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Inside Mzee Moi, Kibaki’s striking political chemistry

Former presidents Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki. (David Kanda, Standard)

A few days before Christmas in 1991, Mwai Kibaki drove to Nakuru State House, accompanied by a few trusted friends such as former Kiambaa MP Njenga Karume.

The then Minister for Health, Kibaki was being hosted for lunch by President Daniel Moi. In the course of their discourse, the President sought to know what Kibaki’s political plans were.   

At the time, the country was aflame following the repealing of section 2A of the Constitution, paving the way for the establishment of political parties.

Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford) party had already been formed by veteran politicians Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Kenneth Matiba. It was therefore refreshing when Kibaki reassured his President that he was in Kanu to stay.

Former Attorney General Amos Wako, who was relatively new in his job as the government’s chief legal adviser was stupefied by the turn of events a few days later.

“We were shocked. The President could not believe that the man who had served as his Vice President for 10 years had severed links with Kanu just two or three days after the lunch meeting and was now announcing the formation of Democratic Party in Mombasa,” Wako recalls.

The formation of this party changed the political landscape in the country’s politics and opened floodgates of accusations and counter accusations to a point where critics thought Kibaki was just a spoiler.

To ardent Ford members, DP was labelled as Kanu B and its leader, Kibaki taunted as a fence sitter, who had not so long ago told Parliament that trying to remove Kanu from power was like trying to cut a gigantic mugumo (fig tree) with a razor blade.

According to Tabitha Seii, who was one of the vice chairperson’s then, this was untrue: “We were not in Kanu B. Democratic Party was a serious party which was in serious competition for power with Kanu. Our detractors just wanted to demean us so that the voters would think we were spoilers.”

Like a candle in the wind, the other political parties splintered, disintegrated or simply died away, especially after Kanu trounced them in the 1992 elections where Matiba, who contested under Ford Asili, was second while Kibaki’s DP emerged third. In the meantime, Jaramogi’s Ford Kenya was placed fourth.

Although Seii maintains she could not determine the chemistry between Moi and Kibaki, there is no denying that the two men had mutual respect for each other.

“I cannot remember President Moi using harsh words against Kibaki. Likewise Kibaki was civil and liked addressing issues instead of attacking his former boss,” Seii recounts.

Wako too is convinced that there was a lot of respect between the two men, arguing that Kibaki was such a gentleman in politics and it was not possible to be angry at him unlike other opposition leaders who liked stirring emotions.

After trailing Kanu twice, Kibaki finally managed the feat he had prophesied to be as impossible as cutting a fig tree with a razor blade during the 2002 presidential elections.  

Kibaki, who had been nominated as the joint Opposition candidate on National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (Narc) was involved in an a road accident in Machakos at Chumvi area as he was coming from a campaign rally.

He was first treated in Nairobi and later airlifted to London where he was given specialised treatment.

Deputy President William Ruto recently recalled that it was while in London that former President Moi gave a signal that there was nothing personal between him and Kibaki.

While on a tour abroad, the President shocked Kenyans when he visited the ailing Opposition chief in London.

But to Wako, this was not a surprise because “Moi was a very compassionate man who had genuine compassion. I was not shocked because this was characteristic of the President”.

“The former President had secretly helped many Opposition leaders but he did not want such gestures publicised because he did it out of genuine compassion. This was his nature,” he added.

But Moi had the biggest shock for Kanu members when the results of the 2002 started trickling. Initial reports showed that Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta was losing to Kibaki.

“As we sat at State House, we wondered whether President Moi was watching the results. People expected he would do something as the gap between Kanu and Opposition was widening. People started disappearing from the room on sensing defeat,” Ruto said in a television show last Thursday.

When all this was happening, Wako explained that he was with the President in a separate room at State House and although he would have preferred his party’s candidate to win, he did not want to cling to power.

“He rose from his room and we walked to the other room where the politicians were watching the unfolding disaster. He advised that since Kanu was fairing badly, it was better to concede defeat instead of waiting for all the results to trickle in,” explains Wako.

According to Ruto, Moi asked where Uhuru was and on learning that he was at home, directed that he be called so that he could draft the concession speech.

Much later after the dust had settled, Moi astounded opposition followers who had just won the election when he was driven in a lean motorcade to Uhuru Park where he graciously handed over the instruments of power and left.

“I was there when he handed over power. We could not believe it when the outgoing President arrived. It was the an amazing spectacle I will never forget. He came quietly and nicely and without showing emotions handed over to his successor,” Seii said.

By the time the dancing multitude walked to escort the wheelchair-bound Kibaki to State House, former President Moi had flown out of the city.

Kibaki too reciprocated when some leaders started becoming hostile to the former President.

The new President dispatched the AG, the man he had inherited from Moi, to go to his former boss to assure him that his administration would not harm him.