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Same script in intrigues that thrust Ruto and Moi into power

Daniel Arap Moi with President William Ruto during a past event at Mother of Apostles’ seminary in Eldoret. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Silence descended upon the group. The journalists looked at me in bewilderment. Some shook their heads in disbelief. Then one stood up, threw his hands in the air and said: “Mwalimu, I am a Kalenjin and I swear in the name of God that William Ruto will never become President of Kenya.”

I smiled as I watched him walk away. He had uttered the words I had cautioned the group against. It was June 2022. I was training journalists on election reporting. The session focused on probable emergencies in the election cycle. We found ourselves analysing the conduct of a Cabinet Secretary and his PS who had given Ruto a tongue lashing. 

I told the journalists that it was unwise, for anyone to write off a Deputy President because he could easily become the next president.

In 2001, the late Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano engaged me as his official biographer. Then in 2002, Daniel Moi was humiliated at Uhuru Park while handing over power to Mwai Kibaki.

Kiano’s book project made me take a keener interest in the history of Kenya’s politics. I started talking to elders from different communities. I spoke with men and women who had formed groups of intercessors praying for the country’s leadership. I engaged in academic and spiritual analysis of our leadership.

When Ruto was barely three years old, an event that some church leaders describe as demonic in proportion was taking place. The Kiambu mafia mobilised a blood-oathing process that would engulf the country spiritually. The ceremonies were meant to ensure that in the spiritual and physical realms, power remained in the hands of one community and under the watch of one family. For months, men, women and children were assembled in the Ichaweri home of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta for oathing.

In his book, Fan into Flame, Rev John Gatu of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), narrates how he and another clergyman Rev Crispus Kiongo, were summoned to Ichaweri in June 1969. When the two reached the Gatundu home of Kenya’s first president, they were shocked when they realised the intention of the summons: “We were expected to take a Gikuyu oath which was administered to “all Gikuyu of good will” to solidify the unity of the tribe.” He writes

The oathing ceremonies were orchestrated by Kenyatta’s inner circle. The objective was to mobilise Gema communities against Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Kenya People’s Union, ahead of elections planned for later that year. The clergy declined to take the oath. Gatu’s life turned into a nightmare. His wife and children were kidnapped by State agents and forced to take the oath. His wife, Rahabbu went into depression and trauma. 

Gatu reveals that the mass oathing involved detention of scores of people. They involved extortions, kidnappings and cold-blooded killing of those who resisted or defied the oathing. Those who took the oath were asked to vow that they would never allow the presidency to leave the House of Mumbi. The killing of Thomas Joseph Mboya in July of 1969 instigated more oathing. Mboya was killed at the height of the oathing ceremonies. His death deepened the divisions between the Luo and Kikuyu communities. 

Apart from the traumatic beatings, they would be stripped naked, chew some mucky stuff, and forced to pledge loyalty to Mzee Kenyatta, and his government. They also vowed that the presidency would never go beyond River Chania, meaning it would never leave Kiambu. It is intriguing, however, that when Mwai Kibaki was ascending to the presidency, the Chania River issue never came up. Some argue that it probably didn’t because being Uhuru’s godfather, Kibaki, was simply holding brief for the Kenyatta’s. The oath was still binding.

It is also curious that after 24 years in power, Moi suddenly told Kenyans that Uhuru Kenyatta, Jomo’s son, was his preferred successor. His preference never made much political sense. Symbolically, however, he was returning power to the House of Mumbi.  

During the interviews for Kiano’s book, Kikuyu elders told me that before flying to London in 1929 to lobby for Kikuyu land rights, he underwent a spiritual cleansing ceremony on top of Mount Kenya.

“For 40 days, he stayed atop the mountain where he joined 12 elders in prayer and fasting. Every African community has its own 12 elders chosen by the gods. These are men who have attained the age of no desire. By the time Kenyatta completed the ceremony, he had been transformed into a smooth charismatic orator. The elders asked him to work for the greater good of the country and not personal greed,” said an elder.

It is during my engagement in the project that it clearly emerged that after independence, some wealthy families conspired to rule Kenya ‘forever’ and had entered into a covenant. ­­­

The ascendance to the presidency by Ruto stirred in me a historical and spiritual fire that was already burning quietly. During the initial days of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) campaigns, some leaders were cheered while others were jeered. There was drama at the launch of the BBI report.

With a sense of foreboding, I watched the events unfold at the Bomas of Kenya, which has become our home of Constitution-making. It is here that we spend months on end working on the Kenyan constitution during the wee hours of Mwai Kibaki’s presidency. It is at Bomas that vulnerable groups and small communities told their heart-rending tales and shed tears as they sought to be formally incorporated into the Republic of Kenya. It is at Bomas that back-stabbing and betrayal reigned supreme with some high-jacking the constitution-making process. It is at Bomas where constitutional bridges were built and destroyed. The event meant to launch the BBI was being used to set other bridges ablaze. Sadly, this seems to be the story of Kenya. 

Historical similarities

The event, however, reminded me of the sneaky nature of history. In 1976, while Mzee Kenyatta was quietly struggling with ill health, some leaders from his Kikuyu community were plotting to change the Constitution to bar Moi from ascending to power in the event of Mzee’s demise. Some of these leaders had taken the 1969 oath. Jomo Kenyatta, a man known to love beer and smoking had a deputy who professed the Christian faith and was a teetotaller. The deputy hailed from the Kalenjin community. When Jomo died in 1978, his Vice President stepped into his shoes.

The year 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of Jomo Kenyatta’s death. 40 is Biblically a powerful and symbolic number. In terms of time, 40 can represent a period of probation, trial, and chastisement. It can also represent a time for generational change. Was it therefore accidental that on the 40th anniversary of his demise, we removed his image from the Kenyan currency? There are those who believe that symbolically, with the removal of his face, power left the House of Mumbi. The oathing was losing its grip. Meanwhile, Jomo’s son was firmly in the seat of power. Uhuru had a deputy who professes the Christian faith, is a teetotaller and hails from the Kalenjin community. William Ruto also happens to have been Moi’s political student.

Three prominent families, the; Kenyatta, Moi and Odinga, have since independence shared economic and political power. Then, in 2007, Ruto the son of a peasant, sneaked into the palace. The BBI wave was the 1976 history replaying itself. Ruto’s supporters believe it was meant to stop him from ascending to State House.

In Jomo’s time, the Change the Constitution movement was spearheaded by the late Kihika Kimani and Njenga Karume. Karume is among the leaders who took the oath.

In his unpublished memoir, Cool Under Fire, former Head of Civil Service Geoffrey Kareithi says after failing to change the constitution, the group initiated a plan to kill Moi.

“A senior officer from the air force came to see me. He had attended a meeting with where a plan to stop the VP from being sworn in as acting president had been mooted. I told him to continue attending those meetings and keep me briefed. There commenced the Ngoroko affair. The plotters thought it was possible to wipe out all the leaders of Kenya and take over the country through the use of a small band of commandos. We decided to remain alert to their every move,” Recalls Kareithi

Jomo’s ill health

It is during Jomo’s ill health that he realised only Moi could protect his young family. His tribesmen were only interested in power. Kareithi says that sometime in 1968, President Kenyatta suffered a stroke while in Mombasa and was in a coma for three days.

The close shave with death made Kareithi start preparing for the inevitable: “Not known to many, as we held our breath and the president lay unconscious at his private residence at the Coast in 1968, we had put in contingency measures for his burial and smooth transition.” It is the same measures they would dust up and implement a decade later when the curtain fell on Jomo.  

When Kenyatta died, Kareithi quickly moved to secure Moi’s safety, who by virtue of the Constitution was now the acting president. “Moi was in Nairobi in 55 minutes. He escaped James Mungai’s road block at Lanet by 20 minutes. Next, I called GSU commandant Ben Gethi with instructions that he takes responsibility for Moi’s security,” says Kareithi.