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ELECTION 2022

Lessons from 'Baba na Mama' party and chaos in Parliament

POLITICS
By Kamau Ngotho | Jan 2nd 2022 | 5 min read

National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi addresses the media at Parliament moments after he was kicked out of the House. December 29, 2021. [David Njaaga,Standard]

Watching the acrimonious session in the National Assembly on Wednesday, it was clear that the divide was between the old guard who lived through one-party authoritarian state against those who grew up under a multi-party system, hence clueless on how it was back in the days of suffocating one-party rule.

On the one hand is Muturi Kigano, chair of the National Assembly Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. He is in his 70s and leading the supporting cast on the Bill on coalition parties.

He first contested a parliamentary seat in 1969, lived through the pain of a single-party rule, and was on the frontline in the fight for the restoration of a multi-party system.

On the nay side is a youthful brigade born in 1980s, grew up in a multi-party environment and only read in history books about one-party dictatorship as they read about 15th-century Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. The only odd one out in that “baby” squad is Kandara MP Alice Wahome.

Road to one-party

A history of where we came from is necessary to understand where we are today. At Independence, Kenya had two main political parties, Kanu and KADU. Kanu won the elections to form the government. Within a year, KADU dissolved to join Kanu and the country entered a single-party phase. But from old Kanu sprang the opposition KPU party.

The divide in Kanu was purely ideological in the context of the global communist versus capitalist conflict. The rivalry literally ended in a bloody confrontation and KPU was banned. Once again, Kenya was a single-party state but not in law.

With the opposition out of the way, Kanu went into a deep slumber. No national delegate meetings or elections were held, and the respective district branches were left to run their affairs the best way they knew how. So irrelevant did the party become that a vocal MP, Martin Shikuku, declared in Parliament that Kanu was dead. When asked to substantiate, the sitting temporary Speaker ruled there would be no point substantiating the obvious.

But maybe to prove that Kanu the party may have been dead but Kanu the government was very much alive and kicking, the MP and the Speaker were dragged away from Parliament Buildings and placed in detention.

When Jogoo crowed

Matters changed when Daniel arap Moi took over as President in 1978 and began to stamp his authority. He had been compared to a “passing cloud” and wanted to prove otherwise. For one year, he cooled his heels fooling his real and imagined foes that it would be business as usual and he would Fuata Nyayo (follow in the footsteps) of his predecessor Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

He would strike in the first election of his reign in November 1979, when he revived Kanu and used it to block from power those who didn’t fit in his scheme of things. True to Machiavelli, he undercut the old guard that he felt couldn’t bow down on account of familiarity and dealt with newcomers with independent minds.

Many years later, former Cabinet minister Joseph Kamotho would relate to me what transpired in Murang’a. The new administration did not feel comfortable with two names, Kenneth Matiba and John Michuki, who were eyeing then Mbiri and Kangema constituencies. Though newcomers in politics, they had made their names as top civil servants and corporate executives.

Besides, they were immensely wealthy. Moi felt they would be too “big-headed” to control. The President visited Kamotho's rural home in Kangema (now Mathioya) where the District Commissioner, one Harrison Misikho, and then Murang’a Kanu branch chair, George Mwicigi, were invited for lunch.

Mark you, those days there was no independent electoral body and the DCs were returning officers in the election. Kamotho recalled the president telling the DC and the Kanu branch chairman that he wanted Matiba and Michuki “stopped”.

The two implored on the president how difficult that would be because the two were very entrenched on the ground. For a compromise, the president agreed Matiba, the most aggressive, be allowed to “pass” but gave instructions that by all means Michuki “be stopped”. That is what happened and Kamotho was the main beneficiary and eventually got a Cabinet seat.

The same would be repeated in the snap election that was called in 1983 to get rid of allies of Charles Njonjo, who had worked hard to have Moi become president only to be dropped. By then, Parliament had already been bullied to legislate that Kanu was the only political party in the country.

In Murang’a, the shoe was now in the other foot and the DC was instructed to make sure that Kamotho lost. I was in high school during that election and remember elderly boys in then 'A'-Level who had temporarily been hired as polling clerks tell us how they were coached on how to ensure only the wanted candidates “won”.

'Baba na mama'

Come the third and the last election under a one-party system in 1988, and Kanu got better ideas at consolidating power in one person. This time, there would be no long wait for the polling day to have the DCs get rid of the unwanted.

The party re-invented itself to be able to eliminate “undesirables” long before elections. Hand-picked individuals were installed as district party henchmen whose word was law. They were above the powerful provincial administration and could even humiliate Cabinet ministers.

This is how it worked: A 'Kangaroo court' was created at the party headquarters, named the Kanu National Disciplinary Committee, and headed by David Okiki Amayo. He put the fear of deity in all except the President. All that was needed was some Kanu branch to forward your “case” on the most flimsy of charges and the 'Kangaroo court' would adjudge you guilty and expel you from the party.

Effectively, that made you a political non-person as you could not contest any seat even at village level. Finally, Kanu came up with a nomination method through the queuing system, where a candidate, who attained over 70 per cent of the vote was automatically declared the winner and no secret ballot was held.

Beaten and bitten

Now, the elder generation in the National Assembly sees a repeat pattern. When sneaking in one-party rule in the 1980s, the story was that we needed “one strong national party”. Even welfare organisations like GEMA, Luo Union, New Akamba Union and Abaluhya Welfare Association were crushed in the name of “tribal outfits”.

Now the UDA party leadership doesn’t want to hear of other parties coming together in a coalition umbrella as happens in mature democracies like Germany, Israel and Italy. UDA wants one monolithic behemoth Kanu style. And this week, Deputy President William Ruto was emphatic that he will personally take charge of UDA nominations.

He wants the Registrar of Political Parties to keep off. They say once beaten twice shy. 

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