In the weeks before he was found murdered, rumours were all over the place that the MP had received huge amounts of money from unnamed foreigners to buy MPs to pass a motion of no confidence in Kenyatta’s government.

Other variants of it had it that JM’s huge slush fund was intended to buy MPs and ensure he had enough numbers to stop Vice President Moi from succeeding Kenyatta when the time came.

But, like with Mboya, it is the bullet not the ballot that settled the JM matter.

Money in toilet

After the JM murder, the battle for Kenyatta succession was fully enjoined.

In came the Change-the-Constitution Group, a grouping of MPs who embarked on countrywide rowdy rallies to campaign for removal of the constitutional clause that stipulated the vice president act for 90 days in the event of a vacancy arising in the presidency. There was no guessing who the target was.

But Moi’s allies weren’t sleeping on the job, either.

Word spread that Parliament toilets had been converted to banking halls as money changed hands to buy MPs to shoot down the Change-the-Constitution bid should it come to Parliament in form of a motion.

The “money in toilets” operation apparently gained traction when indeed 98 in the 158 member House called a press conference at Parliament buildings and released a signed statement to the effect that they were opposed to the anti-Moi bid and would shoot it down if it came to the House.

The next talk of “bought MPs” would come in the Moi era.

Early in his presidency, two camps came up in Parliament, one leaning towards Vice President Mwai Kibaki and the other towards Attorney General Charles Njonjo.

At one time, Njonjo publicly alleged that a senior politician (read Kibaki) had bought a group of MPs and instructed them to ignore the President’s clarion call that Kenyans follow his Nyayo (footsteps).

Kibaki angrily hit back that nobody “had a Nyayo-meter to measure who was more Nyayo than the other”.

Next, the shoe was on the other foot. President Moi alleged at a public rally in Kisii that a prominent politician was msaliti (traitor), working at the behest of unnamed foreigners to overthrow his government.

A few weeks later, Njonjo was named in Parliament as the said traitor. Moi sacked him and appointed a judicial commission of inquiry to probe him.

During the commission hearings, an MP testified that Njonjo had summoned him to his office to ask him why he never went for “harambee money” from him (Njonjo) when every other MP was doing so.

He alleged that Njonjo had boasted to him that he had enough numbers in Parliament and would take over the government when the time came.

President Moi called a snap General Election a year ahead of schedule where all MPs deemed to have been on Njonjo’s “payroll” were voted out — fairly or through foul play.


Kibaki was next in the guillotine. A grouping of Cabinet ministers and MPs emerged to stage guerrilla attacks on him. They had deep pockets and enjoyed State patronage.

It was not hard to guess who was paying the piper in the anti-Kibaki parade.

At one point the VP described his political adversaries as “political tourists on a sponsored junket”.

Whoever was the sponsor, he was six-packed indeed, because all MPs suspected to be sympathetic to the VP were rigged out in the infamous queue-voting General Election of 1988, and Kibaki demoted to an ordinary Cabinet minister.

The next talk of “bought MPs” would come with the return of a multiparty parliament in 1993.

Determined to ensure Kanu remained in power for as long as possible, the State machinery went out of its way to “buy” opposition MPs who would defect and seek re-election through the ruling party. The defecting process was christened “ugali-eating”.

So effective was the “ugali-eating” by the opposition that Moi had such an easy time holding his own in the 10 years he ruled in a multiparty setting.

A most horrible buy-out in the multiparty era under Moi was when chief architect of the Goldenberg heist, Kamlesh Pattni, bribed the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee to “clear” him of any wrongdoing, and recommend he be paid more money on top of the billions he had stolen!

Talk of buying politicians surfaced only once during the Kibaki presidency when a former PS for Ethics in his government, John Githongo, alleged that a Cabinet minister had approached him with a veiled threat that he go slow on Anglo-leasing scandal because “it is through such schemes” that the Kibaki administration would get slush funds to “buy” support in a hostile parliament, and at the Bomas constitution-making conference.

However, by and large, Kibaki never believed in handouts for whatever cause.


In the first UhuRuto Parliament, talk of bought MPs was mainly confined to Parliament, where MPs retained the long tradition of converting committee sessions into extortion rings. That is the position to this day.

The talk of “Hotel” Karen first surfaced during 2017 Jubilee Party nominations when allegations were made that a line-up of candidates was trooping there to lay strategy and get facilitation to rig the party nominations, especially in Nairobi and Mount Kenya region.

Then last year came the talk that MPs were queuing at the said “Hotel” Karen to collect “harambee money”.

I remember some wag commenting in a TV talk show that over 90 per cent of the money donated at fundraisers attended by a group called Tangatanga and another called Inua Mama always comes from one source — “Hotel” Karen.

Postscript: Since bribery is so ingrained in the Kenyan DNA and such a lucrative going concern, why not consider legalising it, but tax it at 50 per cent of the gross amount?

Shouldn’t that have been included in the BBI recommendations?

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