Moi's last days at State House By Mwenda Njoka Details have emerged of the great anxiety that gripped top Kanu leaders just before and after the General Election in which the then Opposition Narc party emerged the winner.
It all started in the morning of Saturday, December 28, following the election day when Kanu's worst nightmare was unfolding right in front of the eyes of the then ruling party's crËme de la crËme. President Moi, his sons Gideon and Philip, State House insiders (as they then were) Hosea Kiplagat, Lee Njiru, John Lokorio, top civil servants Sally Kosgei, Zakayo Cheruiyot, Amos Wako and a couple of other Kanu high-fliers were all at the State House by 6 am. By then it was emerging that not only had the Vice-President, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, lost his Sabatia parliamentary seat — a constituency hitherto considered one of the safest for Kanu since Mudavadi was named VP — but in fact other key pillars of the then ruling party such as vice-chairmen Noah Katana Ngala and John Harun Mwau were too in deep political trouble in their home turfs. In the realm of what Americans call Psy-Ops (short for psychological operations), the indication so early in the electoral fight that Vice- President Mudavadi had lost his Sabatia seat was the political equivalent of one getting a debilitating punch in the stomach that leaves you completely breathless and almost off your feet right at the beginning of the big fight. Coming out of the State House Room number 6, one of the officers explained to his fellow insiders that the numbers were not looking good for Kanu but hastened to add that there was "still hope since less than half of the country's votes had been counted. . . and, in any case, most of the constituencies whose results had been released so far were those considered Narc's strongholds". Mr Lee Njiru, the then powerful head of the Presidential Press Service (PPS), was heard remarking that he could not understand how Kenyans could forget all that Kanu and President Moi had done for them, reject his choice for a successor and agree to be ruled "by Raila Odinga" (a rather uncomplimentary reference to Raila's influence within Narc) despite having been given a "better option" in Mr Uhuru Kenyatta. Everyone, including President Moi, just looked at the PPS boss and kind of shook their heads without clearly indicating whether they were doing so in disapproval of Njiru's comments or just as an outward indication of the turmoil going through their minds at that particularly critical moment. Even with such brave pep talk, the mood around the State House was clearly forlorn this particular morning. The feeling that the party that had ruled Kenya since Independence, some 39 years earlier, was on the verge of defeat was almost palpable and scary to all those assembled at the State House that Saturday. Everyone at the meeting had the foreboding that the worst was yet to come. But no one dared speak the `D' (for defeat) word, especially in reference to Kanu and President Moi's last pet political project — Uhuru Kenyatta. The insiders were all huddled in groups of twos and threes discussing in low tones when Cheruiyot, then Internal Security chief, wondered aloud: "Tutafanya nini sasa Mzee (What do we do now Mr President?)" to which President Moi rather grimly replied: "Serikali ya partnership itatawala namna gani? Lakini vile Wakenya wameamua, wacha wajikaange na mafuta yao wenyewe. . . (I wonder how a coalition can rule. . . But since Kenyans have decided, let them fry in their own fat.. .)." Moi then added that after ruling Kenya for 24 years he had no intention of doing anything that could jeopardise the country's political stability. Those around the President who were expecting him to save the situation by suddenly drawing out of his bag of political tricks a magical rabbit now got the message loud and clear. The die, as Michael Kijana Wamalwa would say, had been cast. And with those words, the Kanu chairman, and then soon-to-be former president, had created the perfect mood for his peaceful exit from power and a smooth transfer of the same, whatever the outcome of the General Election. Unknown to the public and, as it would later emerge, even to some of his closest advisers, Moi had reached one immovable conclusion long before the election results started rolling in: That he would hand over power to whoever was declared the legitimate winner of the 2002 presidential race. Indeed, President Moi had privately expressed similar sentiments during a dinner in a Washington DC hotel when he visited the US early December last year. Speaking rather solemnly to members of his entourage — who included the then Foreign Affairs Minister Marsden Madoka, Dr Sally Kosgei and Kenya's Special Envoy to the Sudan peace process and Army commander Lt. General Lazarus Sumbeiywo — the President, using metaphors of war said: "You people, you should put your things in order because going into an election is like going to war. . . Anything can happen you know. We should be ready for any eventuality. . ." Such words, coming from Moi, sharply contrasted the image the Kanu chairman had created of a politician to whom the word "defeat" was alien. Many a time Moi had publicly said that he did not believe in being defeated in a political fight. As such, to the public the only image they knew of Moi was a do-or-die politician who would do everything in his power to get what he wanted: Uhuru Kenyatta in State House. But beneath this valiant image fed to the public was a pragmatic politician with a sensitive personality and one who knew that in life, the concept of defeat and victory are often different sides of the same coin. Little wonder then that Moi was particularly miffed when, while at the Lang'ata Barracks for a Commander-in-Chief's farewell party, a journalist asked him whether he would hand over power to the Opposition if it won the election. The President responded: "The West have seriously misunderstood me. . . I have said it clearly that I will hand over power to whoever wins the elections. . ." And if the truth be told, if there is one institution that was responsible almost 100 percent for making Kenyans and the world misunderstand Moi the man, then that institution was none other than the Presidential Press Service and its ubiquitous boss Lee Njiru, who believed in quantity rather than quality media coverage. This is the institution that should have packaged the correct image of Moi rather than saturating airwaves with banal speeches and unhelpful platitudes under the mistaken belief that in the world of image-making, more is best while in fact a lot of times less is usually better. Incidentally, as State House insiders were later to explain, the bringing forward to Saturday, December 28, of the Lang'ata Barracks C- in-C fÍting ceremony had been done when it dawned on the Kanu big guns that the ruling party was headed for an electoral defeat. With the spectre of defeat so ominously hanging in the air, it was almost inevitable that the Kanu leadership bring everything to a conclusion than risk being time-barred by a National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) government. As such, impromptu arrangements were made that Saturday morning to fast-forward the ceremony honouring the outgoing C-in-C. The ceremony had previously been planned for the middle of the following week, which would have been either December 31, 2002 or January 2. Wako's comments at the Barracks. . . And at the Lang'ata Barracks despite the exterior show that all was well for Kanu, underneath simmered the feeling that things were not so good. Those who could were cutting their losses and moving on. One such person was Attorney-General Amos Wako. As the guests were enjoying the VIP luncheon, Wako engaged his legal fraternity colleague, Chief Justice Bernard Chunga, in a rather telling conversation. The most remarkable thing about the conversation was Wako remarking rather unexpectedly: "As the custodians of law and order, we (AG and CJ) must serve the government of the day and not an individual. . ." Some of those around exchanged knowing glances. But to others, the AG's words presented a rather comforting knowledge that at least here was a public servant holding a critical position who was willing to follow not just the letter but even the spirit of the law as regards the handing over of power from one regime to another. After the Lang'ata Barracks fÍte, President Moi was driven back to State House, Nairobi, where he held court with some of his closest advisers. Immediately he got to the House on the Hill, among his very first actions was to place a call to Mama Ngina Kenyatta. She was traced to Gatundu. Once the former First Lady came on the line, President Moi started explaining that although the final election results were still yet to be released, he had come to the realisation that Kanu was headed for defeat. It is not clear how Mama Ngina reacted to the President's call but sources say that Moi had sought to reassure her that despite the fact that her son had lost the presidential race, Uhuru still had a good political future ahead of him. State House insiders say Moi told Mama Ngina that the defeat could be used as a launching pad for Uhuru's political career. How fast things change! Whoever coined the phrase that a day in politics could bring about a lifetime of changed fortunes was in fact making an understatement. Looking at the way Kanu's fortunes took a sudden twist in the night of December 27, it becomes clear that an hour in politics could in fact change things forever. When Uhuru retired to bed at his residence, in the neighbourhood of State House, he and many around him believed that come the following day, Kenya would have a new president and his name would be Uhuru Kenyatta. And with his house being just a few hundreds of metres from the State House, moving to his new residence would be an easy affair for Uhuru, or so his aides and supporters thought. The level of confidence that they (Kanu and its presidential candidate) had everything going their way was evident from the events that took place a few days preceding the General Election. Date: Thursday, December 26, 2002. Venue: The State House, Nairobi: It is on the eve of the General Election day. Muhoho Kenyatta's car drives to the State House gate A. This is the entrance normally used by VIPs and other personalities going to State House with official appointment or those who have been given blanket clearance depending on their prevailing political importance. Lesser mortals are normally confined to Gate D. During the Moi years, the blanket clearance that gave one unlimited access to the State House usually depended on the role the particular individual was playing in the political project of the moment. And as importance of political projects went, in these final days of the Moi Era, none was as critical to the outgoing president as getting Uhuru Kenyatta installed as the next official resident of the State House. Therefore, any relative of Uhuru's who was playing a central role in ensuring the success of this project was regarded almost as important as the candidate himself. The guards manning the State House gates always knew who was the man or woman of the moment and who no longer was. At this particular time, Muhoho Kenyatta was very high on the list of the most important political players. In fact, he was regarded as the captain of Uhuru's A-Team. So on this morning when Muhoho's limousine drove towards Gate A, the guards were quick to identify who the VIP in the limousine was. They then stood to attention, stiffened and executed a smart salute for the man they knew could, in a matter of hours, assume the title of the First Brother. The gate was swiftly opened and Muhoho's car cruised leisurely down the smooth tarmac road. For Muhoho, this was familiar territory not just because his father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, had been a resident here for some 15 years. At that time Muhoho, like his brother the candidate, was still too young to take in the details of the residence and its immense political symbolism and importance. Muhoho's familiarity with the most important political address in the country had taken a sudden boost when his brother was picked as Moi's preferred successor. Following these developments, Muhoho had taken some time off the Kenyatta family business to devote more efforts to his brother's campaign. Operating from the plush confines of the Chancery Building along Nairobi's Valley Road, Muhoho had by then assumed the role of the CEO of the Uhuru for President Inc. He would shuttle between Chancery Building and the State House several times a day to make consultations with his campaign counterparts in the Big House. As such, Muhoho had been to State House so many times that the guards were familiar with him and the various cars he came in. Getting the feel of the State House before taking up residence . . . Knowledgeable sources say that Muhoho had been called to the State House on this particular day by an aide of the President's to be introduced to senior staff and generally get the feel of the place before his brother moved in after the small matter of the presidential race. Muhoho was taken around the State House, shown around the various key offices and residences of senior staff. He was also introduced to senior State House staff. Looking back at the invitation of Uhuru's brother to the State House on the eve of the General Election, it is clear that in the minds of many around the Big House, Uhuru was winning the presidential race. Indeed, the feeling that had sunk among most State House staff by then was that come Sunday, December 29, Uhuru and Co. would take up residence in the Big House on the Hill. This feeling had been reinforced by several previous visits to the State House by Kristina Kenyatta-Pratt. During such visits Kristina, who is Uhuru's sister, would move around the State House making inquiries and occasionally letting out comments about things that she did not like or would want changed. The junked cars, rusting tractor parts and other corroded motor vehicle parts lying about in the State House backyard were some of those housekeeping omissions in these hallowed grounds that Kristina found distasteful. And being one not known to mince words, she was pretty bold about the kind of changes the new administration would make. In fact, the joke among some State House staffers, whispered in low tones of course, was that the Uhuru Campaign had even been asked to send someone to take measurements for the curtains. Besides Muhoho and Kristina, other members of the extended Kenyatta family who formed part of the A-Team included the candidate's cousins, Kathleen and Peter Kihanya. Kathleen served as the media and PR consultant for the campaign and her belligerent style is believed to have contributed immensely to the hostility Uhuru suffered from many media houses. By virtue of her strategic role in the campaign — she usually accompanied Candidate Uhuru in most public and media appearances — Kathleen too had unlimited access to the Big House via Gate A. Meanwhile at Kabarak. . . The same day that Muhoho was being shown around the State House, President Moi was at his private residence at Kabarak in the outskirts of Nakuru town. Before leaving for Baringo that morning, Moi had held an early morning court at Kabarak with his then Internal Security Minister Julius ole Sunkuli and the then Health Minister, Prof Sam Ongeri. After parting with the two Kanu politicians, President Moi was heard commenting: "Na hawa wanasiasa badala ya kwenda kufanya kampeni zao wanakuja hapa kunisumbua tu. . . (Instead of these politicians concentrating on their campaigns, they come here to disturb me. . .)" Despite such remarks, President Moi generally appeared to be in high spirits as his motorcade sped along the 145 km stretch from Nakuru to his home town of Kabarnet in Baringo District. At this time, the feel good mood was almost infectious. To everyone in the large presidential entourage, everything appeared to be going according to plan. Moi was even upbeat about his impending retirement and appeared almost certain that Kanu would win the presidential race. And Kanu lobby comes calling. . . Flash back. Day: Tuesday, December 24, 2002. Venue: Kabarak. Early in the morning on the eve of Christmas Day, President Moi is having breakfast in the company of a few aides, including State House Comptroller John Lokorio and Lee Njiru. Suddenly, a message comes from the presidential security guards at the gate that Kanu operative Micah Kigen is at the gate with a delegation of over 2,000 youth seeking audience with the President. Looking up from his breakfast, Moi asks "Wanataka nini (What do they want)?" President Moi is told that Kigen, the leader of the Kanu Action Group — a pro-Uhuru Kanu lobby group — says he wants to have a word with the party chairman on matters to do with the General Election. "Wacha yeye aingie peke yake (Let him come in alone)!" orders Moi. Kigen is escorted in. The moment the lobby group leader walks into the room, President Moi angrily gets on his case. "Wewe unataka nini hapa? (What do you want here)?" a clearly irritated Moi asks Kigen, to which the lobby group leader replies: "Mzee nilikuwa nataka kukueleza vile mimi na lobby group yangu tumefanya kazi ya kumpigia kampeni Uhuru. . . (Sir, I wanted to explain to you what our lobby group has achieved in its campaign for Uhuru. . .) The President nods for Kigen to continue. Kigen goes on: "Mzee tumetumia pesa nyingi sana katika hii kazi. . . (Sir we have also spent a lot of money in this work. . .) That did it. Before Kigen could complete the sentence, President Moi now having abandoned his breakfast, furiously cut him short. "Pesa, pesa, pesa kila wakati! Nani alikupatia hiyo kazi ya kampeni? Wapi barua ya kazi? (Money, money, money all the time! Who mandated you to set up that lobby group anyway? And where is the letter of appointment?)" Kigen was taken aback by the ferocity of the President. Everyone around the breakfast table was now looking at Kigen as the person who had come to spoil what would have been an otherwise nice day. Kigen, perhaps aware that nothing tugs President Moi's heartstrings (and loosens his purse strings too) faster than the sight of someone shedding tears in front of him, broke down. Immediately President Moi ordered the Presidential Escort Commander, Nixon Boit, to bring a briefcase from an adjacent room. Once the briefcase was brought, the President removed a bundle of notes and handed them over to Kigen with words "Pelekea hao watu wako hiyo pesa na wambie sitawaongelesha leo! (Take this to your people and tell them I will not talk to them)". And with those words, the commander escorted the lobby group leader to the gate where he went and distributed the money from the President among members of his group with each getting a rather measly amount. The lobby group members left Kabarak very unhappy in that most of them had spent much more money than that to get to the President's home. Moi's Christmas Day. . . Wednesday, December 25, 2002. Venue: Kabarak: The Kigen and Kanu Action Group incident has been forgotten. It is a new day with its new promises, developments and visitors too. A jovial President Moi is inspecting the brand new private helicopter that has just been delivered from the manufacturers in South Africa. He is happy with the machine and feels he has spent his money well. The President, who is then due to make a Christmas Day visit to Olenguruone area, decides that instead of using the chopper, he would rather go by road and have the chopper fly to the area so that he can have a test-fly from Olenguruone. As the presidential motorcade leaves Kabarak, right at the gate the President finds a group of Luo politicians, led by Dalmas Otieno, who have come to see the party chairman. The President is not exactly in a mood for politicians at this particular time and he does not hide the feeling. After exchanging greetings, President Moi curtly asks the Luo politicians: "Na nyinyi mnafanya siasa saa ngapi kama mko hapa (When do you people do your campaigns)?" After a brief discussion, President leaves for Olenguruone and the Luo politicians drive away. Fast forward. Day: Sunday, December 29, 2002. Venue: State House, Nairobi: There is a large group of State House insiders gathered here today. The mood is even more forlorn than had been the previous day. Whereas yesterday there was some little lingering hope that Uhuru may still come from behind and overtake Narc's Mwai Kibaki, today all that hope has disappeared the way darkness dissolves the moment a floodlight is switched on. At the State House this morning are President Moi, Sally Kosgei, John Lokorio, Amos Wako, Zakayo Cheruiyot, Gideon and Philip Moi, Lee Njiru, Hosea Kiplagat and a handful of other privileged insiders. With the General Election results now clearly indicating that not only is Uhuru going to lose the presidential race with a big margin, but in fact the ruling party could even end up with a mere 50 or so parliamentary seats, everyone knows the dreaded day has come. Inevitably, the discussion is about handing over power to Kibaki. There are those arguing that since President Moi's term of office does not officially end until January 4, 2003, he should not hand over before then. By then Narc's Raila Odinga had indicated that his party wanted the handing over done on Monday, December 30. After listening to the discussion, President Moi says categorically that he wants to hand over power the soonest possible time declaring: "Nimechoka na hii maneno (I am tired of politicking)!" Someone raises the issue of the foreign Heads of State who had been invited to the handing over ceremony under the previous assumption that it would take place on January 4, 2003. President Moi says: "Let those that can make it tomorrow come and those that can't make it stay." Then Wako raises the issue of technical legalities surrounding the handing over of power. The Electoral Commission of Kenya chairman has to declare Kibaki duly elected president before Moi can hand over power to him, Wako points out. And before Mr Samuel Kivuitu can make the declaration, he needs to get results from all the constituencies or alternatively, to have the other candidates concede defeat. At this juncture, Moi orders Lokorio to get hold of Uhuru and summon him to the State House. Uhuru is immediately traced by phone and given the President's message. After a few minutes he arrives and after a brief discussion, it is agreed that Uhuru concedes defeat. Minutes later, Uhuru calls a press conference at the Serena Hotel, Nairobi, where he reads the statement conceding that Kibaki has beaten him in the presidential race. This paves way for the often obstinate Kivuitu to declare Kibaki the winner of the presidential election and consequently sets in motion the sequence of events leading to the handing over of power the following day. After Uhuru has conceded defeat, discussions begin between the Moi State House team and Narc's Mwenge House team which had by then transformed itself from a campaign squad into a transition team. Next Week: The Narc team's first days at the State House.