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Will ‘giraffe’ Moi succession plan be a dream come true for Raila Odinga?

President Jomo Kenyatta led his Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga through a triumphal arch in the garden of the Mwingi CDs home in kitui district. Behind Odinga is Daniel Moi. [File, Standard]

Kenya’s First Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga described Second President Daniel arap Moi as “a giraffe with a long neck that see very far.” That was four years before independence when both Moi and six others were elected to represent Africans in the colonial parliament.

Jaramogi’s description of Moi began to unfold at independence and continues to date when something Moi said 24 years ago may become true in this year’s August 9 election. Addressing a public rally in Nyamira County on December 8, 1998, President Moi predicted Raila Odinga would in future be elected President of Kenya. He advised him to humble himself, co-operate with the government in power at the time and patiently wait for an opportune moment when Kenyans would elect him president. This is what President Moi said: “If you humble yourself and be patient, in a future election wananchi will consider you for top leadership in this country.”

At the time, Raila was leader of an opposition party called National Development Party whose symbol was ‘Tinga’ (tractor), which became Raila’s nickname.

Volatile Rift

Back to Jaramogi’s prediction of Moi as “a giraffe with long neck that see very far”, which began to turn out true at Independence in 1963. The most burning issue at the time was future of the Rift Valley region at the time called White Highlands. It comprised of huge chunks in central Kenya, Nakuru, Nyandarua, Uasin Gishu, Trans Zoia, Kericho, Bomet, Narok and parts of Laikipia and Kajiado counties. 

With coming of Independence, the first question was what to do with the European settlers who feared the in-coming African government under First President Jomo Kenyatta would seize the farms occupied by Europeans and tell them to go back wherever they had come from. The kind of thing former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe did to European farmers.

But Mzee Kenyatta chose a different path. He said European farmers who chose to stay would be allowed to as long as they abided by laws of the incoming African administration. However, those wishing to go would be paid for the land they occupied and the development they had put on it. Then a second problem arose. It was what to do with many members of the Kikuyu community evicted from central Kenya and working in European farms in the Rift Valley. They had no home to return to in central Kenya.

First, President Kenyatta wanted those Kikuyus settled wherever a willing European settler was selling land and which happened to be in what came to be known as Rift Valley Province.

But a section of Rift Valley politicians would hear none of that. The most vocal of them was an Eldoret politician by the name of William Murgor who had carried a whistle to the Lancaster House talks on Kenya’s independence and literally blew it as a war cry warning that ‘outsiders’ by which he meant people from Mount Kenya region, would not settle in Rift Valley.

Enter the giraffe

It is Daniel arap Moi, then chairman of the opposition party Kadu, who disagreed and did the groundwork to convince firebrand Rift Valley politicians that it was bad politics to bar a Kenya from living, owning property,  or working in any party of the independent Republic of Kenya. They eventually saw the sense. Next, the giraffe in Moi reasoned there wasn’t much to gain in opposition party Kadu fighting Kanu, the party that won the independence elections, and he convinced the party members to agree to dissolve the outfit and join Kanu. They agreed.

President Kenyatta rewarded Moi by appointing him to the powerful ministry of Home Affairs and later made him his vice president. Then came 1969, or annus horribilis in Kenya.  Cabinet minister Tom Mboya was shot dead in a Nairobi street in broad daylight.  Ethnic chaos spread in the country. Illegal oathings were reported in Mount Kenya. Vice President Moi, as chief adviser to his boss the President, reasoned with him that the illegal oathings were not good for the country. The President agreed and instructed his No. 2 to immediately issue an official statement that the Government wouldn’t allow illegal oathings and would take stern action against anybody threatening the life or property of another citizen or foreigner inside the jurisdiction of the Republic of Kenya.

Another problem soon arose. A section of Rift Valley politicians convened a public rally where they made what they called ‘Nandi Declaration’ and said ‘outsiders’ would not be allowed to live or own property in the Rift Valley.

Late President Daniel Moi when he had a chat with ODM leader Raila Odinga then NDP leader. [File, Standard]

Moi publicly disagreed and said the so-called Nandi Declaration and its intentions would be bad for the “continued existence and prosperity of the Republic of Kenya.”

Humble deputy

Moi continued as a humble deputy but an advisor to his boss. The former head of PCEA Reverend John Gatu told me that on many occasions Mzee Kenyatta would call his No. 2 for a private meeting and ask him what he thought of this and that.

Rev Gatu told me that caused great resentment in Mzee Kenyatta’s inner court and was the reason why they organised a constitutional amendment two years before Mzee Kenyatta’s death purposely to block Moi from succeeding his boss. Once Mzee Kenyatta got briefed on the matter, Rev Gatu told me, he convened a Cabinet meeting at Nakuru State House after which he instructed his No. 2 and the Attorney General to scuttle what was called the ‘Change-the-Constitution Group’.

Finally, Jaramogi’s ‘giraffe’ made it to State House in 1978 after faithfully and humbly working as key enabler to his boss agenda. When elected for his last term as President, Moi did what he thought was best for Kenya and indeed, is best-practice management style–he began to head-hunt for a successor. His thought was to get the opposition to work with, not against the government. So he talked to Raila, then in the opposition, and convinced him to cooperate and finally merge with Kanu.

But in the same succession plan–and which I have confirmed with celebrated administrator and insider of Moi government, Joseph Kaguthi, Moi first wanted Uhuru Kenyatta to be President and Raila to follow him.

Moi’s plan didn’t work out as he had intended. Intelligence reports told Moi his plan wouldn’t work that time.

Moi was fully briefed and accepted intelligence reports. He visited Washington where he assured our key development partner that he would hand over to whoever won the 2002 poll.

On his return home he visited opposition leaders Mwai Kibaki and Michael Wamalwa who were recuperating in a London Hospital and told them he, to quote his words as told to me by the aide-de-camp with him on that day at Wellington Hospital, “had no problem with them winning the election that time and whished them well.”

But the vision lived on and Uhuru was elected President in 2013. Ten years later, maybe or likely Raila will be the fifth president of Kenya.