Kiraitu Murungi

Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi during the interview with the Saturday Nation at his Nairobi office on November 30,2021. Evans Habil | Nation Media Group


| Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Kiraitu Murungi: The trouble with our ethnic-based politics, parties

What you need to know:

  • Governor Kiraitu is rooting for ODM leader Raila Odinga in the next presidential election.

You led the charge to merge 13 parties to form Jubilee Party in 2017 yet today there is internal wrangling in it, with DP William Ruto, its deputy party leader, now popularising another outfit, UDA. You have also launched the Devolution Empowerment Party (DEP). Do you ever regret being the co-chairman of the Jubilee merger committee?

No, I do not regret it. I am happy I was given the opportunity to work with all those other parties. As we say, what happened yesterday is history. Politics is not about history, but tomorrow. I have been a victim of many political intrigues, mirages, and past illusions, but I am not bitter; I am better.

As the midwife of the merger, have you tried reaching out to the President and the Deputy to patch things up?

We met the boss and his deputy but when we asked what was going on, we were told to keep waiting… until we gave up.

What, in your view, could have been the cause of the fallout between the two?

Only the two of them can answer that. They say two people can sleep in the same bed and have different dreams.

Given this turn of events, is it possible to institutionalise political parties like in other jurisdictions, say, the West?

Kiraitu Murungi: ‘’Politics is about interest … who gets What, When and Where’’

The story of mega parties in Kenya has been an endless song of sorrows. No mega party has survived beyond a presidential election. The more things appear to change, the more they remain the same. Politics has been reduced to the old intrigues of survival tactics, cash and food-fights.

When we formed Jubilee, we were very excited as we saw a new Kenya that would rise above tribe, region and religion. But this turned out to be another false start because as soon as we left Kasarani, we discovered nothing really had changed.

We went to the campaigns and the old narrative that Kenyans will still vote along ethnic lines came back. Our starting point should be to acknowledge that we are Kenyans, and that we all come from somewhere. The Luhyas, Luos, Merus and all the others are Kenyans who have a meeting place called Kenya.

The elites must now create that unity at the national level. When I speak Kimeru, let me speak Kimeru that does not spread hatred against the other Kenyans. If I speak Kiluhya or Dholuo, let me do so to unite Kenyans.

We should try to manage our diversity and use it to build that ideal Kenya. Pretending we are Kenyans and that we are not diverse is wrong. We have our history, which keeps us down when we want to fly. I think this is what has happened to the other parties that have tried to build the country.

Are you saying Jubilee has suffered the same fate as Ford, which sought to send Moi to retirement in the 1992 elections?

Yes. We saw the fragmentation of Ford coming in 1992. Matiba had not come here yet as he was still in London. I went to see him there with Wanyiri Kihoro. We had one message for him; that if he did not work with Jaramogi, this big party would split and Moi would have another chance in power.

Matiba told us Jaramogi was his great friend and there was no way they could separate. We came back feeling that finally time was up for Moi, but soon afterwards we saw a story in the Financial Times of London indicating that Matiba had just announced he was going to be a presidential candidate.

Later we learnt that another group from Gema had gone to London and told Matiba that if he did not vie then the people would vote for Moi. Even Prof Wangari Maathai tried to mediate between Matiba and Jaramogi but it did not work. Then came the split of Ford to Ford-Asili and Ford-Kenya, the former which was largely Kikuyu and the latter Luo.

So we embarked on this multi-party democracy journey on that false start because of the forces of ethnicity. After that, within Ford-Kenya there was a problem again after Jaramogi died and the late Kijana Wamalwa faced great opposition in leading the party. Ford-Kenya is now just a pale shadow of what it was at the time. From a national progressive party, it has now been reduced to a Bukusu outfit.

That is the biggest story of the mutation of our political parties. People remain passionate about owning their party. Remember in these mutations, there came another party, Ford-People, led by Simeon Nyachae, and which became a Kisii outfit. There were others that also came up at the Coast.

When Ruto was in URP, it was seen as a Rift Valley outfit, and DP was seen as a Gema outfit. We had debates within DP on whether Kibaki would really win since it lacked a national outlook. We tried to suppress DP and merge it with other parties, and had to engage Wamalwa and Charity Ngilu to form NAK, the National Alliance Party of Kenya.

Also, Moi’s choice of Uhuru as his successor had created a lot of problems in Kanu because George Saitoti wanted to be president, so they temporarily went to LDP where Raila and Saitoti merged before they finally joined us at NAK, then we changed the name again to Narc.

Again, there was a lot of excitement in the country because we finally had a large party representing ethnic diversity at the top. There was talk about One Kenya because everyone believed Moi was the problem.

Kiraitu Murungi: Political 'wars' that made Jaramogi form Ford-Kenya

Little did we know that three months later, we would be quarreling, this time because of the Memorandum of Understanding Kibaki had signed with Raila. The unity was lost in our quarrel for an MoU, which was a secret document between Kibaki and Raila. We did not get to know about it until after Raila started complaining that Kibaki had reneged on it.

Even when I was appointed Minister of Constitutional Affairs, the only MoU I knew about was what we had signed with the clergy at Ufungamano; that there would be a new constitution within six months.

Kiraitu Murungi

Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi during the interview with the Saturday Nation at his Nairobi office on November 30, 2021.


Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Then Raila was appointed Minister for Roads and I heard him saying that I have refused to draw the constitution within 100 days, so I called him and asked him to tell me where we had signed that we would have a new constitution within 100 days. He showed me the other copy of the memorandum, and clearly written on it was that it would take 100 days to bring the new constitution.

Now, those were days Kibaki was not feeling very well so I did not feel like bringing up those issues when he was seeing doctors in hospital.

It has been reported that the 7-M Mafia that you were a member of blocked Raila and others from meeting the President to get the matter sorted...

Kibaki did not get to listen to my input because he was quite unwell and even ministers could not access him, maybe doctors only. In controlling who was to see Kibaki and who could not, Matere (Keriri, State House Comptroller) was just implementing the doctors’ orders. The rest of us had very restricted access to the President during that time. Matere was firm on executing the doctors’ orders and even ministers could not just walk in to see Kibaki.

That must have earned Matere a lot of enemies within the corridors of power.

Precisely! And, again, he could not go about telling people what was happening. On the MoU, it was only Kibaki and Raila who should have sat and sorted the issue, not Kiraitu and other people, because, first, we were not party to it, and, second, nobody gave us instructions that we had to change the constitution in 100 days.

Kiraitu Murungi: Why Moi picked Uhuru as his successor

Because of this quarrel about the MoU, Ruto, who at the time had been in the opposition in Kanu, teamed up with Raila, who was disappointed in the new regime, and they gave us hell at Bomas. I was on the receiving end. I was previously a human rights activist but now I was being termed as an anti-reformist, status-quo person.

LDP saw in you a man who was standing between Raila and the premiership. Why was it hard implementing MoU in your view, and also the Bomas draft?

The way the Bomas draft was structured was not acceptable. We elect a president, then that president hands over power to an appointed prime minister. The PM then becomes the most powerful person; the one to appoint ministers and run the government but not the person who goes across the country looking for votes? So our position was simple; the prime minister position should be elective. Why would a president who has done a lot of work hand over power to someone else? It did not sound logical.

Also, the draft was highly politicised and that is how we lost the 2005 referendum. It was really not about the content of the draft, but politics. The Maasai were told that the new Katiba had proposed that the largest piece of land a Maasai could own was one acre and we had a very rough time in Kajiado one time trying to explain to them that, that was not true.

The next weekend, we decided to go to popularise the document in Garissa, but immediately we landed women pelted us with stones and started screaming. We had to take off without talking to anybody. We later asked the provincial administration to tell us what happened and they informed us that there had been fighting even before we arrived.

An Imam had announced that the Katiba had said that men would marry other men and women other women, and so there would be no men-to-women marriages, so the women were very mad asking who was going to marry them. In Kisii, it was said that married women would return to their fathers’ homes if they wanted to inherit land.

The 2005 referendum was not lost on the basis of its content, or human rights; the Katiba was largely thrown out because of propaganda. Raila and Kalonzo were fighting against the constitution yet they were still flying State planes and they were still Cabinet ministers. It was becoming very difficult for the government to operate that way.

That is how the Cabinet was dissolved and Raila and the others were shown the door and they moved to opposition between 2005 and 2007. We did quite well that time as far as the growth of the economy was concerned but badly politically and failed to unite the country. We were too divided and this is what led to the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

The threat of ethnicity, which has been there since we started the multi-party democracy , is still there even now. We are very good at denying this but we should accept our problem. We have a national and concrete project of building one Kenya.

What if the MoU had been honoured? Would the country’s history have been any different?

These were people in a room who decided to distribute jobs among themselves. Some of the jobs were not tenable and they had to be created through a new constitution. We could have done it had we been given more time but the deadlines were unrealistic.

Saying we were going to have a new constitution in 100 days and then the position of a Prime Minister within that time frame was unrealistic. If we had said it would be done within six months, it would have been possible. Also, it was not shared with the rest of the players; it was made a secret document, locked up, I also got it when I was already at my job and I had no instructions to fulfill it.

And upon being shown the copy, did you counter-check with the President to see if it was authentic?

When I got the copy, the President was not feeling well but I gave it to Matere who was in control of State House to go and check. It was already too much, we were already in a war. Some argue that had it not been for the President’s accident history would have shaped out differently. I agree, he would have been there to deal with things and answer directly to questions on the MoU that we could not personally deal with.

Tomorrow in the ‘Sunday Nation’: How Kibaki saved Moi from arrest. “The house Moi used to occupy at Kabarnet Gardens was meant for the vice-president and there was pressure for us to evict him so that Kijana Wamalwa could occupy it. We went to consult Kibaki about the eviction with Amos Kimunya, who was the Minister for Land at the time, but Kibaki told Kimunya to process a title deed for the property in Moi’s name and hand it over to the retired president, which he did.”