The untold story of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s long political journey
By MWANIKI MUNUHE
NAIROBI, KENYA: President Uhuru Kenyatta’s political journey is one of a kind, surrounded by many mysteries majority of which remain unknown to the public.
The Standard on Sunday has now unearthed details surrounding the political journey of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta’s son who is now the fourth President.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, before former President Moi discovered him, Uhuru had been actively involved in politics for a record eight years, having joined the political arena in 1986 when he tried to run for the Makadara parliamentary seat. As a young politician, he was entangled in tough political battles especially when it became apparent to Kanu operatives that his political life when he joined the ruling party had begun to shape up.
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Multiple sources close to the goings-on then indicated to The Standard on Sunday that there was fierce political battle between Uhuru on one side and former ministers George Saitoti and Joseph Kamotho on the other.
Battle for seats
At one time in Nyeri, during an election for two executive Kanu officials, the political battle became so tough that there had to be a compromise.
Each side was to get one seat after the voting resulted in a tie. Uhuru’s team settled on former Kirinyaga Central MP Ngata Kariuki.
In 1986, Uhuru launched his first political bid in Nairobi’s Kaloleni area, which was considered an extremely significant region within the Nairobi politics then.
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75 year-old John Odhiambo who also worked for former president Jomo Kenyatta told The Standard on Sunday that many prominent politicians especially in Nairobi kept visiting Kaloleni because of its political significance.
“Uhuru, then a young politician, visited this area to help in fund raising and particularly to attend sports events. To us, it was clear he was running for the seat. Kaloleni is the birthplace of most of our politicians. You must remember that the first Kenyan Parliament was hosted at Kaloleni Social Hall between1940 and 1943. Kaloleni then was a high-status estate housing the governor. I also remember politicians like Kenneth Kaunda, Masinde Muliro, Tom Mboya and Ronald Ngala were frequent in Kaloleni,” he said.
Uhuru’s strategy team comprised his younger brother Muhoho Kenyatta and James Magana-Muigai, his partner in a French beans export business through Wilham Company Limited, which had its offices in Nairobi’s Corner House along Kimathi Street.
It is this company that Uhuru used to create networks among farmers within Central Kenya, as he would frequently visit various regions across the province while purchasing horticultural products for export.
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However, after taking part in several fundraisers and organising and funding sports activities in the area, there was consensus among his strategy team that because of the political dynamics that existed in the region then, it would be tricky to run.
Three years later (1989), Uhuru decided to focus on Lari constituency, where he attended many public functions and attracted heavy opposition from political players in the area. It was the introduction of the multiparty politics that threw Uhuru’s political ambitions into even more complications.
The ruling party Kanu, which he wanted to join, had lost popularity within the Central Kenya region following the emergence of Ford Asili, which was led by veteran politician Kenneth Matiba and the Democratic Party led by former President Mwai Kibaki.
Ultimately, Uhuru decided to join Kanu, his father’s party, amid challenges emanating from a member of the family and former Gatundu MP Ngengi Muigai who was not only opposed to Uhuru’s entry into politics, but joined DP and even attempted to oust Kibaki from the party’s helm.
For this reason and in a bid to secure a comfortable position within Kanu, Uhuru devised a four-pronged strategy.
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First, Gatundu would be a base for recruitment of party officials to fill the positions left vacant after several officials defected to the opposition. The interim officials would then start an aggressive recruitment of people into Kanu.
The entire strategy, which also saw Magana-Muigai appointed chairman of what was then referred to as ‘Gatundu Kanu co-ordinators’ was targeting mainly the youth. But even as this happened, there were challenges, chief of which was the strategy Uhuru would apply to convince residents of the then Thika District to warm up to the ruling party.
Part of the solution then, as established by the Standard on Sunday, was to go public with news that the Kenyatta family was opposed to Ngengi’s attempt to oust Kibaki from the leadership of DP.
Consequently, James Magana Muigai, Uhuru’s business partner and a member of the Kenyatta family held a press conference and openly stated that the Kenyatta family was party to the wrangles that were going on in DP.
In 1997, Ngengi Muigai backed Moses Muihia who was vying against Uhuru for the Gatundu South seat.
Muigai in a brief statement which was also covered by The Standard said: “Most members of the Kenyatta family are not even DP members as has always been assumed. The family wishes to set the record straight, it has nothing to do with the current squabbling in DP. We do not wish to be party to any quarrels that might divide the nation,” he said. It is worth noting that in the 1992 elections, Uhuru backed Ford Asili presidential candidate Kenneth Matiba. In fact, he was in the inner circle of Matiba’s campaign team.
However, Kanu, apart from winning the presidency in a highly controversial contest, also won an absolute majority in Parliament, clinching 100 out of the 188 seats. Around 1995, Uhuru contested the powerful Thika District Kanu chairmanship seat unopposed, effectively giving him an upper hard in the party’s politics in the area. However, there was a challenge of recruiting people to join Kanu because of the influence DP and Ford Asili commanded in the area. It was the internal wrangling in Gatukuyu Coffee Society that provided the first chance for Uhuru to sell Kanu in the area.
Indeed, the Gatukuyu intervention was critical in moulding Uhuru’s political career and aspiration to popularise Kanu.
There was urgent need to get a way of regrouping coffee farmers in seeking a solution to the wrangles in the coffee society. Wangui Karanja, a friend to Uhuru’s sister Christina, indicated she had a friend who could deliver Uhuru to farmers in order to have him help in solving the matter.
Understandably, because the then Provincial Administration was involved in protecting the then officials of the coffee society who had wreaked havoc on farmers, it was only former President Moi who had capacity to intervene.
Uhuru successfully organised a meeting between the President and the coffee farmers who presented their grievances and a directive was issued that solved the wrangles within the coffee society.
It was this meeting that drew the attention of the former president to Uhuru’s capacity to mobilise hundreds of coffee farmers to see him yet the ruling party had grown unpopular in the region, besides a demand by farmers that Uhuru would henceforth represent the people of Gatundu.
The relationship between Uhuru and Moi would later develop to a strong political friendship.
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Uhuru Kenyatta Kaloleni Ronald Ngala Kamotho