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Tracing fortunes of second liberation ‘Young Turks’

Sunday September 10 2017

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga (with a cap) holds hands with some of the people who participated in organising the Saba Saba rallies during the Moi regime. Some of them were detained. They are from left Lawyer Kamau Kuria, Rev Timothy Njoya, Paul Muite, Rev David Gitari and Lawyer John Khaminwa. PHOTO |  PETERSON GITHAIGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga (with a cap) holds hands with some of the people who participated in organising the Saba Saba rallies during the Moi regime. Some of them were detained. They are from left Lawyer Kamau Kuria, Rev Timothy Njoya, Paul Muite, Rev David Gitari and Lawyer John Khaminwa. PHOTO | PETERSON GITHAIGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Nearly 25 years after the first election since the re-introduction of multi-party politics in Kenya, there are mixed fortunes of a group of brave young politicians who led the struggle for the “second liberation”.

Some among the group of intellectuals, lawyers, budding politicians and university lecturers — known as the “Young Turks”— have in recent weeks been in the news following the petition before the Supreme Court that led to the nullification of the presidential election two Fridays ago.

The National Super Alliance (Nasa) presidential candidate Raila Odinga, his lawyer James Orengo and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) lawyer Paul Muite are among the “Young Turks” of more than two decades ago who are still active in the political scene.

Others like Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi and his Kisumu counterpart Anyang Nyong’o now occupy offices that are a far cry from the street battles and the police cells they were thrown into. 

PROFILE OF YOUNG TURKS

Raila Amolo Odinga – the hero of the Young Turks movement

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The most visible Young Turk evolved to become a colossus in Kenyan politics today. He is the face of the movement, loathed by many, adored by others in Kenya and listened to on the globe.

Detained under President Daniel Moi’s regime, his 2017 bid for presidency was fourth since 1997 — and he will have another chance after the court called for fresh elections. 

Despite detention stints, Mr Odinga wound his way back into mainstream politics to fight Kanu.

He rose from a low level post of deputy director of elections in his father’s Ford-Kenya party to become Kenya’s towering politician.

WALKED OUT

He walked out of Ford-Kenya after losing leadership to former Vice-President Michael Wamalwa and joined Baringo South Paul Chepkok’s little known National Development Party, transformed it overnight and used to vie for presidency in 1997.

He joined Mwai Kibaki in 2002 and together put National Rainbow Coalition in State House.

Sooner, he led a rebellion in Narc to humiliate Mr Kibaki by defeating him in the 2005 new Constitution referendum that gave birth to the Orange Party – using it for 2007 presidential bid.

Mr Odinga has held various Cabinet positions under Mr Moi (Transport and Public Works; and, Energy) and in Kibaki’s as Prime Minister.

What next is the question in everyone’s heart for the politician no Kenyan generation future and present will ever forget.

PAUL KIBUGI MUITE

Mr Muite paid a price for involvement in the second liberation.

He became a pariah in his legal practice. Clients fearing to be blacklisted under the Kanu regime ran away from him.

His Kikuyu community too did not trust him for aligning himself with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga in Ford Kenya, instead of their son Kenneth Matiba of Ford Asili.

Mr Muite is like that existentialist man, Meausault in Albert Camus’ novel, The Outsider, who does not mind risking in opinion court – often with success.

HUNTED MAN

During the Saba Saba (July 7, 1990), when Opposition agitated for a rally in Nairobi’s Kamukunji Grounds, he was a hunted man.

The then US ambassador Smith Hempstone gave him refuge in the Embassy.

Against all odds in his community, Ford-K party first vice chairman went on to win the Kikuyu parliamentary seat then regarded Mr Matiba’s Ford-Asili zone.

The miscalculation to resign from the post few months before Jaramogi died in 1994 prevented him from taking over the party.

Again, he risked to found Safina Party with former Head of Public Service Richard Leakey ahead of 1997 elections.

It paid as he won Kabete seat in Kibaki’s Democratic Party domain. He lost it in the 2007 elections.

He bid for presidency in 2013, lost but is still relevant in today’s public opinion.

JAMES AGGREY ORENGO

James Aggrey or Bob alias Ndenga, is a son of former colonial senior police officer.

A strong willed politician, Orengo is like Robert Bolt’s hero, Cromwell, in A Man for All Seasons play, ready to defy authority including the monarch to right wrongs in society.

In nearly four decades of politics, his has been a rocky path. 

He has had a glimpse of power as minister for Lands in the Kibaki-Raila coalition government.

But his has been a long struggle. He fought the Moi-Kanu regime, fled to exile in Tanzania.

He returned to face same monster and was clobbered and tear gassed in streets.

STUDENT LEADER

He began in University of Nairobi as a student leader where he led student riots against the Kenyatta regime in early 1970s. Then became Ugenya MP via a by-election in 1980.

Arriving in Parliament he quickly became among fiery politicians the former Constitutional Affairs Minister Charles Njonjo nicknamed Seven Bearded Sisters – for their critical stance against Kanu government.

Like Muite, Orengo was among lawyers who suffered professionally as his law firm literally closed as clients avoided them fearing Kanu’s wrath.

History is full of contradictions. Men and women who bear the brunt at the war front are usually elbowed by fence sitters who enjoy the trappings of power.

Orengo has bid for presidency in 2002 on Social Democratic Party and lost. Will history be unfair to the lawyer who has put in so much for so few to enjoy? Time will tell.

Dr MUKHISA KITUYI

The UNCTAD Secretary General is a self driven ambitious personality.

He has a sharp nose for reading events and taking direction to his advantage.

In second Liberation, he sensed that the late Masinde Muliro was the leader to follow. He died mid-way in the struggle and left it to Jaramogi.

He aligned himself with Jaramogi in formation of Ford-Kenya. Like a giraffe he saw far.

Come the 1992 elections, with tsibili tsibili (two finger Ford-K salute) hurricane in Bungoma, he felled a gigantic Kenyatta and Moi era politician Elijah Mwangale, a powerful minister for the Kimilili parliamentary seat.

STRATEGICALLY LINED

Then, he differed with his cousin, former Vice-President Michael Wamalwa in Ford-K. Shifting, he strategically lined behind the next man – Kibaki. And sure, after the 2002 elections under Narc, President Kibaki appointed him Trade minister, becoming one of blue-eyed boys in the cabinet.

Like Mwangale he lost touch with the electorate. A little known Doctor Simiyu Eseli humiliated him at the 2007 elections in Kimilili.

The Trade portfolio gave him international exposure to become automatic choice from Third World for UNCTAD Executive.

Will Dr Kituyi use it as a launch pad to higher office?

PROF ANYANG NYONG'O

The professor is among few in the group whose fortunes have changed for glamour.

He is an intellectual per excellence and speaks English, French, Spanish, Kiswahili and Luo fluently.

After testing trappings of power as Minister for Health, he revealed his intellectual snobbish by telling Kenyans they should not complain about paying Sh1,000 when it cannot even buy lunch at the Serena Hotel.

That notwithstanding, he was a think tank in the liberation besides leading demonstrations in Nairobi streets.

He won the 1992 Kisumu Rural seat on Ford-Kenya but he miscalculated in 1997 and lost it.

He teamed up with now Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu who vied for the presidency that year on SDP ticket. He bounced back in 2002 under Narc.

Prof Nyong’o at 72, is the recently elected Governor of Kisumu. His political future will be correspondingly tied to his age.

GITOBU IMANYARA

The son of a military officer is the personification of a soldier who fought gallantly, survived at the battle front, and lived to see some bystanders ensconced in the comfort of power.

Unlike some in the group, Imanyara has never tested power of the government flag on a pennant of his car.

He fought and played pivotal role in the struggle for pluralism, defining every step before and after repeal of Section 2 (a).

He stuck with Jaramogi in Ford-Kenya and paid the price of losing Imenti Central seat in 1992 in the Democratic Party and Moi’s Kanu dominance.

Images of Imanyara’s incarceration under Moi in early 1990s – of a prisoner chained on a bed at Kenyatta National Hospital – remain vivid to this day.

He teamed up to fight all over including through his Nairobi Law Monthly, a news magazine he founded which became the mouthpiece for the opposition. He has since sold the title to lawyer Ahmednassir Abdullahi.

KIRAITU MURUNGI

After taking active role in the liberation, Murungi developed a sense of a political survivor.

He is the only politician from politically volatile Mt Kenya region who has won every election in 25 years or six successive polls since 1992.

Each time, he has correctly interrupted his own popularity and political mood among the Meru people and shifted parties to his success.

In 1992, he stuck with Jaramogi’s Ford-Kenya and won in Imenti South.

Come 1997, he realised Kibaki DP’s influence, shifted and won the seat. Then, in 2002 he shifted to Narc and still won.

He did it again in 2007 in Kibaki’s Party of National Unity.

EITHER-NEITHER MAN

In 2013, he formed his own Alliance Party of Kenya (APK), and through it became Meru senator.

Come 2017, he quickly jumped onto Jubilee bandwagon and won as Meru governor, defeating the incumbent Peter Munya.

Thus, Murungi’s political acumen in the last 25 years is like that of either-neither-man in Joe de Graft’s play, Muntu, who positioned himself everywhere whenever “momentous events are taking place in Muntu land,” and each time survived.

Along the way, Murungi held various ministerial positions under Kibaki’s two terms which made him the biggest beneficiary of the second liberation fighters.