A close aide to retired President Mwai Kibaki has opened up on how they scuttled Raila Odinga’s quest for the position of Prime Minister after the 2002 elections.
Speaking about the power struggles that nearly crippled the new Narc Government after the fall of Kanu, former State House Comptroller Matere Keriri revealed how they frustrated Raila’s push for implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that earmarked the premiership for him.
"In the MoU, whose contents were only known to eight beneficiaries, Raila was to become the Prime Minister but since there was no such provision in the Constitution, we blocked the move resulting in the acrimony that followed," Matere says.
In an exclusive interview with The Standard, Matere credits himself and a cabal of Kibaki loyalists for steadying the ship by keeping at bay "political players who were keen to rock the government."
Matere says although Kibaki had not fully recovered from injuries sustained in a road accident weeks to the 2002 General Election, members of the Narc Summit led by Raila wanted the immediate implementation of the MOU. Raila fronted NARC campaigns after Kibaki was hospitalized and is credited with captaining the juggernaut that swept Kanu from power. His declaration of “Kibaki Tosha”rallied opposition leaders behind Kibaki handing him the presidency at the third attempt. While acknowledging that Raila played a key part in securing the victory, he says the aggressive push for the implementation of MoU posed a healthy risk to the ailing President. Therefore, they decided to restrict access to a few loyalists.
"On seeing this (access to State House) was not working, Raila realised our group was opposed to his push to be appointed the Prime Minister. He ganged up (with other Narc Summit leaders) to brand us as Mt Kenya mafia," Matere says, walking this writer on his farm.
Nearly two decades later, Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta, whom Kibaki defeated in 2002, have struck a political truce and set off constitutional reforms under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
The push for a parliamentary system of government with a Prime Minister as head of government was a popular proposal during public hearings by the BBI which is expected to present a report to the President later this month.
Matere, who retired to farming in Kirinyaga, also spends time in Nairobi “to catch up with town life”.
And in a sensational claim, Matere, 85, alleges that after Kibaki loyalists scuttled the implementation of the MoU, ‘the Narc renegades led by Raila set up former First Lady the late Lucy Kibaki against me.’
"When Kibaki took over power, he was sick and susceptible to manipulation by those who wanted to benefit from his presidency. On learning very fast the game that the clique led by Raila had started, we developed some measures to keep them away from Kibaki after he declined to honour the MOU," Matere says.
He continues: "This move did not go down well with this group and it also devised ways and means to outsmart our strategy. One of them being creating friction between us and Mama Lucy who had also been blacklisted from accessing her ailing husband."
Matere says they blocked Lucy from seeing Kibaki "to give him adequate time to recover and steer the country."
He refuses to elaborate further, only saying that Lucy had kept away from the campaigns and only resurfaced after Kibaki was declared the winner.
"Before the campaigns, Lucy was nowhere to be seen. However, she turned up at a time when some members of the Summit had started waging a war against those opposed to the MoU. It was viewed that the disgruntled members would use her (Lucy) to advance their agitation," Matere says, justifying his decision to block Lucy from seeing her husband.
"Lucy in turn developed a lot of hatred towards me for standing my ground that only those with genuine reasons could access the president," he says.
"By the time I left State House my relationship with her had gone from worse to worst and she did not even wish to see my face," Matere adds.
The revelations by Matere give credence to reports that Kibaki loyalists shielded him from the very people who had waged a vigorous campaign after the then joint opposition presidential candidate was involved in a crash while on his way from a campaign tour of Machakos.
In his book, Seasons of Hope, former National Assembly Deputy Speaker David Musila described how ‘out of the blue’ a number of close Kibaki aides frustrated any attempts to reconvene the Narc Summit, the main engine that ran the campaigns.
The Summit consisted of Kibaki, Raila, Kijana Wamalwa, Charity Ngilu, Moody Awori, George Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka and Kipruto Kirwa.
Musila says in his book that the problem arose when the list of nominees from Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for the cabinet slots was unilaterally changed and efforts to seek audience with Kibaki flatly rejected.
"Our disappointment was cemented when our delegation was turned away at the gates of State House. We called a press conference at the weekend and denounced the President for not honouring our pre-election MoU," Musila recounts in his memoirs.
But Matere denies that there was a deliberate move to kill the Summit, saying this was one of the stringent measures taken to shield the President from politicians “who would derail formation of government."
This included blocking the push to name Raila PM and keeping the rival faction away from the President.
Matere says those close to Kibaki -- namely Chris Murungaru, Kiraitu Murungi, David Mwiraria and himself -- were derogatively christened the Mt Kenya Mafia to alienate them from Kenyans.
"The coining of this Mt Kenya Mafia tag was a well-thought out political campaign to discredit the Kibaki administration and it led to the agitation for 2005 referendum which dealt the government a resounding defeat," he says.
Matere exited State House in 2004 after an acrimonious fallout with Lucy, with the most pronounced public spat being her famous handshake snub at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).
Matere says he has led a successful life with little regrets.
"Regardless of my background I am now among the few nobles (most well up) of this country and I thank God for having given me such a wonderful life," he says.
Matere was taught by Kibaki at Makerere University where he studied economics in the 1960s.
He reunited with Kibaki in 1967 at Treasury where he was Finance Secretary under Kibaki.
He joined Parliament in 1983 as Ndia MP but lost the seat in the infamous 1988 Mlolongo voting. He recaptured the parliamentary seat in 1997. After losing in 2002 he was appointed State House Comptroller.