Moses Wetang'ula

Ford-Kenya Party leader Moses Wetang’ula during the interview at his Karen home.

| Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Secrets of Uhuru, OKA talks and my time with Moi, Kibaki

Bungoma Senator Moses Masika Wetang’ula caught President Moi’s eye in the 1980s, having heeded the call by Opposition chief Jaramogi Oginga Odinga to represent soldiers facing treason charges after the abortive coup of 1982.

A number of senior lawyers at the time couldn’t dare take up the cases for fear of state reprisal but young Wetang’ula saw an opportunity to shine even though it was fraught with risks. Moi would a decade later nominate him to Parliament.

In the last of his interview series, the OKA co-principal revealed what President Uhuru Kenyatta has been telling them in their various meetings with ODM chief Raila Odinga.

But for him, he will go where his interests will be accommodated – it could be Azimio, OKA or UDA – he says.

He also says he would not be party to schemes to frustrate chances of the Deputy President’s ascension to the State House.

He spoke to our writer Justus Wanga:

Has President Kenyatta ever asked OKA principals to support Raila’s presidency?

That is not known to me. We have met him as the OKA team on our own and also together with Raila Odinga and the President’s desire was to see that the two teams form a united front and create a political synergy.

I believe seriously that he still wants that. We are still engaging with him. But time is moving very fast. We were talking about 2022 and now it is here. I do not know, because I cannot speak for the President, but certainly, he has demonstrated that he wants to leave a united country.

He sometimes invites us to banquets with visiting Heads of States not to discuss politics but welcome the president of a friendly country. It shows his desire to see us seated together for whatever reason. We will probably give him an early Christmas.

Does an early Christmas translate to stopping a Ruto presidency?

I will not open my mind to think that we form a team to either stop somebody or precipitate a situation in the country. That is a wrong way to approach politics because Ruto that people think OKA ought to stop, could easily be an OKA partner this being politics.

Politics turns like a wheel, it is never on the same spot for more than a second. I will not be party to any machinations designed to target any party, including Ruto. I will be very happy to be in a formation that is focused on the betterment of our country.

What is ailing Kenya? How do we fix it? How do we control our enormous and uncontrolled appetite for borrowing? How do we curb runaway corruption and destroy the sanctuaries of corruption in Kenya?

How do we make the Judiciary work so that those taken to court can not only get fairness but also quick trials. NYS cases were taken to court some six to seven years ago but they are still dragging there.

When a case drags that long, it becomes difficult for the accused to get a fair hearing. Good witnesses may change their minds, leave the country or may lose their memory.

Fairness in the judicial process is not just about the accused but the complainant as well. If the complainant complains that you have taken public resources at the expense of the public, then fairness must also be on the side of the complainant.

In your interaction with the President, including your recent meeting with him at the State House, the DP was not in attendance. Has the President ever mentioned to you guys what could have gone wrong between the two?

He has never and we have never asked him. It is also clear that none of us controls the information of the guest list to the State House, that is the exclusive preserve of the President and his protocol.

Were you to get the same offer from Raila’s Azimio and Ruto’s UDA, which one would you take?

There is considerable reluctance among my party’s rank and file in walking the same path of betrayals and humiliations. Not only myself as a party leader or as an individual but even the late Wamalwa Kijana suffered a similar fate in the earlier days of multipartyism in Raila’s hands.

The lessons of yesterday teach us how to make our decisions today but they do not close our doors for tomorrow.

Do you feel threatened by the newly formed DAP-K party led by the likes of Defence CS Eugene Wamalwa?

Not at all. They are surrogates directed by external forces and people know it. They are not coming to fill any void or deficit for requirement for representation of party activities. They have been set up to clearly cause confusion. Like my good teacher of literature at the Friends School Kamusinga, Mr Hargreaves used to tell us, “Young men, I can tell who you are by just seeing who your friends are.”

Are you attending Musalia’s big day where he is promising an earthquake?

Oh yes!

What should we expect?

On November 4, when we held our NDC, Musalia did not attend as he was sick in hospital but he sent a strong team led by Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala.

We were joined by Kalonzo Musyoka, Gideon Moi, Cyrus Jirongo and all our OKA friends and my attendance is reciprocal and as a partner in OKA. I will support him.

Second, Musalia is my good friend and partner. We have worked together since I went to parliament in 1992 and found him there. He had been there for one term when I joined him and we have worked very well since.

What I expect? I do not know, it is not my event, it is in his mind and it is his party’s NDC. The keynote address of the day belongs to Musalia’s party, ANC and those of us who are his political partners, we will be there to augment and support whatever he says.

At some point there was talk of a merger between ANC and Ford-Kenya. What became of that?

We consulted our members and it was clear from both sides that they desired the association and the unity of purpose.

Less than 10 per cent, however, wanted the parties wound up and coalesce into one. That is how we decided to defend the identity of our parties but work together.

You sat in the Serena team that birthed the National Accord. What is the untold story around the tough negotiations that brought the coalition government following the post-election violence?

My memoir is being written and I can tell you Serena talks were a defining moment for me. The country had slipped into an abyss, people were dying and properties destroyed.

I always salute the wisdom of Mzee Kibaki, at the time I was the Foreign Affairs minister and he sent me to various foreign capitals with messages of assurance to our critical partners. I believe and still do that Mzee Kibaki had won that election but with a narrow margin.

The ODM team believed differently. When a team was assembled in Serena, I was in Addis Ababa. I came back and joined them.

The President told me to look for the AU chairman, John Kufuor, and it is me and him that we mooted the names of Kofi Annan, Grace Machel and Benjamin Mkapa representing eminent persons of the continent. They are the ones we thought could help.

For Kofi Annan, chairman Kufuor reached out to him even before I reached Kumasi and he agreed to assist. This was obviously going through the concurrence of the protagonists and antagonists, President Kibaki and Mr Odinga who had been the candidates for PNU and ODM. They were reached out to by Mr Kufuor. In the process of mediation, we had many ups and downs, and at one time things nearly got out of hand.

First, they went to the lowest level, and I raised it with Kofi Annan and in concurrence with everyone else to take it to Kilaguni where we were away from the glare of camera. We were able to make milestones, we came back but things broke down again.

I then advised Mzee Kibaki that we needed more external interventions. We went back to the AU and the new chairman, President Jakaya Kikwete. We persuaded him not to leave the country until we had made some progress.

It broke the camel’s back and by staying back, he was able to get Kibaki and Raila to sit.

Mzee Kibaki excluded everyone from his negotiation team, I was probably the only one in the limited know. In ODM, it was Orengo.

There was the Attorney-General who was the chief legal officer who would be the guarantor of any legal document which would come out of this process. We finally reached the final agreements that led to a constitution amendment that led us to where we are.

The late President Benjamin Mkapa in his book says that at some point they had to exclude DP Ruto from ODM’s side and Martha Karua from the PNU side for a deal to be brokered…

The feeling from President Mkapa and Kofi Annan was that honourable Karua was a bit abrasive and Ruto was a bit rigid with defence of their positions and its rightly so because they had a brief.

Like lawyers going to court to defend their clients, they may be tough but they get their messages across. If President Mkapa noted that Karua and Ruto were a bit strong on the issues they represented, and had to be excluded briefly, that is not an unfair comment.

My team leader on PNU side was Martha Karua and from ODM, it was Orengo.

In the course of negotiations, I am sure there was the original brief from each side, the irreducible minimums, what were some of those?

I know of ours, there was President Kibaki and PNU had won and that there would be no challenge to his presidency and we secured that.

Two, it was having no challenge to the ultimate conclusion that they would be no call for a fresh election, we succeeded on that.

Third, Kibaki was reluctant to drop basic structure of the arrangement we initially had, and to sacrifice any of his senior lieutenants like myself. I remained in Foreign Affairs, Karua remained in Justice and several others like Saitoti remained where they were. Our irreducible minimums were achieved and I do not know if the ODM had any.

You have worked with Kibaki and the late Moi, any comment on their leadership styles?

The difference is like day and night. Mzee Moi was hands on. You saw him walk across the country, from village to village. He also had his style of appointing and sacking people at 4 o’clock news and he kept everybody on their toes. President Kibaki was different. He was aloof, did his work, a lot of his reading. Whenever you went to brief him, you would find him alone, reading national briefs from ministries and so on. He also never entertained people to sit around him and tell him stories about others. You remember President Moi, lunch at State House was a public event, he would instruct his controller to call some people for lunch. You go there thinking you are alone but you find 10 other people and while there, matters of State are discussed. This never happened with President Kibaki who left his ministers to do their work and wait for you to consult or advise him.

He would then choose to take or not take your advice. He would listen to you and the intrusive nature of a hands on president that Moi had, was absent with Kibaki. Kibaki focused majorly on how to improve the economy and I think the green years of Kenya were between 2002 and 2013 even after the 2008 upheavals.

You represented some of the soldiers involved in the 1982 botched coup, was it an act of boldness or you were part of the system?

Yes, I represented some of the soldiers including Hezekiah Ochuka, the ring leader of the 1982 coup that happened on August 2. Okumu, his partner and many others. Those were the good old days. I was a very young lawyer who had just finished law school. The coup actually found us at the law school, then I was posted out as a magistrate, where I did not last long because I saw little challenges in my career growth. So I resigned and teamed up with two former classmates and a friend called Jaffer to start our own firm. You remember Ochuka had flown to Dar es Salam and together with his friends they were brought back six months later.

Everybody shied away from representing them. My instructing client then was Mzee Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. He sent out word to me. When I met him, he told me all senior lawyers had refused to take up that case and said, “young man, take courage, this is how people grow, go and represent these boys.” I went in and I believe I did a sterling job. I lost the case at the court martial, I went to the High Court, I put up a strong fight but we didn’t win. Along the way, some mutineers were prosecuted and I represented some on my own and others with Mr George Oraro and at some point, we represented Colonel Oburu who was sentenced to death but we acquitted him in High Court alongside many others. It was like learning how to swim by diving in the deep end.

Some say the nomination may show that you kept a backchannel with Moi even as you represented the soldiers. Or how else did he know you before the mutiny?

He knew me as a courageous lawyer. It was in the first private TV station in Kenya, KTN, that we used to appear in debates and in 1987, there were serious disturbances in University of Nairobi that resulted in its closure and we represented the students who were arrested namely Mwandawiro Mghanga, Mazrui, Kabando wa Kabando. For the first time KTN was covering proceedings and I am sure Mzee Moi was watching.

Also, as a President, he had many ways of finding my number. The first thing he told me when he called was congratulations and I asked him what I had done. He said I had been identified for nomination to parliament and I should go see him the next day so that he could advise me.

He told me multi-party opposition had brought to parliament many changes and a dreadful team and he feared he could not match Paul Muite, Raila Odinga, James Orengo, Kiraitu Murungi, Martha Karua, Mukhisa Kituyi and others. There was a very mercurial debater called Prof Rashid from Coast and Moi said this team would overrun his team and he needed a few good young people who can be able to put up a good account of his government when things are on the floor. I did very well in parliament and the Hansard report can show that.

The argument about sanitising the court process does not hold water. You can look for Col. Oburu, he still lives in Kisumu. He had been sentenced to the hangman’s noose, but we got him out. That cannot be sanitising. Again, it was a pro bono brief.

You are said to be one of the richest Kenyans, how much is your net worth?

I am not in that description by any remote imagination. I am not. Whatever I have and own can only be a subject of discussion if it is in a process that requires it to be done. I have been in public life for all these years and I live a modest life. I am glad God has blessed me to be where I am. The little I own I am grateful and the little I desire to own; I pray for it.

Azimio is propping up Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya as a possible replacement for you and Musalia in western, what are your thoughts on this mission?

It will be a miserable and regrettable failure. It will not work because the leaders of any region and communities are not imposed by outsiders. They are leaders of the people themselves and there is no way, I have told this to Cotu leader Francis Atwoli, you do not go with Congolese musicians to Bukhungu and think that that way you can create leaders, it will not work. And you can see it has not worked.

What are your views on polygamy?

I have no problem with polygamy. Polygamy itself is not an African term, where it came from, it was practised.


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