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The powerful political machine that former President created

By Standard Reporter | February 12th 2020
President Moi with Raila Odinga during the merger of Raila’s National Development Party with Kanu in 2002. [File, Standard]

Former President Daniel arap Moi who will be buried today at his Kabarak home made the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) a behemoth that straddled Kenya’s politics for decades.

Moi, initially a member of Kanu, left the party to help found Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu). He later rejoined Kanu.

Before then, Kenya had been negotiating for a constitutional framework and independence against the colonial rule at the Lancaster Conference for years.

“On its formation on June 25, 1960, at a conference in Ngong, just days after the June 11 Kanu election conference, Kadu sought to “protect” the welfare of the Kalenjin, Luhya, Arab and Mijikenda communities against the proposed centralisation policies of Kanu,” notes Kenya Year Book’s Kenya Cabinets.

Although Kanu was easily the majority party, Kadu struck a chord with, not just the ‘minority’ groups it promised to protect but also the white settlers who viewed Moi as a moderate.

Moi the moderate

“This moderate outlook enabled Kadu garner the support of the white settler class, represented by the New Kenya Group, whose ambitions were preservation of the land ownership structure in the so-called White Highlands,” notes the Kenya Year book.

Despite its popularity, Kanu at first refused to form the government unless Jomo Kenyatta was released. And when he was finally released in August 14, 1961, Kenyatta pushed for the merger of Kanu and Kadu.

At first, Moi refused.

But after Kenya attained independence on December 12, 1963, Kenyatta finally convinced Moi on the merger. Moi then rejoined Kanu, and became Home Affairs minister.

The gamble paid off, and Kanu went on to rule for nearly 40 years, from 1963 until its electoral loss in 2002.

University States International University history professor, Macharia Munene, credit’s Moi with making Kanu the longest ruling party in Kenya’s political history.

“It was simple for him. Kanu was the most popular party at independence time between 1961 and 1963. Moi defected from the original Kanu to Kadu and later back to Kanu. Between 1969 and 1982 he was Kenya’s Vice President,” says Munene.

“He used his proximity to power to fight off perceived political enemies while quietly planning for his ascension to the big seat,” he argues.

Moi worked to ensure Kanu’s grip on power remained strong.

“He was involved in ensuring the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) formed by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga from playing an active role in the country’s politics. He later presided over the creation of a law that made Kanu the only political party in the country,” says Munene.

Jaramogi’s KPU was formed in March 1966, as a result of ideological differences with Kanu. However, the party was banned in 1969.

Kenya went on to become a de facto single party State until June 9, 1982 when the Constitution was amended to make the country a single party State by law.

Nine years later, in December 1991, Moi supported the repealing of Section 2A of the Constitution that gave Kanu immense powers, paving the way for the re-emergence of multiparty politics.

A coalition of opposition parties, the National Rainbow Coalition finally ended Kanu’s monopoly on power in 2002.

During the four decades the party was in power, politicians and civil servants had no choice but to toe the party line.

Those who did not were sacked, usually over the 1pm news. Those who voiced dissent were shunned and had to find ways of going to Moi to ask for forgiveness and be in back in good books with him.

Even the most popular leaders who refused to toe the party line would be ousted in a single day. All that was required was the local party officials to express discontent with the leader and call for his resignation.

Toeing the line

By evening the party ‘rebel’ would have yielded to pressure and quit his position.

Prof Munene argues that Kanu began to implode after introduction of the infamous ‘Mlolongo’ (queue) system of selecting party candidates in 1988. Under the system blamed for rigging, voters would queue behind their preferred candidates or their posters.

“The system was a disaster and Moi lost support. Charles Rubia and Kenneth Matiba brought the Saba-Saba protests (so called for being held on July 7) and people lost fear of government,” he said.

However, he describes Moi as a shrewd politician who always knew his game well.

“He knew which side of the bread was buttered after first making everyone think he did not have a mind of his own,” says Munene.

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