Troubled transitions: Feisty campaigns almost always lead to turbulent change of guard

When Mzee Dankiel Moi handed instruments of power to late President Mwai Kibaki after swearing on  Dec 30, 2012. [File, Standard]

The storm kicked up by allies of retired President Uhuru Kenyatta on the scaling down of his security has cast a spotlight on the country’s transitions.

News of reorganisation of Uhuru’s security detail, that saw the recalling of a senior police officer, has seen his allies accuse president William Ruto’s administration of a vendetta against the retired head of state.

That the move came hot on the heels of claims by the Kenya Kwanza administration that the retired president was funding rallies led by Azimio leader Raila Odinga, has not helped matters much. It is this rapid sequence of events  that has Uhuru’s allies reading mischief in the government’s latest move.

The bad blood being witnessed between the Kenya Kwanza administration and Uhuru is however nothing new, if the country’s previous transitions are anything to go by. From the ascension to office of president Daniel Moi following the death of the nation’s first president Jomo Kenyatta, to Moi handing over the baton to Mwai Kibaki, who was later succeeded by Uhuru, an aura of suspicion has always pervaded actions effected by a new administration.

The current simmering tensions between Ruto and his predecessor Uhuru, can in some ways be compared to the Kibaki–Moi handover following the 2002 elections that saw Narc oust Kanu from power after 24 years.

Kibaki had ridden to power because of a euphoric support the opposition had built against Moi over they years, after reintroduction of multi party politics.

Analysts, however, see the current frosty relationship between the new administration and the former as a way of hitting back at Uhuru for the support he gave opposition leader Raila Odinga and almost won the August 2022 elections.

“He is hitting back at Uhuru because he not only opposed him but also gave him similar treatment, to the one he is meting out against his predecessor,” says political analyst Martin Andati.

Political analysts say there is a feeling that Raila is doing what he is at the behest of the families of top politicians sponsoring him to mobilise political rallies.

“The President must be getting intelligence that Raila is getting some funding but the truth is Raila may not need money to mobilise crowds,” says lawyers Stanislus Murunga.

The President has hit at Uhuru’s government for waiving Sh350 million taxes during the merger of CBA and NIC banks linked to the former first family.

Leader of Majority Kimani Ichungwa is also talking about the large number of government vehicles still in possession of the former president.

This kind of ugly fight is a departure from the transition from Jomo Kenyatta to Moi and that from Kibaki to Uhuru because both pairs had worked well together.

The transition of government from Moi to Kibaki was perhaps the most problematic because of the political climate at the time.

The mood and opinion was largely against Moi because of the charged campaigns mounted by National Rainbow Colaition (Narc) that brought together almost all opposition parties in the country.

The Narc leadership formed a summit led by leaders who largely represented parties with regional kingpins like Raila Odinga, Wamalwa Kijana, Kalonzo Musyoka, Charity Ngilu, Kipruto arap Kirwa and Najib Balala.

Toxic environment

They rallied the country to sing “Yote yawezekana bila Moi (all is possible without Moi)” as they campaigned thus creating a toxic political environment.

In the initial days of his tenure Kibaki commissioned an audit, which came up with the Kroll report in 2004 that claimed billions had been looted by the previous government and stashed in foreign accounts.

Reports, however, say Kibaki decided against taking any action upon realising that going that route could bog down his leadership.

“There was even a push to have Moi surrender the Kibera home by hawkish ministers but Kibaki told them to process the title deed and give it to Moi,” says Andati

Former State House Comptroller Frankline Bett traces the transition challenges to the emergence of multi-party politics that created an anti-Moi campaign atmosphere.

Much changed when Moi allowed the multiparty politics yet he was a product of a one-party State, who allowed change by repealing Section 2 (a) of the old constitution.

“He did it though reluctantly, and as you know humans abhor change. That contributed to the notable aspect of resistance by the president and his diehards,” says Bett.

But it was the abrasiveness of Kibaki’s men that created more problems as they settled into office after replacing the Moi team in almost all high offices.

“They were saying get out. That abrasiveness was seen in a very unkind manner by the Moi people. It was how change was managed that made it look a bit untidy,” says Bett.

The incoming group was also being propelled by a restless mass of young people who felt they were being denied opportunities by the Moi regime.

That is why the chants of “Moi must go, songs like yote yawezekana bila Moi and unbwogable” among others were effectively used to raise emotions against the Kanu regime.

Bett recounts that emotions were so high against the status quo omaking those who were in power unhappy .

“Kibaki and his team came in with a lot of energy and force and here was Moi who could have been reluctant to cede because of that arrogance against him although he was over-powered by their numbers, but he nevertheless handed over,” says Bett.

Moi had earlier in 2002 groomed Uhuru Kenyatta to succeed him, leading to the disgruntlement of Raila, Prof George Saitoti and Musyoka among others who rebelled and formed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

And so Uhuru became the Kanu flag bearer in the 2002 presidential election facing Narc’s Kibaki but the opposition labeled him Moi’s project.

As expected, Kibaki got a resounding victory but that among other issues made the transition that followed messy.

Since no presidential retirement law existed at the time, everything from Moi’s security, transport and upkeep was done informally by officers at the office of the president.

Former head of the Presidential Press Unit (PPU) Lee Njiru remembers that it took one full year before Moi was officially given his retirement package.

It was done on December 30 2003 at a retreat by the Kibaki cabinet in Mombasa when they came up with the Presidential Retirement Act, which allowed Moi to have security and 80per cent of salary of sitting president.

He says at that time everything was chaotic but nobody could touch Moi because Kibaki ignored pressure from those were calling for his prosecution.

Njiru lists Director of Intelligence Wilson Boinet, Dr Sally Kosgei (Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet and Zakayo Cheruiyot (PS Internal Security) as the main decision makers on the Moi side during that transition.

Other key people were Raymond Kibwana (Chief of General Staff), and the army commander Lazarus Sumbeiywo who also played some major roles during the transition.

On the Kibaki side there were senior cabinet ministers Raila Odinga, Dr Chris Murungaru, Kiraitu Murungi, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, Amos Kimunya and Martha Karua.

Njiru describes hostilities that began brewing before the 2002 elections as rabid because of the extreme fanatical support of those who were anti-Moi.

“The hostilities at the tail end were fomented by those Kibaki loyalists, some so hardline and rabid, demanding nothing short of having Mzee Moi either being jailed or prosecuted,” adds Njiru.

He says Moi was left alone after the US State Department asked the Kibaki administration to ensure that nothing happened to him because had built a large network of loyalist and ethnic following.

He explains that the government was warned to maintain stability because of fears that if their man was pushed to the corner, Moi’s supporters could have triggered a civil war.

But in order to appease restless young people who wanted Moi out, Kibaki and his government continued with anti-Moi rhetoric and also constituted the Goldenberg Inquiry to investigate corruption against his government.

All that went on for about three years  until it fizzled out.

Some pundits point out Kibaki could also have ignored the pressure to go after Moi and his team because of the long history they had shared since the Jomo Kenyatta administration.

When Moi succeeded Kenyatta, he appointed Kibaki as his first Vice President although he later sacked him, leading the latter forming the Democratic Party after quitting Kanu.

Following the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1991, Kibaki quit Kanu and resigned from his ministerial position on Christmas eve in 1991. 

Fate was also on Moi’s side because shortly after Kibaki became president, divisions emerged in the Narc government because he allegedly refused to honour an MoU he had signed with his colleagues.

After winning elections Kibaki also ignored the Summit and surrounded himself with politicians from Mt Kenya among them Murungaru, Kiraitu and Kimunya.

Although the government had promised to deliver a new constitution in the first 100 days, reforms were put aside as Kibaki abandoned the Bomas draft constitution and began another process that failed.

All that shifted focus from Moi and Kanu and instead mounted pressure on Kibaki himself as a new group of opposition figures emerged.

And so within a three-year span the euphoria that brought Kibaki to power changed as criticism against his government mounted at an alarming rate.

The Standard
Make this Easter memorable with our KES999 annual offer!