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Secret diary in 2002 formation of Narc and the parallels in 2022

POLITICS
By Kamau Ngotho | August 1st 2021

National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) leader at Uhuru Park.

History repeats itself and sometimes in reversal. In his first bid to be president in 2002, Uhuru Kenyatta lost to a grand coalition of opposition parties. Now as he completes his term, he is helping craft a grand coalition to take over from him.

The 2002 overwhelming victory by Narc party against ruling Kanu, came as a result of lessons learnt since the return of the Multi-party system in 1992.

Despite having the numbers, the opposition lost the presidential elections in 1992 because of having multiple strong candidates who split their votes, hence inadvertently gave Kanu a chance to narrowly sail through.

Kanu candidate Daniel arap Moi won by a mere 36 per cent of the total votes as three main opposition candidates split their 62 per cent -26 per cent for Kenneth Matiba, 19 per cent for Mwai Kibaki and 17 per cent for Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

In the 1997 elections, the opposition lost again to Moi who ran away with 40 per cent of the votes, as four leading opposition candidates, Kibaki, Raila Odinga, Kijana Wamalwa and Charity Ngilu split their combined 57 per cent vote.

Come 2002, the opposition parties had learnt their lesson and put their vote in one basket – Narc – and romped home to victory with 61.3 per cent against Kanu’s 31.6 per cent.

Narc came as a result of year-long secret parleys whose diary we now reproduce.

August 3, 2001: First consultative meeting by opposition MPs and the civil society took place at the Trisan Hotel on Turbo Road. It was attended by MPs Mukhisa Kituyi, Moses Wetang’ula and Noah Wekesa from Ford-Kenya, Waithaka Mwangi from Democratic Party (DP), and rebel Kanu MP Kipruto Kirwa. The civil society was represented by Kenya Human Rights Commission Chairman Willy Mutunga.

They broached the idea of a joint opposition candidate and resolved to approach like-minded MPs who would come together under the umbrella of what they called Progressive Elements Forum. At the time, Raila’s National Development Party (NDP) was headed for a merger with Kanu.

January 29, 2002: A larger group of opposition parties and representatives from the civil society held the second meeting at Trisan Hotel. They named the new movement the National Alliance for Change (NAC). Three committees were formed to guide the new alliance on strategy, constitutional reforms and coordination, respectively. Meanwhile NDP had dissolved to merge with Kanu.

May 31, 2002: First summit of the three lead opposition parties was held at Milimani Hotel and attended by DP leader Kibaki, Ford Kenya leader Wamalwa and National Party of Kenya leader Ngilu.

The main issue on the agenda was whether the constituent parties would retain their identities but field a joint candidate or dissolve and come together in one umbrella party. Kibaki team was for retention of individual identities but was out voted by Wamalwa and Ngilu teams who lobbied for a joint party.

Meanwhile, a rebellion began to form in Kanu after President Moi unilaterally picked Uhuru as the party’s presidential candidate.

Kibaki picked

August 11, 2002: At a summit held at Elmentaita Lodge in Nakuru, it was resolved the joint opposition party be called the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK).

August 26, 2002: Mwai Kibaki was picked as the NAK opposition presidential candidate. A rebel group led by Rangwe MP Shem Ochuodho and former Kasipul Kabondo legislator Otieno Kopiyo had lobbied for a ‘neutral’ candidate picked from the civil society but were overruled at the plenary.  

Meanwhile, the rebellion in Kanu exploded and Raila together with the ruling party’s key stalwarts bolted out to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Kanu bigwigs who bolted out included Vice President George Saitoti and Cabinet ministers Joseph Kamotho, Kalonzo Musyoka and William Ntimama.

Simeon Nyachae had earlier defected to Ford People and declared intention to run for the presidency.

At the same time, active consultations commenced on the formation of one grand opposition coalition to face Kanu. Here is where the worst of egos and betrayals came to the fore. The formerly NDP wing felt Raila was entitled to be the flag bearer, having led the rebellion from Kanu. On the other hand, Saitoti felt entitled on account of having been long-serving vice president. For some reason, Kalonzo Musyoka also considered himself first among equals and staked a claim for the crown.

Then there was NAK, which had already settled on Kibaki as flag bearer and Wamalwa slotted for vice presidency in case of victory. And of course there was Nyachae whose ego was as big as all outdoors.

Throughout September 2002, many night meetings took place and still no white smoke came out. The meetings attended by representatives from NAK, LDP and Ford People took place at the Nairobi Club and at the residence of Moody Awori who commanded respect from all parties on account of age.

Bone of contention

The bone of contention was whether to pick a joint opposition candidate through the ballot or by consensus. On account of constraints in time and fear of interference by Kanu, NAK and LDP preferred consensus. Nyachae, suspecting conspiracy between NAK and LDP, would hear none of it.

At one time during a heated argument, NAK’s Chris Murungaru and Ford People’s Kipkalya Kones exchanged blows and almost tossed the other into the swimming pool at Awori’s residence.

Meanwhile, Ford People signed a memorandum of understanding with LDP to pick a joint candidate. Quietly, LDP and NAK were in secret negotiations for a coalition and a joint candidate.

October 10, 2002: At a meeting at the Nairobi Club, Kibaki verbally offered to be a one-term president if picked as the joint candidate. Raila supported the idea but Nyachae remained adamant the joint candidate must be picked through the ballot. The meeting agreed to hold a joint rally at Uhuru Park to seek public views on the matter.

October 14, 2002: Out of the blue and to Nyachae’s consternation and anger, Raila made the famous declaration “Kibaki Tosha”. The crowd applauded the choice. A day later a bitter Nyachae announced he would go it alone.

It would turn out that before proceeding to Uhuru Park, Raila had met with Kibaki’s people at the Serena Hotel and settled on Kibaki. The previous evening, Kibaki and Saitoti had been left in a room at Awori’s residence and told not to leave until they agreed between them who would leave it to the other. Each felt entitled on account of having served as vice president for a decade.

From Uhuru Park, NAK and LDP came up with the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), on whose umbrella they would field candidates in the presidential, parliamentary and civic elections. Nyachae’s Ford People faded in the face of the behemoth that was Narc.

The elephant in the room now is how to craft a grand coalition in the lines of Narc to face Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA). Ruto says he is running on the banner of a ‘hustlers’ movement.

He should tell that to the birds, given the ‘hustlers’ gospel is largely preached only in the Mount Kenya region where he hopes to snatch what has been President Kenyatta’s vote in the last two elections.

The envisaged grand coalition targets Jubilee, ODM, Wiper, ANC, Kanu and Ford Kenya. This week, ODM made a surprise exit from NASA, leaving the other partners to pull an empty bag, which they had, for all practical purposes, quit anyway.

Apparently, everybody is pulling apart to put their house in order, and come back to the bargaining table as equals.

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