Kalonzo Musyoka: I will be the next king, not kingmaker

Kalonzo Musyoka

Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka during an interview in Nairobi on November 4, 2021.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka opens up to Walter Menya and Justus Wanga on his relation with Presidents Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta, saying the three are (were) very different in their style of leadership.

On DP William Ruto’s ‘popularity’ in Makueni, Kitui and Machakos counties, the man from Tseikuru says locals there can receive money and other goodies but will never shift allegiance to Ruto. He says OKA is the solution to Kenya’s problems and that the bottom-up economic model will lead to corruption

 One of your selling points is to reduce the cost of living by cutting taxes. How will a One Kenya Alliance (OKA) administration raise enough money to repay the country’s loans and finance its projects after the cuts?

Somebody sent me a list of taxes that Kenyans pay after I spoke about reducing taxes by 50 per cent in Kakamega. There are about 12 taxes an ordinary Kenyan pays. You cannot grow an economy that way. By halving the taxation, more Kenyans would be willing to pay. When you overtax citizens, many begin evading taxes. We want Kenyans to be honest. If taxation levels are fair, the economy and Kenya’s GDP will improve. We want to reduce in order to increase. Reduce taxes and grow the volumes. There will be enough money to even implement free secondary education. I speak on this with authority because the idea of free primary education was mine. I conceived it when I was the Minister for Education from 1998 to 2001.

By the way, cutting taxes by 50 per cent will finish this bottom-up nonsense (referring to a slogan by Deputy President William Ruto and his ‘Hustler Nation’ movement). Everybody will have enough money and there will be no one hanging out for hand-outs, which is the backbone of the bottom-up approach. Disposable income will increase if taxes are reduced.

Why are you opposed to Ruto’s bottom-up economic model?

It is a very strange principle. Bottom-up is another way of making corruption official. It is like saying ‘let’s collect money and give it to mama mboga and others’ when there is no way of identifying the beneficiaries or accounting for the money. When Mwai Kibaki was President, Raila Odinga Prime Minister and I the Vice-President, we started the Women Enterprise Fund and others. The only thing lacking is implementation.

Bottom-up essentially means ‘let’s raise funds and give the money to mama mboga’. We will go back to those days parastatal chiefs were required to steal from their firms and contribute to harambees. The same would be the case with chiefs and their assistants. Bottom-up will re-introduce that retrogressive and corrupt form of harambee. Even its chief proponent knows it is not sustainable. At some stage he will say ‘bring me money to take to the people’. Where will the money come from? Parastatals will go bankrupt. Look at what is happening at Kenya Power.

Presidential hopefuls are coming up with ambitious ideas being sold to Kenyans. How will some of these programmes be sustained?

Of all the models, let Kenyans examine this bottom-up thing. It is laughable as it perpetuates poverty and dependency. You cannot use handouts to end poverty. My Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) friend, Raila Odinga, is talking of giving Sh6,000 to everybody a month, – a Robin Hood kind approach. How will that help anybody?

OKA is proposing a solid and realistic economic model where Kenyans must work. We are talking of a 24-hour economy. We are also saying that one does not have to wait for the month to end to get money. If we increase the velocity of money, say for people to earn every two weeks, the circulation will spur economic growth. This is not difficult to implement. Our technical teams will clearly spell out these issues and show Kenyans and the world that they are not fantasies. They can be achieved easily.

There were promises (by the Jubilee Party) of the economy growing by double digits in 2013 and 2017. What promises do you give Kenyans as far as the country’s growth is concerned should you succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta next year?

The double digit idea was good but they (Jubilee) destroyed everything. Those now trumpeting the bottom-up model literally stole everything. Instead of the economy growing by double digits, their pockets were bulging by triple digits. Corruption undermines everything.

Double digit is achievable, particularly if we internalise and put into place the 24-hour formula I mentioned. This will be revolutionary even as we expand our infrastructure.

I have also said on many occasions that Mombasa and Lamu need to be made free ports. That would be revolutionary because the whole world will come to our coastal ports. We have lost opportunities in the past but this should not pass.

Let me give you an example. Qatar Airways wanted to set up its African headquarters in Nairobi. There were negotiations with the government but our people asked for kitu kidogo (kickbacks). Qatar Airways then went and bought a chunk of Rwandair. The company is building a world-class international airport outside Kigali. Our worry is what will happen to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. We cannot afford losing the regional hub status. We need to maintain our competitive advantage in services, grow our manufacturing, make it easy to set up businesses, decisively deal with corruption and cut taxes. That way, we will again make Kenyans be the most optimistic people on Earth as was the case in 2002 and 2003.

Your Wiper Party candidate in the recent Nguu Masumba by-election in Kibwezi West, Makueni County, lost to an independent candidate and was even beaten by a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) man. Critics say that is enough evidence of Kalonzo Musyoka losing grip of his base. Is that so?

When Agnes Kavindu of Wiper won the most important by-election to date – the Machakos Senate seat –  by a huge margin, UDA diverted attention by creating a rumour and spreading it on social media. Our victory embarrassed UDA officials. I had tried to reach the independent who won in Nguu Masumba. In a small by-election, everybody knows who the most popular candidate is. You lose if you do not get the right person. This is what happened. Wiper had a poor candidate, period. By the way, it is not the first time Wiper has lost a ward mini-election. We lost a ward in Kitui last year. That, however,does not mean our party is not popular. If you were to conduct a poll, results will show Wiper is still the dominant party.

The ones saying we are losing grip did not present candidates? A clear example is Maendeleo Chap Chap (of Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua) and Muungano Party (which is linked to Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana). That tells you that they know the most popular party in the region is Wiper. That is not in dispute.

In any event, one of our kingpins in the (Ukambani) region, Paul Ngei, once said slipping is not falling. You win some today and lose others tomorrow but keep your eyes focused on the prize. As Wiper, our eyes are focussed on the ball and the ball is 2022. We want to win the presidency of this country.

There were claims the independent candidate may have had external support…

I would not be surprised as it was the only by-election in the country. The people of Nguu Masumba must be hoping that the by-election should continue because they got a lot of money. There was open voter bribery so they could not make a reasoned judgment. Some people came with unga (maize flour), money and many other things because they thought they wanted to teach Kalonzo a lesson. I don’t need such lessons. I watched the by-election and congratulated the winner.

Are you concerned that Governors Kibwana, Mutua and Kitui’s Charity Ngilu are not on your side?

But there are many governors coming on board. Some are going out as others get in. Some have even declared interest in the presidency. That is fine. I don’t know why people are concerned about these governors.

Should Kalonzo not be the king in 2022, does he see himself as a kingmaker?

I see myself as the next king. Labelling me a kingmaker is speculative. We are going into this with a resolve, all in the best interest of our country. Kenyans know us and we know them. We have come a long way.

The next government will definitely be a coalition government and we intend to be the leaders of that alliance. If we lead the coalition, we will be king. If we are not leaders of the coalition, probably we will be the kingmaker.

Do you see the National Super Alliance (Nasa) of 2017 resurrecting in another form?

I would not rule that out. We have said OKA is open to everybody. OKA has hit the road running. I don’t see how those who are outside are overtaking us. They have to join the queue from behind.

Whichever way they link up with us, we shall have to negotiate the terms, for the benefit of this country. One of the principles of negotiation is that if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them. We are applying both.

The Deputy President has in recent weeks camped in Ukambani and many times in the last four years. What does this say about the region in terms of its significance? Are you worried?

He has made Ukambani his place and is most welcome. But the DP must know that the people of the region are bright. He can be there 100 times and they will take all his money and goodies. By the way, I wonder why he gives money to people in Ukambani and not Eldoret.

That tells he knows there is a problem. And that problem is always a case of the guilty being afraid. They are going to reject him.

The people of Ukambani will not throw stones or abuse you. They will watch you but know where they belong. In 2013, that region gave Raila more support than Nyanza. They have stood with me in the elections of 2007, 2013 and 2017. It takes time to develop that level of trust with voters. .

I am very much at peace and want Ruto to go there 100 times and bring more goodies on wheelbarrows and in baskets. But the decision on who is going to be next leader is a different question that money cannot buy.

You have been in politics for long, working in the governments of Presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. Following the March 9, 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, you have closed ranks with the President and have been his special envoy to South Sudan. What unique attributes do the presidents possess?

They are very different. President Moi was a stickler for time. If he gave a 6am appointment, he would be there waiting for you. He was a thorough gentleman. Actually, he mentored us. I am from Tseikuru in Kitui County. Who would have known me? I worked for President Moi and he guided me. I was Foreign Affairs Minister. The ministry is an operating arm of the President along with the Finance and Defence dockets.

President Moi was hands-on. He had a hotline which he used to reach out to anyone. He had a wonderful heart. Of course, people let him down. He would fume in such circumstances but calm down later.

President Moi was a true Christian and a believer. He would be in church every Sunday. There was no politics in church. When travelling with him as the Foreign Affairs minister, I would see him quietly reading the Bible before we landed.

His successors were not strict with time. President Kibaki gave one time to work. He had a physical challenge, especially in the early days of his presidency. We understood it.

But he allowed the economy of this country to grow. His style was different from Moi’s. For example, there were very few trips to State House. President Moi was generous. One visiting State House would not leave empty handed. For President Kibaki, we did not expect anything. But he was selfless. President Kibaki did not want anything named after him.

At one time, I went to see him as the vice-president to ask if he would agree to Thika Superhighway being named after him. He looked at me and dismissed the idea. That is Kibaki. Mt Kenya University named something after him this week. I am not sure Mr Kibaki gave the institution permission to do so. He would definitely object to the idea if they asked him.

My brother Uhuru Kenyatta is different. He is a scion of the first President and possesses a great ability at communication, even on the global scene. He has made many friends internationally. I think US President Joe Biden would rely on President Kenyatta to lead, for example, in this problem of Ethiopia. The same with when he hosted the virtual education summit with the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He has gelled very well at the international level.

But he has been let down at home. He allowed his deputy to run amok and almost mess up his legacy. People are gifted in different ways.

You have talked of President Moi fuming whenever he felt let down. Did you ever make him fume?

Once or twice, and I am not sure I should tell you. That was on October 10, 2002, when the Rainbow Coalition was coming up. President Moi was met with the chants of “Rainbow” everywhere he went. We were summoned to State House by the President on this day.

It was myself, Prof George Saitoti, Moody Awori and Raila. He wanted to know what we were up to with the Rainbow. I am the only one who spoke at that meeting. Uhuru arrived late and President Moi was very upset with him. Nicholas Biwott and Yusuf Haji were there too.

The President turned on us – the “Rainbow” team. He was very angry. I tried telling him that it was Moi Day and that we could meet later. That failed.

He then started the conversation by demanding to know why we were organising an opposition to his candidate. I told him to allow us to go to Kasarani stadium for the Kanu nominations and if Uhuru won, we would definitely throw our weight behind him.

President Moi banged the table and said: ‘It is not Uhuru. It is me.’ There was silence in the room. After a brief period of silence, we attempted to talk to him again about allowing the party to conduct transparent nominations. That was the end of the meeting. The other thing I remember about the meeting is that Raila appeared rude. Every now and then he would glance at his watch. He wanted to leave to catch a flight to Kisumu. Saitoti was worried about his security, which had been withdrawn.

On our way out, Raila was ahead of us. He was in a rush and quickly left. Awori also followed. We thought Lee Njiru (the President’s press secretary) was going to announce that we had agreed to back Uhuru.

So we had a strategy to address the media at Serena Hotel. Saitoti and I were called back. I told Saitoti that if we back in, we would be done. But Saitoti insisted on honouring the call. We entered the Diplomatic Room and found Uhuru, Biwott and Haji.

I told my friend Uhuru that they all had not spoken when we were with the President. ‘Why did you leave me to be the only one to speak?’

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