When Mt Kenya MPs ganged up against VP Karanja

When Dr Josephat Karanja was sworn-in as the Vice President in 1988. [File, Standard]

The current dilemma facing Mt Kenya and the scramble for the region’s kingpin mantle mirrors complexities witnessed in a past transition when such a vacuum loomed.

Thirty-three years ago, Mt Kenya had just undergone a transition. Mwai Kibaki, who had been vice-president since 1979, had just been sacked. The other pretender to the throne, Charles Njonjo, had been hounded out of office as Constitutional Affairs minister after the failed 1982 coup and reduced to a social and political recluse, a pariah of sorts.

Dr Josephat Njuguna Karanja, who had grudgingly joined politics from academia and ultimately made VP, was a marked man whose days as the second-in-command were numbered. The perfect moment to cut to size the former Kenyan envoy to Britain came sometimes in January 1989 when President Daniel Moi flew to France for a few days.

Karanja thought he could exercise Executive power in his boss’s absence. He called top security officials for a briefing and later requested for updates.

His critics could hardly wait for Moi’s return to expose this man who thought he was the acting Head of State. The first salvo was fired by Kuria Kanyingi, a motor vehicle inspector, who accused the VP of behaving like a small god. Karanja was also accused of forcing leaders to kneel before him.

Kanyingi had also accused Karanja of planning to assassinate Limuru MP Samuel Mwaura whose Mercedes Benz had allegedly been rammed in the rear as he was coming from a harambee in Baringo.

But it was Embakasi MP David Mwenje, who after attacking the VP in Parliament, tabled a vote of no confidence on April 26 1989. Isolated and bewildered, Karanja listened as he was torn to pieces.

When he tried to defend himself, Mwenje thundered: "We do not want trouble. We do not want chaos. Our loyalty to the president is direct, right from our houses, from our constituencies to the president."

Karanja later observed that common decency in Kenya’s politics had been thrown out of the window and replaced with thuggery. He had very few sympathisers, among them Kiruhi Kimondo.

Even sober-minded leaders like Foreign Affairs minister Rober Ouko challenged Karanja to respond to the accusations instead of proclaiming doom on Kenya’s political landscape. Karanja, who had been in office for barely two years, was forced to resign first as vice-president on May 1, 1989 then as a Kanu official and Mathare MP.

The rootless MP was routed from office without a murmur from Kiambu as he had no political base in the district or Mt Kenya region, whose sons had actively prosecuted and hanged him.