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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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.