Kenya's transitions have been a hit-and-miss affair

When former President Uhuru Kenyatta handed the instruments of power to now President William Ruto at Kasarani Stadium on September 13,2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The current bad blood between President William Ruto and his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, is perhaps the most toxic in all successions that Kenya has ever had. 

Although the transition from President Moi to Mwai Kibaki was also problematic, it was mainly because of the political climate at the time.

This time, however, it is over a fallout that began when both served as president and deputy  because Uhuru decided to work with opposition leader Raila Odinga in 2018.

Uhuru further created a bigger rift with his deputy when he refused to support his presidential bid despite having promised to do so when Ruto joined his ticket in 2013.

Going back to 2002, when Kibaki took over, the mood and opinion was largely against Moi because he had served for 24 years as president.

He was also seen to have been oppressive in his iron fist rule as the economy also suffered from bad policies and grand corruption.

It was further fueled by the charged campaigns mounted by the united National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) that brought together almost all opposition parties in the country.

Much had changed from when Moi allowed the multiparty politics yet he was a product of one party State, who reluctantly 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 former Comptroller of State House Franklin Bett.

Moi was abused and humiliated by a hostile opposition crowd during the hand over at Uhuru Park with some throwing mud at him but the ceremony ended well before he drove to State House and was later flown to his Kabarak home.

He did not wait to receive the new tenant at the house on the hill because of the sour relationship just like Uhuru did last year after handing over from Ruto and has never met him until now.

Moi earlier tried to brighten the relationship by giving Kibaki a tour of the State House after his election victory was announced when he invited the new president with his wife Lucy for the occasion.

In 2005, President Kibaki called Moi for a meeting that lasted for about two hours to discuss the crisis over the referendum results that his “Yes” side lost. 

It was understood that President Kibaki had called his predecessor on a Sunday afternoon, requesting consultations.

The two leaders discussed Kibaki's concerns over a series of demands the Raila Odinga-led Orange Democratic Movement was making among them that they be consulted as a group and not as individuals over possible Cabinet positions.

The relationship between President Kibaki and Uhuru was perhaps the coziest of all, and it included a military parade send off for the exiting leader at State House in a colourful ceremony.

The leaders also used to meet frequently with Uhuru reportedly visiting his predecessor at his home. President Kibaki was also Uhuru’s godfather having overseen his baptism in the Catholic church when he was an infant.

But the current situation is different with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa repeatedly accusing Uhuru for all manner of transgressions.

The attacks against the former president went a notch higher recently when hundreds of hired thugs invaded his families land, destroyed property and stole sheep while president Ruto was out of the country.

Police inaction as the goons spent a whole day on the farm slaughtering sheep and social media posts by senior Kenya Kwanza leaders pointed at government involvement in the invasion of the farm.

Moi groomed Uhuru to become president in 2002 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.

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 80 per cent of salary of sitting president.

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.

In order to appease restless young people who wanted Moi out, Kibaki's 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 to appease the anti-Moi people until it fizzled out but according to Njiru, Kibaki all along knew nothing could happen to his predecessor at the end of it all.

He is the one who ordered that a title deed be prepared for him to own the Kabarnet Gardens house despite opposition from senior Narc ministers.