How young operatives saved Moi’s presidency

Mr Cyrus Jirongo who was the chairman of YK'92. PHOTO/FILE.

What you need to know:

  • On January 5, 1992, five friends met at Nairobi’s Hotel Boulevard off Uhuru Highway for a drink that would greatly impact Kenya’s political history.
  • On December 3, 1991, President Daniel arap Moi had jolted the political scene during a Kanu national delegates meeting in Kasarani.
  • Over drinks in a London bar, Kimkung and Mwangale had met some members of the Labour Party’s youth leaders.
  • They proposed that their mutual friend, Cyrus Jirongo, a 32-year-old businessman, be the leader of this new movement.  

One sunny Sunday afternoon on January 5, 1992, five friends met at Nairobi’s Hotel Boulevard off Uhuru Highway for a drink that would greatly impact Kenya’s political history.

All of them were in their mid-20s or early 30s. They were well-educated and two of them were scions of influential political figures in Kenya.

They were Fred Kiptanui, Sammy Kogo, Victor Kebenei, Joe Mwangale and Joe Kimkung, a close confidante of President Moi’s son Gideon. Politics was the topic of the day.

A month earlier, on December 3, 1991, President Daniel arap Moi had jolted the political scene during a Kanu national delegates meeting in Kasarani.

Bowing to pressure from the Opposition and Western donors who had withdrawn financial aid, Moi had announced that he was consenting to a repeal of Section 2A of the Constitution that made Kenya a one-party state. 

Most of the speakers at the meeting in Kasarani had spoken passionately against introduction of multiparty politics and the President’s surprise position left them lost and bewildered. 

On December 10, 1991, Parliament amended the Constitution paving the way for formation of opposition parties ahead of the December 29, 1992 General Election.
For most Kanu members loyal to Moi, the introduction of multi-party politics was a genie that had been released prematurely and they did not have the faintest idea of how to handle it.

The ‘baba na mama’ party had lost popularity on the streets and by all indications Moi seemed headed for a crushing defeat.
“To most Kanu politicians, the end had come. That was the mood everywhere - in café’s, bars and even in churches. Everyone was talking of the end of Kanu and the feeling of defeat was overwhelming in Kanu ranks,” recalls Mr Kimkung. 

It was these seismic political developments that dominated the conversation between the five young men as they sipped their drinks.

For the two Joes, these political developments had a direct impact on them since they were descendants of families with strong ties to the Kanu system and to Moi.

Mwangale was a son of Elijah Mwangale, the Kimilili constituency MP, and Kimkung a brother-in-law of Daniel Moss, the MP of Mt Elgon constituency from 1963 to 1974. 

Kogo was a successful businessman in his own right who had developed a close friendship with President Moi’s eldest son, Jonathan.

While not a scion of a well-known political family in the country, Kebenei had made a name for himself as an operative in Kanu circles.

“I was the odd one out,” said Kiptanui. “I did not have the name to talk of and I wasn’t known that much in Kanu either, but I was their friend.”

Despite their different circumstances, the five feared that their privileged standing in society was about to change forever.
Influential Kanu politicians were abandoning the party like a house on fire and joining the Opposition bandwagon in an attempt to unseat Moi from his 14-year presidency.

As the five debated these developments, the two Joes shared with the rest an idea that they had developed while on a visit to the United Kingdom in December 1991, just before Christmas.

Over drinks in a London bar, Kimkung and Mwangale had met some members of the Labour Party’s youth leaders.

“They were lively chaps and had these wonderful ideas about what they were doing to mobilise political youth support for the Labour party,” said Kimkung.

The two Kenyans were impressed by how the Labour youth planned to harness their numbers to help their party win back power after more than a decade in opposition.

They strongly felt that Labour’s tactics and strategies could easily be applied back home to help Kanu ride the rising opposition wave.
“We printed 100 Kanu T-Shirts there and then and came with them home,” said Kimkung.  

When they returned, they met their three friends, as well as lawyer and newspaper columnist Moses Kurgat.

Kiptanui had just returned from studies in India where he had gained admiration for the Indian Youth Congress, the youth wing of the India’s Congress party. 
And so when Kimkung and Mwangale mentioned their interactions with the UK Labour Party’s youth leaders, it was a meeting of minds.

“The idea came to us quickly that the best way for Kanu to beat the Opposition was to mobilise the youth in a manner that has never been done before in this country,” said Kiptanui. 

Kebenei asked for a piece of paper from the hotel and took notes as the participants fleshed out ideas about this nascent movement which they christened Kanu National Youth Congress.


On that afternoon, they proposed that their mutual friend, Cyrus Jirongo, a 32-year-old businessman, be the leader of this new movement.  

As it happened, Kebenei and Kogo were running their businesses from the offices of Jirongo’s company, Cypher Projects International at Development House. “We chose him because he was first amongst us.  He was intelligent and flamboyant. Importantly, he had money and he was generous with it,” said Kiptanui.

Jirongo did not possess a grand name like his peers but he had earned their respect due to his business acumen that had made him a millionaire at a relatively young age.
Despite his success, he did not enjoy direct connections to State House, something he craved, according to Kiptanui.

Now the perfect opportunity had presented itself. Kiptanui called him that evening to brief him about their new group and informed him that they had picked him as the chairman. “Jirongo was pleased,” Kiptanui recalls.
As they dispersed on that Sunday evening, they agreed to meet again on Wednesday evening and each of them was to bring along five new members.

Excitement about the new outfit spread quickly and when they met on Wednesday, the sons and daughters of who-is-who in Kenya’s politics were in attendance.
They were led by President Moi’s children, Gideon, Jonathan and June, as well as their cousin Kiprono Kittony, son of Maendeleo ya Wanawake chairlady Zipporah Kittony. All of them brought friends along.

“Membership was by invitation only,” said Bartonjo Chesaina, the son of Joel Bultut, former Nakuru District Kanu chairman, and friend and business partner to Gideon Moi. “We wanted young people who were successful professionals or businessmen who would not ask for handouts,” he said.

At that meeting at the Ministry of Works Sports Club in South C, Chesaina proposed that the organisation be called “Youth for Kanu.”

But to distinguish it from a similar lobby groups that might arise in future elections, Ben Wakhungu, an advertising executive and brother of the current Environment Cabinet Secretary, Judi Wakhungu, suggested that they add “92” to the name.

This was the genesis of a movement that introduced new dynamics to 1992 election campaigns and boasted to have ensured President Moi’s survival.
“We were high flyers. We introduced a political culture that had never been seen before. We managed to get serious publicity in the media.  We introduced beautiful girls to campaigns, now a common feature of our politics. YK’92 was a wave, a movement, a lifestyle. For a young man, it was here that you belonged, or you belonged nowhere,” says Kiptanui.

Indeed it was YK’92 that propelled from anonymity such figures as Deputy President William Ruto and Mr Jirongo to the national spotlight.
YK’92 members contend that they vastly boosted Kanu by mobilsing the youth vote in a way that had not been seen before.

“Kanu was literally dead before we came to the scene. Members were demoralised. There was no way it was going to beat the Opposition,” says Kimkung.  Critics, however, say that the group exaggerates its contribution to the ‘92 campaign and that it served mainly as a conduit for massive theft of public funds that nearly broke the economy.

“YK’92 became the main avenue through which the State party disbursed patronage resources to mobilise support for President Moi and Kanu in general,” according to Prof Karuti Kanyinga and John Murimi Njoka in a 2002 paper titled “The Role of Youth in Politics: The Social Praxis of Party Politics Among the Urban Lumpen in Kenya” which appeared in the African Journal of Sociology.

Over time, the latter view has gained currency and consequently YK’92 has entered Kenyan history, not as a subject of cultured reflection but a source of virulent invective by the most fervent of its critics. 

It has become a by-word for corruption and its story is always cited as a cautionary tale on how youth can be misused by a political system.

Even some of its own members now loathe the slightest association with it. “I don’t want my name mentioned in that thing (article),” was the terse reply a member of the group gave to this writer. “It is not good for my business.”

But more than 20 years down the line, the story of YK’92 is ever more relevant since one of its members, Mr Ruto, is the Deputy President.
Aged 25 and fresh from the University of Nairobi, Mr Ruto was the deputy director of the YK secretariat which was headed by Kimkung.

The DP declined to talk to us for this article, but in previous interviews he said he was a “small” man in YK with minimal influence in the group.
“He used to take minutes of our meetings,” said Kimkung. The secretariat ran the group’s activities including distribution of campaign materials. 


Today, the DP and Jirongo are political enemies and have been engaged in a public spat sparked by the murder of businessman Jacob Juma.
The Sunday Nation spoke to numerous former members of the group and they painted the picture of a well-meaning initiative that was overtaken by greed and the raw ambitions of its leaders. 
“We started out with the best of intentions but we were ultimately consumed by greed and the ambitions of some of us,” said lawyer Moses Kurgat, the group’s first secretary-general.
When asked about the group, former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka, who was Kanu’s organising secretary at the time of YK’92’s formation, said: “I have little to say about it but just know that YK is in power today.”

He is obviously referring to DP Ruto and other YK’92 members who now occupy key positions in government.

These former lobbyists are to be found in Kenya’s political, business, and legal circles as well as in academia. Some of them now serve as diplomats.
“YK’92 changed the course of Kenya’s history for the worse,” said former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, son of the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the father of Kenya’s opposition politics. 

“Never has the energy and creativity of the youth been directed to a more destructive course until YK’92 happened. The impact of its activities lived with us for more than 20 years and will be felt in many years to come,” said Mr Odinga in a statement to the Sunday Nation.

But this unflattering image the group was to earn was far from the minds of the young men as they gathered on that Wednesday evening at Ministry of Works Sports Club in Nairobi’s South C estate. “YK was a bus full of ultra-conservative young people. We wanted to sanitise politics and help the young generation break into the political system,” said Kurgat.  

Within that week, the group held other meetings at Jirongo’s office at Development House and Anniversary Towers to strategise on how to firm up the movement.
Election of national officials took place a week later at Panafric Hotel. Jirongo was endorsed as the chairman and Gerald Bomett, President Moi’s nephew, was picked as his deputy.

Rajab Waliaula, a close friend of Jirongo, was chosen as organising secretary while Sam Nyamweya was picked as treasurer.

Kogo was chosen as director of operations while Fred Amayo, a son of cabinet minister Okiki Amayo, was elected as the deputy director of operations
Ben Wakhungu, a nephew of former vice-president Moody Awori, joined the executive committee while  lawyer Jimmy Choge, son of Aldai MP Kiptum Choge, was elected the North Rift chairman.
“We wanted clean young, beardless men to join us. We wanted educated professionals who had made their own money,” said Mr Chesaina. 

Mr Chesaina said he resigned his senior management job at the National Cereals and Produce Board to join the group. “We did not want Kanu’s money,” he said, though all evidence indicates that YK became a conduit for public funds, especially State corporations, that were re-routed to Kanu campaigns and private pockets.

Membership grew fast as word spread. Munyua Waiyaki, a nephew and a namesake of independence Cabinet minister Munyua Waiyaki, joined later and briefly became the secretary-general.

President Moi gave the group unfettered access to State House, a move that brought him into conflict with some of his long-time allies.

“State House was our home,” said Kimkung. “Doors were readily opened for us if we wanted anything and Mzee (Moi) was usually available for us.”
In subsequent meetings, the group set up a secretariat to manage the daily affairs of the outfit – distribution of shirts, and other campaign materials.

“I joined the group because I felt the so-called opposition were turncoats who had benefited from Kanu but were now determined to destroy it,” said Mwelu Ngei, daughter of independence hero Paul Ngei.

She is one of the few high-profile women who joined the group. The other was Esther Sagini, daughter of independence era cabinet minister Lawrence Sagini.  Both were in the secretariat. 

Others who joined the secretariat include Ken Ouko, presently a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, and businessman Patrick Osero.

In the end, the group ended up being heavily populated by members of the Kalenjin and Luhya tribes due to the influence of the Mois and Jirongo.

The high presence of Luhya members also explains the group’s campaign strategy.  “Moi’s main opponents were locked to their regions and we felt that western was the only place that was not committed to any one particular politician.

Thus we poured men and resources to turn the western vote in favour of Moi,” said Alex Mukabwa, who was the coordinator of the group’s activities in Western province.

In its formative stages, June Moi became a key link between the group and her father. 

In late January 1991, she organised an introductory meeting between YK’92 and her father at the President’s home in Kabarnet Gardens, Nairobi.
Present was Mark Too, vice-chairman of Lonrho East Africa and Moi’s fixer, as well as respected businessman Manu Chandaria.

Mr Chandaria said he does not remember going to the meeting. “I am an old man of 87 years now, I cannot possibly remember if I went to such a meeting,” he said.

This was one of three meetings the group held with the President at State House before it was officially launched a month later on March 4, 1992, at Nyayo Stadium.