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Born to lead? Kenya’s political families still hold big sway

By Barrack Muluka | January 1st 2017
Baringo senator Gideon Moi

While the Kenyatta and Odinga families have occupied the dynastic centre stage in Kenya since independence, there have been other families of note.

Some have looked like proxies or regencies. Yet they remain noteworthy. Retired President Daniel Moi has to a great extent had a hand in the growth of these dynasties.

When he ascended to power for the first 90 days on August 22 1978, President Moi made three key pledges to the country.

One of which would have a telling effect in future dynastic succession games. Moi’s first pledge was that he would fight corruption, which then went under the Kiswahili idiom of magendo. But it was his other two pledges that stood out.

First was that he would walk in the footsteps of President Kenyatta. Second was that he would protect the Kenyatta family.

In the fullness of time, Moi would unsuccessfully attempt to hand power back to the Kenyatta family in the second half of 2002. His Uhuru for President Project fell through.

The preceding year, he had handpicked Mzee Kenyatta’s son, veritably from nowhere, nominated him to Parliament and made him a minister in his Cabinet.

As part of this grooming, President Moi had attempted – again unsuccessfully, to get Uhuru elected as MP for Gatundu South in the 1997 General Election.

As a holding room before bringing him into government, Moi made Uhuru chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board in 1999, following the electoral debacle of 1997.

Those with discerning eyes ought to have seen what was coming. Moi was returning power to the Kenyatta Dynasty.

Did Moi consider his presidency a regency, or why did he settle for Uhuru, completely against all expectation?

Pulled a surprise

The biggest challenge to Uhuru in 2002 was lack of experience. He was not known to have run any institution, despite being associated with his family’s vast business interests in the country and beyond.

Moreover, the President had underscored the need for him to leave Kenya under competent stewardship.

While returning to the country from an overseas trip, the President had shocked his Cabinet by telling them to their face that none among them was good enough to take the baton from him.

Of his vice president, George Saitoti President Moi said: “He is my good friend. But leadership and friendship are two different things.”

In a sense, therefore, focus was not just on placing the country in the right hands, but also in the right dynastic hands. President Moi had also grown other dynasties. They included a number of political families across the country.

These included the families of the late Ronald Ngala and Moses Mudavadi, respectively represented by Noah Katana Ngala and Musalia Mudavadi.

The Jeremiah Nyagah family also featured prominently in the dynastic formations, with three Nyagah sons occupying key positions in the country.

Joseph Nyagah served in the Moi Cabinet, while Nahashon Nyagah served as Governor of Central Bank of Kenya. A third son, Norman Nyagah, walked a separate path and served as Member of Parliament for Gachoka Constituency in the Opposition Democratic Party.

Some of these names rose to political and allied leadership prominence way before Uhuru Kenyatta jumped into the arena, but the Moi searchlight never rested on them.

Noah Katana Ngala became MP in 1974, only two years after the death of his father in a road accident.

Ngala’s father, Ronald Gideon Ngala had been Moi’s chairman in the defunct KADU party. Some had thought that Ngala might be President Moi’s choice because of this history. However, it did not come to pass.

Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi came to Parliament in 1989. Like Ngala, this was in the wake of his father’s demise. Earlier, another Luhya MP, George Khaniri, had succeeded his late father, Nicodemus Khaniri, after his passing on.

It was Mudavadi, however, whom the Luhya eyes looked at in the dynastic succession. Mudavadi’s father, Moses Substone Budamba Mudavadi, had been a very close confidant of the President.

Musalia’s entry

He had also had a hand in Moi’s own entry into politics on the eve of independence. Moreover, President Moi was seen to have been the prime hand behind Musalia’s entry into politics. The searchlight did not settle upon him, however.

Nor did Moi consider pushing one from his own family to succeed him, as has been the case elsewhere (see the case of Togo and Gabon in a related story).

It is instructive, however, that in the 2002 elections, three of Moi’s son contested in three separate parliamentary constituencies.

Gideon Moi became the MP for Baringo Central, replacing his father in this position. He has since gone on to be the first Senator for Baringo County.

Going into the future, he will be an interesting player to watch. Is it possible because of his father’s support for Uhuru Kenyatta, the Moi family has elected to go easy on casting its political eyes higher for the time being?

A future significant Moi family onslaught at the presidency cannot be ruled out.

Although there have been other significant political families in the country, the Odinga and Kenyatta families, remain at the forefront. After the demise of Mzee Kenyatta, his nephew Ngengi Muigai succeeded him as MP for Gatundu.

Mzee’s son, Peter Muigai Kenyatta, was meanwhile the MP for Juja Constituency. He, however, lost the seat to Gitu Kahengeri in the 1979 elections and passed on shortly afterwards. Another Kenyatta family member Mrs Beth Mugo has served as MP for Dagoretti Constituency and is today a nominated Senator.

The late Dr Njoroge Mungai, Mzee Kenyatta’s cousin, served in the Kenyatta Cabinet, while his sister Jemimah Gecaga was a nominated MP.

Mbiyu Koinange, Mzee Kenyatta’s brother-in-law, was Minister for State and Mzee’s most trusted confidant. Another brother-in-law, George Muhoho, also went into politics and served as Minister in the Moi Cabinet.

Meanwhile apart from Raila Odinga and his father, his brother Oburu and sister Ruth Odinga, all presently actively involved in politics, other close family members are also in politics – either as elected politicians, or as aspirants.

Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo is Raila’s first cousin. There have been a number of other political players related to the Odingas via marriage.

Meanwhile, there has been talk of the possibility that one of Raila’s daughters is expected to run for Kibra Constituency, while another one is positioning herself for possible nomination to Parliament.

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