Lee Njiru: How Moi settled on Uhuru Kenyatta as successor
One day, in 1999, while chatting with Moi, the issue of children succeeding their parents cropped up in our discussion. Moi expressed his displeasure that political giants such as Mulu Mutisya of Ukambani and Jackson Angaine of Meru had not been succeeded by their children.
As for Mulu Mutisya, we discussed his son Eric who had at one time vied for the Mwala parliamentary seat and fared dismally. We also discussed a few of Angaine’s children and concluded that none could match their father’s political stature.
“Fire begets ash,” Mzee Moi told me. He also told me that Angaine had once lamented that at times, a lion can give birth to a jackal. Then Moi shared with me what seemed to be a deeply held idea.
“I don’t want the name of Kenyatta to disappear from Kenya’s political landscape. I’m looking for Uhuru Kenyatta. We must build that young man and immortalise Kenyatta’s legacy.”
After our meeting, President Moi instructed me to announce the appointment of Uhuru Kenyatta as the chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board. Things moved fast. Months later, Moi asked me to announce the nomination of Uhuru Kenyatta as a Member of Parliament to replace Mark Too. Before long, Mzee further instructed me to announce the appointment of Uhuru Kenyatta as the Minister for Local Government.
Moi later confided in me that he preferred Uhuru as his successor and that he was soon going to name him. I did not oppose or doubt Moi’s choice. I just suggested to him that he should make the announcement from Mt Elgon. I said so because in my interactions with the Kalenjin, I had learnt that this mountain was regarded greatly as the dispersal point of the community. Moi obliged. He eventually pronounced Uhuru as his preferred successor while in Kapsokwony, Mt Elgon. But something ominous happened.
As we left Kapsokwony for Eldoret Airport, aboard a Kenya Air Force Puma, we encountered a very heavy storm. Musalia Mudavadi was with us in this plane. Visibility was almost nil. Mudavadi was gloomy throughout. I suppose he was feeling bad for having been sidelined as a Presidential candidate.
The pilot, with great skill, manoeuvred the plane and landed in a primary school in Nandi County. It was quite a big scare. We called members of the Presidential Escort who were at the Eldoret Airport. They rushed to the scene and took the President away.
A new theory emerged. Many people in our delegation construed this mishap to mean that Moi’s plan for Uhuru Kenyatta would stall, just the way the helicopter had stalled, and sure enough it came to pass. Uhuru was defeated by Mwai Kibaki in the 2002 polls.
After Moi declared Uhuru as his preferred successor, he called me to his office. He instructed me to give Uhuru as much assistance as possible in terms of positive press coverage. I immediately picked some of my experienced pressmen from the PPS and tasked them to cover Uhuru Kenyatta, whenever he travelled all over the country. The team was led by Chief Information Officer Francis Mulinya. Another Information Officer, Geoffrey Bittok, was to camp at KBC and await Mulinya’s dispatches.
I would occasionally meet Uhuru for discussions about the strategy. He would often ask me in Kikuyu, “Nitugutoria?” meaning, “Shall we be victorious?” I always answered in the affirmative.
During the campaigns, NARC proved to be superior to KANU in terms of propaganda. Uhuru was cast in a very bad light. He was depicted as young, inexperienced and a Moi puppet. Propaganda posters were everywhere, showing an image of Uhuru Kenyatta and that of President Moi looming large and silhouetted behind him. This worked miracles for the opposition. When Uhuru lost to Kibaki, Mzee Moi told me “Lee, do not worry. By losing, Uhuru has learnt that the journey to the presidency is not easy. But he will win next time.” And it came to pass. Uhuru won in 2013.
After Moi handed over the presidency to Mwai Kibaki, I came face to face with monsters of jealousy, malice, hatred and witch-hunt. A new term was coined by Kenyans to denigrate all those who had worked directly under Moi. The term was “former regime’. Anybody who had worked for the former regime was treated as an enemy, or something that must be destroyed.
As the Director of PPS, I had been allocated a house just a few metres from State House, Nakuru. Electricity and water supply were connected to the main house. When Moi left office, one of the messengers was sent to me with a message that I should vacate the house within 24 hours or else my belongings would be thrown out. I was told that it was an order from President Kibaki. I knew this was a lie. Kibaki could not stoop so low... These were people fired by hatred against the former regime trying to exercise their newly acquired political power.
Luckily, I had completed my house in Ngata, Nakuru. I hurriedly moved out to beat the deadline. The person who had ordered that I vacate the house within 24 hours sent a spy to establish where I had relocated to. She was told I had moved to my own house which was better than the one I was being chased out from. She then called me and apologised while blaming everything on President Kibaki. All this was hogwash. She was the author of my predicament, but I played ignorant.
President Moi always told me that one of the most effective survival tactics was pretending to be a fool. This is a strategy that served me very well.
In the new Kibaki government were two Cabinet ministers who were feared like the plague. One was from Central Province and the other from Eastern. They were big-headed, excessively domineering and vindictive. They were bent on crushing anybody and anything associated with Moi.
Kiraitu Murungi, in particular, then Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, insulted Moi by telling him to retire and watch television and learn how governments should be run. He also described Moi as a man who had reached political menopause. He, and many others in the new Kibaki government, rapidly called for Moi’s prosecution on account of real and imagined crimes.
The Goldenberg scandal judicial inquiry, which was covered live on television, and in which Moi’s name featured prominently, visited untold agony upon the old man. The only modicum of consolation was that his defence lawyer, Mutula Kilonzo, did a sterling job. I sat by Mzee Moi’s side as we watched the live broadcasts. It was sheer agony for him.
However, I was not overly worried because a Kenyan staffer in the American Embassy in Nairobi had assured me that the US would not allow the Kibaki government to mistreat Moi, let alone arrest him. Moi’s name became a punching bag for many leaders, both national and grassroots, who were seeking some relevance. But that’s where it started and ended.
When President Kibaki signed the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act in December 2003, Moi’s fortunes changed dramatically for the better. Moi continued to enjoy most of the privileges he had while he was the president.
When Kanu, which had been in power from 1963, was dislodged by NARC in 2002, certain leaders in the incoming administration had an irresistible urge to mistreat and humiliate senior Kalenjin officers in the public service. Instead of viewing the Kalenjin officers as Kenyan citizens serving their country, they labelled them ‘Moi people’ as if this was anathema. They were hounded out of office in their hundreds.
The incoming leaders, especially from Nyeri, Murang’a, Meru and Nyandarua, hurled unprintables at the hapless Kalenjin officers. The junior cadre who remained in the service lived under a barrage of tribal epithets. Among the Kalenjin officers who were ignominiously hounded out of office were Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo, Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Simon Mutai, the Vice Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. John Koech, strike Master Pilot Maj. Gen. John Serem and Puma pilots Evans Sigilai and Joseph Lagat (both majors).
In the civilian cadre, some of those removed were the Head of Public Service Dr. Sally Kosgei, the Permanent Secretary for Internal Security and Provincial Administration, Zakayo Cheruiyot and many others. It is instructive to note that President Moi had been insulted and pelted with mud when he handed over to Kibaki the instruments of power in December 2002.
As I had pointed out earlier, when the Shifta war broke out in 1963, the Prime Minister, Jomo Kenyatta, sent out appeals to Kenyan youth to join the Armed Forces to defend their motherland and national sovereignty. The Gema communities were not enthusiastic to join the forces. They reasoned that they had been exhausted by the Mau-Mau war against colonialism and the detention and brutalisation they had suffered. The pastoralist communities, especially the Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana and the Samburu, joined the forces in great numbers.
To a large extent these are the communities who lived in the trenches in the harsh North Eastern province defending our national sovereignty while the Gema communities were doing lucrative business. The Kalenjin joined the Army, GSU, AP, the Prisons and the Air Force in great numbers.
The upshot of this recruitment of pastoralists into the armed forces is that in every administrative location in the Rift Valley, there are at least 100 people who are trained by the government in weaponry. Unfortunately, leaders from the Gema community know only the generals. Young men from the Kalenjin community who accepted Jomo Kenyatta’s call to join the forces and fight the Shifta menace ... later rose to become generals. Those who were found by the Kibaki administration still in service were accused, wrongly, of being Moi people. They were humiliated. The Kalenjin people were angry, and they had a reason to be.
These generals had spent their youthful days serving the Republic of Kenya in North Eastern Province, exposing themselves to grave danger. And now, a few ignorant, vengeful and clueless politicians were on a witch-hunt. The victims took the humiliation in their stride.
The problem with most Gema political leaders is that they do not travel much within the country. They do not bother to learn about other Kenyan communities. They go to the primary schools in their respective localities, they attend such high schools as Kangaru, Kagumo, Mang’u, Njiiris and Meru and later University of Nairobi. They then are employed in Nairobi. They die before going to Kapenguria, Lungalunga or Lokichogio.
During the 2007 general elections, the entire Kalenjin nation joined Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party. They did not do this because they loved Raila Odinga, but because they hated Mwai Kibaki’s government for sacking and humiliating, without any justifiable reason, their officers in the military and the civil service.
Retired President Moi, who sided with President Kibaki, suffered the wrath of his Kalenjin community. His sons who had sought elective positions were overwhelmingly defeated in the ODM wave. The Kalenjin were so angry that they even did the unthinkable against their traditional norms. They elected seven women MPs.
This community was resolute that the Kibaki government had to be defeated. They could not contemplate any other outcome. So, when Kibaki was declared the winner, all hell broke loose. The Kalenjin believed that the election had been stolen. Since they could not lay their hands on the person of Mwai Kibaki, they had to do it on his children, the Kikuyus in the Rift Valley.
That was the genesis of the 2007-2008 post election violence. The Kikuyu were wondering how the Kalenjin were able to mobilise, so efficiently and in military fashion, their young attackers. They do not know that the Rift Valley is the veritable repository of military genius. As a red herring, and to mask their iniquities, the Gema and other leaders who had carried out the sacking of the Kalenjins, blamed the violence on land issues. The overriding factor was bitterness on account of mistreatment. Europeans and Asians live among the Kalenjin. They own land there and are never molested.
Up to the time of writing this book, the government continually encourages people wishing to buy land and settle among other communities to do so. However, settlers have been encouraged to integrate and peacefully co-exist with their neighbours. They must resonate and gel with their hosts. They must also make effort to embrace the customs and traditions of the host community even as they expect their own traditions and customs to be tolerated.
When multiparty politics was at its peak, I met a politician from Kiambu. He told me he was planning to go to the bush and wage a guerilla war against President Moi and his government. I reminded him that there were no bushes or forests in Kiambu and that he could only do it in vegetable gardens.
Racial biases abound everywhere in the world but we must learn to accommodate each other unless our lives are imperiled. These racial biases are even practised at the highest level all over the world. Let me give an example.
On Sunday, 18th May, 1997, President Moi attended Church Service at PCEA Tumutumu in Nyeri. We later drove to Kianyaga in Kirinyaga for a public rally. From there ... we took a buffalo aircraft and flew to Moi’s Kabarak home. From Kabarak, I went to a club in Nakuru town for refreshments. Luckily, I had told the State House telephone operator where I could be found if need arose.
At 8.30pm, the club’s receptionist told me that someone in State House, Nakuru, needed to talk to me urgently. The operator told me to call President Moi immediately.
His husky voice came on the line: “Lee, the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, has just called me. There is an American who got lost in Mt. Kenya Forest. She was among a group of mountain climbing tourists but slipped and fell down a cliff. I want that girl found, dead or alive. The sooner the better,” he ordered me.
I telephoned the Defence headquarters in Nairobi, then Vigilance House, Kenya Wildlife Services, then Kenya Power and Lighting Managing Director Mr Samuel Gichuru and the Provincial Police Officer Nyeri. I told the Defence headquarters that their Commander-in-Chief had instructed them to scour every space of the mountain facing Nanyuki and use every minute of daylight until the girl was found, dead or alive. I also called on all of the above to mount a concerted effort to ensure the girl was found. This was over the VoK radio. It was repeated after every hour.
The following day ... at noon, Mzee called me to his office. I found him very jovial and beaming with a smile. “Well done Lee. The American girl was found today, alive, at 10.00 am. The Air Force did a wonderful job. She is now at Nairobi Hospital and we are going there right away to see her,” he told me.
When we later travelled to America, I narrated the story to an African-American. He told me that Madeleine Albright would not have bothered if the girl had been black. He also whispered to me that Madeleine would not have given a damn if Jessica Loydquist was not a Jew.
When Moi retired from the Presidency in 2002, Jessica was 22 years old. I asked him if she had written a letter of gratitude to him. He told me she had not.
“Who cares about a black person except God,” he told me, adding “Tenda wema nenda zako” which means do good without expecting any gratitude or reward.