By Kenneth Kwama
The date was May 8, 1963. The General Election was just around the corner and the nervousness was all too obvious as the Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu), which had stepped in to form the Government in 1961, now faced the majority party, the Kenya African National Union (Kanu), at the upcoming polls.
Kanu, formed in 1960, had refused to form the country’s first Government, insisting it would only do so after its leader, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, was released from detention. This refusal had ushered in a brief period of power for Kadu that was now threatened by the re-entry into the race of Kanu, which had the largest following across the country’s political parties, supported by the country’s two largest tribes, the Kikuyu and Luo.
Kadu, by contrast, was identified with the smaller tribes, as an alliance that included Masinde Muliro’s Kenya African People’s Party, the Kalenjin Political Alliance led by Daniel Arap Moi and Taaita Towett, the Maasai United Front led by J Ole Tips, the Coast African People’s Party headed by Ronald Ngala, and the Somali National Association.
Moreover, Kanu was coming to the polls with big names like Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Thomas Joseph Mboya.
The only hope was to win the election on issues, which saw, 50 years ago today, East African Standard publish a story: Confidence in Kadu Promises in which Kadu chairman Moi lashed out at Kanu over ‘false promises’ to the electorate. Kadu’s strategy was to poke holes in Kanu’s promises of a better life after the elections. This way, it would drum up support for its own policies and win over the masses.
According to the story, Moi warned that anyone who voted Kanu was supporting nationalisation. He pointed out that Dr Gikonyo Kiano, who was the then Kanu Parliamentary Secretary for Economic Planning, had called for the nationalisation of property.
Moi’s jibes were issued at a predominantly Asian meeting held in Nairobi. Asians were the majority business owners at that time and by extension, had a near monopoly over campaign funds. Thus, while the Asian population was insignificant in number compared to the African voters, its ability to finance an election was key.
Moi assured the audience that Kadu was against nationalisation and that citizens would be treated equally, regardless of colour. In addition, “Mr Moi criticised Tanganyika and Uganda for their interference in Kenya’s politics, and said they were helping Kanu,” reported the paper.
Moi’s attacks were part of a concerted campaign position for Kadu in that election year. Days earlier, the outspoken Minister for Lands and Kadu candidate for Meru South, Mr Bernard Mate had been cited by The East African Standard as claiming that the Kanu manifesto was ‘full of splendid promises but devoid of any indication of how they would be kept’.
Mate said Kanu was trying to mislead the public on a large scale with promises of seven years free education and free medical services. Indeed, half a century later, the Jubilee Alliance, under President Kenyatta and Ruto made similar promises, fetching similar attacks on whether it could deliver.
In the lifetime that happened between these two campaigns, Kenya’s health and education sectors have experienced phenomenal changes. The enrolment rate has increased more than tenfold across all levels of education and primary education is free.
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Women now deliver free of charge in public hospitals and several preventive and curative measures are being undertaken to control and cure diseases like measles and malaria, which were more lethal at independence.
In 50 years, the promises stayed the same, but the faces changed, from Tom Mboyo in 1963 to Ruto, as the champion of the health and education policies, in 2013. It was a parallel of promises, from very different generations, with perhaps an eerie echo of the claim by French novelist Alphonse Karr that “the more things change the more they stay the same”.