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How NARC became a movement

KENYA @ 50
By Njonjo Kihuria | February 5th 2014

By Njonjo Kihuria

Kenya: Towards the end of 1998,the country was going through hard economic times and anger had been rising over inordinate price increases of essential commodities. At the time, a group of young MPs by the name Progressive Peoples’ Forum (PPF), believed time to rally Kenyans around a common cause had finally come.

The idea was inspired by similar problems in the UK and Malawi where people were protesting forcing the governments to retract on some of the arbitrary price increments. However, most of PPF’s members were junior MPs and they doubted that people would turn up in large numbers, should they call a public meeting.

PPF decided to scout for a seasoned MP who could help organise such a meeting. “Surprisingly when the idea was sold to lawyer James Orengo, he was not enthusiastic, but to our great surprise, when he went to Kisumu that weekend, he announced a forthcoming rally at Kamukunji in Nairobi where the issues we had raised would form the agenda”, recalls former Rangwe MP Shem Ochuodho. 

Most PPF members resolved to support Orengo as long as their idea would yield results.”We were looking at the bigger picture and so we were the first people to come out and openly endorse that rally,” says Ochuodho.

PPF was initially made up of five MPs including the late Enoch Magara, Alfred Nderitu, Moses Muihia, John Katuku and Shem Ochuodho.  It later expanded its membership to 20 attracting the likes of Mukhisa Kituyi, Martha Karua and even Kanu members like Jimmy Angwenyi and Dr Ali who had started to show signs of rebellion against the Moi regime.

The forum identified some political groups which it could work with outside the Kanu-NDP circle including Kibaki’s DP, Wamalwa’s Ford Kenya, Ngilu’s SDP, Matiba’s Saba-Saba Asili, Nyachae’s KPC, the Kones-Kirwa group and the Nyongo and Orengo axis of SDP.

“To avoid a kitchen-cabinet reversal of decision, we resolved that we would be meeting the leaders together with two of their trusted lieutenants. A group of four or five from PPF that we ensured was cross-party and from different ethnic parties met each leader and their close lieutenants and practically all of them encouraged us to continue with our efforts to bring the opposition together,” says Ochuodho.

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Financial constraints

Time and again, PPF was financially strained as it had to foot all the bills that accrued at venues of these meetings, to avoid being branded outfits of the leaders they were meeting. “We were fresh MPs, the salaries were not that high and this was one time I had (financial) difficulties taking my children through school,” says Ochuodho.

The leaders were then brought together to a round table where a national alliance and a coordinating committee was formed. Ochuodho became the secretary.

The second meeting chaired by the current Chief Justice Willy Mutunga constituted the council and formally adopted the name National Alliance but unfortunately politician Nginyo Kariuki had a party by the same name and he threatened to take the group to court.

Former Internal Security Minister Chris Murungaru says that the group then settled for National Alliance for Change (NAC) and when time came for the movement to transform into a political party, it chose the National Conservative Party (NCP). “The leadership slots were then dished out to the parties in the group, but when we went to the registrar to change the name of the party, we realised that the party name was being used by Kanu,” says Murungaru.

That is when they settled on Ngilu’s NAPK and decided to make the ‘P’ silent and hence NAK. “At this time, the major competition was between Kibaki and Wamalwa, so Ngilu was viewed as somewhat neutral and that is why we settled on her party. The name was also closer to what we wanted,” he says.

Added Murungaru, “The reason why we took Ngilu’s party was because of all three major parties, it was the smallest”. He argued that it was expected that the larger, more established parties would become the united opposition vehicle, but at that time, there was fear of dominance by the smaller parties.

At some stage, Kibaki, Wamalwa and Ngilu came up with the P-12 group made up of four members from eachparty. This group came up with the line up of Kibaki for President, Ngilu as Prime Minister, Wamalwa as Deputy President and Kipruto Kirwa and Ochuodho, deputy prime ministers. “But just before we could make the announcement, Tinga (Raila) and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) group decamped from Kanu, joining us to form NARC and talk of re-adjustment of slots started”.

Direct nominations

21 direct nominations were dished out to senior NARC members, but Ochuodho’s nomination was scuttled by LDP. “LDP’s leadership made it clear to Kibaki that either I was out or there would be no deal”. The former MD of Kenya Pipeline Corporation says while the NAK brigade was naive in “letting justice prevail” during nominations, Raila had plans to have a significant number of MPs and that’s why he insisted that his candidates come in as LDP members.

Murungaru claimed that at that time, the only person the opposition could credibly front and who would have a realistic chance of dislodging Moi’s Kanu candidate was Mwai Kibaki. Ochuodho thus agrees, “It was the logical thing to do.”

Cede candidacy

Murungaru categorically asserts that, “with or without the breakaway arm of Kanu, Mwai Kibaki was going to win the 2002 presidential election convincingly”. Ochuodho agrees, but says the margin would have been narrower.

LDP came to the table rather late in the day; just a few months to the election and very few meetings were held between it and NAK before an agreement was arrived at “Even when Raila declared, ‘Kibaki Tosha’, nothing had been agreed upon and earlier that morning, Raila had already entered into a MoU with Ford People’s Simeon Nyachae and ceded his candidacy to him,” recalls Ochuodho. But in the afternoon, Raila  had read the writing on the wall.

According to Ochuodho, before the ‘Kibaki Tosha’ catchphrase, members of NAK wanted to hold a rally in Nairobi without the LDP group, but LDP “tricked” them into delaying it, until Tinga held his rally and came up with the’ surprise’ endorsement of Kibaki, instead of Nyachae. 

 “In many ways it is regrettable that NARC did not live to the fullness of its potential. It was the Kenyan dream in terms of nationhood, unity and aspirations, but unfortunately when we got into government some people allowed their individual ambitions to kill the dream,” concludes the former minister.

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