He stepped on my thigh and pushed the muzzle of his rifle onto my chest. His armed colleague cocked his gun and stood at the door. “Kaa chini wee mjinga” he commanded pushing his gun deeper into my flesh. I sat still, fuming but helpless. The local chief produced five membership cards of the ruling party and ordered my father to part with Sh50, “or else”.
My father, a tall, dark and muscular man, sat still. He didn’t utter a word. He quietly observed the intruders before gently asking them; “Is this the best way to go about recruiting party members?” he received a slap for his question.
Two-armed policemen had barged into our one-room house in Nakuru’s Kivumbini estate. They were accompanied by the local chief. Their mission? To forcefully recruit us into the membership of the Kenya African National Union (Kanu), the ruling political party in Kenya then.
A long moment of threats, intimidation and occasional silence followed. Throughout the barrage of words from the armed intruders, we all remained quiet. Soon tension was growing outside as crowds gathered.
The youth began arming themselves with stones while shouting; “Akina kale wamevamiwa”. The chief realised that soon he would have to deal with a whole angry estate population. Fuming, he threatened to come back with a bigger force.
Dirty games and evolution of the electoral system
The Kenyan electoral system has undergone a major evolution. In 1974, candidates couldn’t be elected to Parliament without an election symbol.
Kanu had total control and cunningly locked out those considered hostile to the party. Party symbols to be used for the elections would be kept secret and only be revealed at the eleventh hour to the candidates the party wanted knocked out.
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Former Butere MP Martin Shikuku told me: “Some of us did not know what our symbols were until the last day. We would then rush to print posters. My opponent had been informed of the symbol a week earlier. He told the people I wasn’t vying. There were many who simply gave up because they lacked the nerve to fight.”
During the 1969 general election, some candidates had their own ballot boxes. JM Kariuki, Nyandarua North MP, was to later complain that; “Anybody could carry as many votes as he could in his pocket and put them in the ballot box.”
The system allowed and enabled people with influence and money to rig themselves into parliament.
The all-powerful President, Jomo Kenyatta, ensured constant constitutional amendments to enhance his grip on power and the dominance of Kanu leadership. It became impossible for anyone opposed to Kanu or the President to run for a civic or parliamentary seat.
There was no independent office that managed elections. There was a department in the office of the president headed by an officer with a title of registrar of elections, a civil servant working under the head of civil service that oversaw elections. The president was in reality, fully in charge of elections. In the Kenyatta era, the head of civil service Geoffrey Kareithi could call and cancel Kanu elections at will.
During the 1974 general elections, Kanu introduced a rule that to be eligible to run, one had to be a Kanu life member. The party had the power to decide who couldn’t become its life member. In the 1983 general election all candidates had to be cleared by the party. Kanu also required potential candidates to sit some written party exam.
David Mwenje, the fiery and abrasive former member of parliament for Embakasi once told me how he disorganised his rival who would have beaten him at the exam. Mwenje visited the rival in the dead of night. He had done his homework and knew the man would be home alone.
He knocked at the door and waited. When the man opened the door, Mwenje’s goons pounced on him and pinned him on the floor. They smashed all his fingers using a harmer. Bandaged and in pain, the poor man appeared before the party machinery in the morning to report that he was unable to sit the exam.
By 1988, Kanu had reached the peak of its power with Moi celebrating his 10th anniversary as President. He had been emboldened by the failed August 1st 1982 military coup against his government. He neutralised those he perceived to be a threat to country. Then, he embarked on a massive campaign to make Kanu an all-powerful machine.
For its party nominations, the party introduced Mlolongo. Voters lined up behind the photos of their preferred candidates. District Commissioners (DCs), acted as the returning officers. They would move along the queues loudly counting the voters. If a candidate was not popular with Kanu, his or her queue would be declared the loser, even if it was the longest.
When it came to a candidate popular with Kanu the DC would pause at the same spot and continue counting imaginary voters. He would then declare him the winner.
During the queuing, those who garnered more than 70 per cent of the “standing votes” were declared winners. More than 50 per cent of the Kanu die-hards were elected to parliament through this dirty system. At the party nominations in February 1988, only Kanu members were allowed to participate. The rest of Kenyans were expected to vote in the national poll in March.
Mlolongo achieved its key objective of cleaning up Kanu. The then government critics; Martin Shikuku, Charles Rubia and Kimani wa Nyoike were among those thrown out. Vice President Mwai Kibaki who survived by a whisker in his home turf is popularly remembered to have angrily said that; “even rigging required some intelligence”. He was soon dropped as Moi’s deputy and appointed minister for health.
In 1991, Moi appointed a Kanu Review Committee to investigate the party’s internal electoral and disciplinary conduct. The committee chaired by Vice President Prof George Saitoti traversed the country collecting views and opinions from citizens.
Recommendations by the Saitoti Committee led to the 1991 repeal of section 2A of the Constitution of Kenya, allowing the reintroduction of multipartyism. Kanu initiated internal changes as it prepared for the first multiparty elections in 1992.
Opposition politicians-initiated campaigns to sell their democratic agenda. Sparks of violence started to light up embers across the country. Politically instigated violence broke out in Nyanza and Western Kenya. Meanwhile, Kanu launched the Youth for Kanu92 (YK92) to promote the party among the youth. Money was poured in millions of shillings to buy support.
The time of Zacchaeus Chesoni
Moi had appointed brilliant lawyer Zacchaeus Chesoni to take charge of the electoral management body, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), to preside over the 1992 general election. This was Kenya’s first multiparty election.
Chesoni, who later became the country’s Chief Justice, was once described by Senior Counsel Paul Muite as a man possessing a “first class legal mind”.
The humourous and at times reflective Chesoni once told me those who called him an election thief and accused him of helping Moi steal the 1992 and 1997 general elections, were fools who fail to look at issues critically.
“When Moi says he’s the professor of politics, he actually means it. We have all these men and women in opposition who are more learned than Moi but are stuck in deep political stupidity. How can they flood the presidential polls with opposition candidates and gobble between themselves enough votes to remove Moi yet claim to have been rigged?” said Chesoni
The 1992 polls attracted four main candidates; Moi, Kenneth Matiba, Mwai Kibaki and Oginga Odinga. Since Kenya is highly ethnic in its voting; Odinga captured the Luo block and shared some Luhya spoils with Kenneth Matiba.
Chesoni said that opposition leaders were mesmerised by media coverage and huge crowds that turned up at their political rallies. They rarely invested in Kanu zones or party agents.
Chesoni laughed off claims that he stole elections for Moi. “The National Tallying Centre at the KICC was flooded with the media, both local and international, plus observers who were even more than election officials. There is no way anyone could possibly have cooked figures here.”
The 1997 general elections, still under Chesoni’s eye, were no different. Kanu won 107 national assembly seats out of 210. Moi further appointed 12 others to Parliament. This time round, the opposition fielded 14 candidates. If they had supported one of them, their combined votes were enough to defeat Moi. Chesoni was right, the greed, selfishness and stupidity of opposition leaders replayed itself in 1997.
Enter Samuel Kivuitu
Moi was leaving the political scene into retirement in 2002. His preferred candidate Uhuru Kenyatta faced a united opposition. After years of bickering, the opposition at last came under one umbrella and gave Kanu a resounding defeat. Mwai Kibaki became Kenya’s third president.
The 2002 elections were peaceful and forceful. That year, I voted with a smile as I recalled the lunchtime intrusion by armed APs. Samuel Kivuitu declared his friend Kibaki President-elect and presided over a chaotic swearing-in ceremony at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.
Kivuitu settled well in office and started preparing for the 2007 general election.
During election season, some political players love filing cases in courts to influence commission operations. Some court pronouncements are made too close to election date, affecting the commissions preparedness. Wafula Chebukati argues that: “It is imperative that amendments to the electoral laws are conducted at least two years to the election date....”
Kenya has a lot of cleaning up to do. The country needs an election environment devoid of intimidation and profiling. We need an environment that quickly stops the spread of falsehoods during an election year. Falsehoods can be a recipe for tension, unrest and chaos.