In 2002, Kenya’s air was politically expectant. Politicians were agitated. An era was about to end.
President Daniel Arap Moi had a few months to leave office.
A retinue of politicians were waiting with their bated breaths for the professor of politics to show the sign, any sign that would give them an idea.
At 12pm on a rainy cold day, Moi’s chopper touched down at Kapsokwony in Mt Elgon.
He had a loaded message to the country. He had seen through all the suitors and picked Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta.
As a Kalenjin elder, the decision to unveil the then 41-year old Kenyatta as his heir apparent in Mt Elgon was by design not default, says former Cabinet minister Musa Sirma.
“The Kalenjin community regard Mt Elgon, inhabited by the community’s sub-tribe of the Sabaot, as the land of their forefathers. Moi may have made an obtuse thought to unveil the ruling party’s torch bearer in the area,” notes Sirma.
A day before Moi unveiled Uhuru, Raila had exuded confidence to his allies that Mzee Moi was going to endorse him for the presidency in that year’s General Election.
The President was going to finish his second and final term in December and the jostling for the top seat was getting vicious by the day.
In 1992, Section 2A of the Constitution had been repealed, allowing for the return of multi-party elections. A President could only run for a limit of two terms.
And from the 1992 General Election that he won narrowly, Moi’s first term in office was deemed to have begun. He had served another 14 years before.
The afternoon before the Uhuru endorsement, Moi had invited Raila to State House for lunch.
“Raila had asked former Kenyan US Ambassador Oginga Ogego ‘Rateng’ and I to join him for lunch at United Kenya Club. We left his office at the Energy ministry a few minutes to 1pm and had placed our orders when Raila received a phone call from Moi,” says former Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo.
Hurriedly, Raila left for State House, asking us to wait for him at the office. “I had the best salad at the Club before we went back to his office,” he said.
When he came back from State House at around 3.30pm, Midiwo says Raila was enthusiastic.
“He told us things were still good and Nyayo had told him so,” he says. The former Gem MP had three days earlier told Raila that things may not have been going well and that a senior police officer attached to Kilimani had warned him at Midiwo’s restaurant in Nairobi’s Umoja One estate that there were plans to endorse Uhuru.
Read the signs
“I had relayed the same to Raila and told him that things were not good, but he did not believe it until early in the morning on the day of endorsement,” he says.
Raila, just like then Vice President George Saitoti, had not read the signs of times until things unfolded right before their eyes. That morning, Raila again summoned Midiwo to his office. “Without looking at me, Raila told me that if Moi played him, he was to make (then Opposition leader Mwai) Kibaki president,” Midiwo recalls.
A similar thing had happened to Prof Saitoti, after serving 13 years as Moi’s deputy.
In a meeting at Trans Mara, Narok County, Moi told people that Saitoti was his friend but friendship and leadership of 30 million plus Kenyans was a different ballgame.
“That day, we had a difficult time leaving the venue of the meeting after Moi had left. Irate locals blocked our road complaining that their son was being locked out of power,” said former Kabete MP Lewis Nguyai.
The meeting had been organised by then Internal Security minister Julius Sunkuli.
Prior to that, Sirma says they had another meeting in Nakuru.
Pitching for Uhuru, Moi told the Trans Mara residents that he had not picked him because he was a Kikuyu.
“When the election comes, you must know that you don’t gamble with your future,” he told the crowd.
A meeting was also held at State Lodge, Eldoret, where Moi had hosted tens of Kalenjin leaders to ask them to support Uhuru. “The meeting was tense, but eventually, we agreed to his idea and told him to hold the first meeting at Mt Elgon, the land of our forefathers,” remembers Sirma. He remembers then National Intelligence Service boss Wilson Boinett opposing an endorsement in a rally.
Sirma says Boinett preferred that Uhuru would stand to benefit more if he won nominations in Kasarani where Kanu was to pick the flag bearer.
“His position was shared by many others who thought it was a good idea, but eventually, Moi’s took the day and we gave him our support,” he remembers.
A few years before that, Moi had began the journey to package Uhuru for succession right under the noses of Kanu big wigs, who remained clueless to the very end.
A year before, according to Sirma, Moi had asked him and a group of other young MPs to start marketing former Foreign Affairs Minister and North Horr MP the late Bonaya Godana for the presidency.
“The idea never took off as former minister Nicholas Biwott dismissed it. It ended at that,” he says.
When his first foray in elective politics in 1997 flopped, a dejected Uhuru ducked from the scene. Moses Mwihia, a Nairobi architect, had whipped him in the Gatundu South constituency contest.
At the time, Moi began courting Raila while at the same time sending feelers to Uhuru. A few years later, deep into ‘cooperation politics’ Moi pulled Uhuru and appointed him to chair the Kenya Tourism Board, a government parastatal.
Fast forward to 2001, and the picture became clearer. Last month, Deputy President William Ruto told a NTV interview that he had been tasked by President Moi to convince Nominated MP Mark Too to resign from Parliament and have Uhuru take his place.
“He was initially hesitant and gave me a list of conditions. I went back to Mzee Moi and explained to him and Uhuru what Too wanted. Eventually Too agreed and that is how Uhuru entered Parliament,” said Ruto.
Now in Parliament, Uhuru was subsequently appointed to be Minister for Local Government. Soon thereafter, he was smack in the middle of the succession matrix pitting experienced politicians.
It was increasingly getting clearer that Moi had little regard for Saitoti, his principal assistant of many years.
Besides delaying his re-appointment post-2007 election only to reappoint him in most contemptuous of terms, Moi left every impression that he wanted to retire with his deputy.
A story is told of an occasion when Moi called Kanu politicians, including three of the party’s newly appointed chairmen, and asked them how much each was worth and whether they could mount a successful presidential election.
To Moi’s thinking, a presidential election was an expensive affair and whereas he was ready to help his party member campaign for themselves, the individual would need to at least finance his campaigns.
Moi is said to have told a minister in his Cabinet that he thought Saitoti was mean and would thus be expensive to sell since he expected the presidency to be handed over to him on a silver platter.
At the 2002 Kanu national delegates conference in Kasarani, Saitoti was nowhere in the matrix and not even his anger would move the old man. Moi simply brushed him aside, asking him to relax as he was being fried in the open. At the end of the day, four brand new vice-chairmen emerged, Uhuru being one of them. The others were Kalonzo Musyoka, Katana Ngala and Musalia Mudavadi. But Moi was not done yet.
At about 3pm on August 2, 2002, while on a meet the people tour at Kapsokwony District Hospital in Mt Elgon, he then dropped the Uhuru bombshell, sending the three vice chairs scattering.
Together with their ring leader Raila Odinga, they formed the Liberal Democratic Party which later morphed into National Rainbow Coalition.
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