Youth for Kanu ’92

A poster for the launch of Youth for Kanu ’92. 

| File | Nation Media Group

Some 30 years later, the YK’92 veterans still crow for attention

What you need to know:

  • YK ’92 is a case study of political silence, memory lapse, and selective amnesia.
  • Muite said the lobby was formed to ‘distribute Sh25 billion to buy Kanu’s victory’.

In 1992, at a time when President Daniel Arap Moi was being besieged by the opposition, he had come to admire one young man: Cyrus Jirongo. In the woods of State House, Nairobi, the two would take a walk comparing notes on the fortunes and fate of Kanu – on who to trust, and which star to dim.

Kanu was like a deserted citadel, or as Butere MP Martin Shikuku told a rally, “only fools have been left there” . But that was before they caught up with him.

At the State House waiting room, Jirongo, the Youth for Kanu ’92 chairman, would easily jump the queue and leave ministers, technocrats, and Kanu’s all-hat-no-cattle bigwigs watch the new lad about town get close attention.

That way, and with hubris to his side, he obviously stepped on many toes, literally and figuratively. And from then, he carried the baggage of what was all wrong with the Moi regime; some on his own making, and some from the ruins of Kanu empire.

It all started over a drink at Boulevard on January 5, 1992 when some five friends – Joe Kimkung, Fred Kiptanui, Joe Mwangale, Sammy Kogo and Victor Kebenei – hatched the YK ’92 idea in order to popularise Kanu among the youth.

That evening, they proposed Cyrus Jirongo to be the chairman and soon the team had ballooned to 23 individuals who included the likes of Micah Kigen and Patrick Musumba, and who formed the founding circle – mostly made up of children of the elite, who did not wish to take leadership roles, or well-connected homeboys.

For over eight hours on March 7, 1992, the Nyayo National Stadium was a hive of activity as the previously unheard of youth for Kanu was launched officially by George Saitoti, then Vice President.

In the initial meetings, President Moi’s children – Gideon, June and Jonathan – would be in attendance as the lobby hatched plans to raise money. By then, current Deputy President William Ruto, then 24, had been picked to head the secretariat having been seconded from running errands at Dr Julia Ojiambo’s Women and Youth Affairs office at KICC.

To digress, Ruto was among the students who headed the University of Nairobi Kanu sub-branches and would occasionally organise trips to State House or Kabarnet Gardens – and during holidays they would be employed in either Kanu headquarters or in various parastatals.

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, now an ally of Dr Ruto, used to head one such outfit and was best known for organising university trips through then Mathira MP Davidson Kuguru or through the Vice Chancellor, Prof Philip Mbithi. Those who were at the university of Nairobi’s main campus know the full story and Prof Mbithi used to write recommendations letters seconding Kanu members to the party.

But to YK ’92 and as Jirongo gained more confidence, June Moi would cease to be the link and Jirongo was given direct access to the President and would brief him personally on what they were doing.

Currency note nickname

These days, Jirongo says he has continued to pay for other people’s sins. The man who ran the YK ’92 office, William Ruto, is perhaps the success story of the lobby having outlived all the others who either died, or fell by the wayside.

If you asked the Democratic Party chairman, Mwai Kibaki, the YK ’92 - as it was popularly known - was nothing but a “private army” that had been formed “to terrorise Kenyans”. Kibaki also alleged that the organisation was siphoning money out of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). That was later confirmed to be true. Lawyer Paul Muite would later say that the group was formed to “distribute Sh25 billion to buy Kanu’s victory”.

What we know is that the YK’92 emerged at a time when the country was awash with the new Sh500 note which was known as “Jirongo’ and as inflation rose by 100 per cent. That YK ’92 was distributing cash was well known. No other person in Kenya has ever had a currency note nicknamed after him – not even Kamlesh Pattni.

At one point, in 1992, when the Daily Nation questioned some Kanu excesses, and reported that the Catholic bishops had confronted Moi at State House over tribal clashes in Molo, the YK ’92 engineered the resignation of some junior editors and correspondents who called a press conference and claimed that they have quit due to ‘tribalism’.

The archaeology of Kanu, especially its last decade in power, is the history of sleaze. That nobody has ever served jail for that is one of the legacies of Amos Wako, the attorney-general of many years who had turned his office into a Toshogu Shinto shrine – where the carvings of three famous 'See no evil, hear no evil, and say no evil' monkeys are found.

Thirty years later, and a few days after the anniversary of its launch on March 6, 1992, the truth about Youth for Kanu ’92 depends on whom you ask – and at what point in their political life. YK ’92 is a case study of political silence, memory lapse, and selective amnesia. Those involved select what to remember and what to forget.

Last month, during a rally in Machakos County, Jirongo, for the first time, and in public, complained that he had been left to carry the collapse of the economy in 1992 alone – yet the people who were behind the Goldenberg scandal, which siphoned money out of Treasury, have not carried the same.
Besides having selective amnesia on what Youth for Kanu ’92 did, Jirongo was of course cautious not to spill the beans and continues with the finger-pointing tradition about the group and its role.

Of course he won’t remember that, at 32, he would be invited into the National Security Council meetings and eavesdrop as Moi engaged the likes of General  Mahmoud Mohammed, Chief of General Staff, or the Spy chief William Kivuvani, who had replaced James Kanyotu in 1992.

Historian Charles Hornsby says “YK’92 served as the president’s hit team during the primaries, and helped to remove ineffective or compromised incumbents in order to maximise Moi’s vote.” He further observes that “its campaign was personalised around Moi, and (that) many district Kanu bosses distrusted it.”

Attack on Jirongo

This is actually true for just before the elections, and in early November 1992, the attack on Jirongo started from Shariff Nassir’s Mombasa branch when some officials led by Shaban Gamema and J. Ndolo, called on the YK ’92 officials to resign arguing that the group was “clearly not interested in campaigning for the president... they have taken President Moi for a big ride. They use money very lavishly and squander it while it is supposed to be used in campaigning for President Moi.  All those members have gone there to loot, forgetting that at the end of the day, Kanu and President Moi will be the losers.” They accused Jirongo of having no time with branch officials “yet they had time to drink with ministers”.

By the time Jirongo and his wad of notes arrived, Kanu was facing a possible ouster from the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford), the lobby-turned-political party. Moi had been deserted by his close allies – but still held all the instruments of power. He could dissolve Parliament at will, pick the electoral commissioners alone, and run the electoral shows as a player and as a referee. But among his remaining disciples, only a few would stage a demonstration in support of Kanu.

But with the arrival of YK  ’92 and its sister, Operation Moi Wins led by Evans Ondieki, now a Nairobi lawyer. It was Ondieki who had the guts to tell a conference in Embu: “There is nothing to hide. We are going to pour an amount of money never seen before to ensure President Moi is voted in again.”
Indeed, the YK’92 infiltrated the opposition ensnaring the likes of Martin Shikuku and Michael Wamalwa – who would feed the lobby with information about the opposition. Shikuku’s visit to State House was made public and he claimed to have only eaten “ugali”.

It was these groups that declared some parts of Kenya as “Kanu zones” and made sure that the opposition parties were violently stopped from conducting rallies. The disruption of opposition campaigns in Kanu zones, as Micah Kigen once revealed, was coordinated by the YK secretariat under Ruto.

For instance, Kibaki’s convoy was attacked in Sotik, Kericho, while armed youth stopped him from entering Moi’s Bridge. His rally in Kapsabet was also cancelled by the District Commissioner. The move would later backfire on Kanu since it had been ethnicised and contained in small pockets.
In order to hide its source of cash, YK ’92 – which was never registered – organised for a “funds drive” which raised a paltry Sh2 million. Moi gave his donation of Sh100,000. The guest of honour was the chairman of Kenya Commercial Bank, Ahmed Abdulla.

Much of the money would come from the Goldenberg scheme, the NSSF and sale of government plots to parastatals as the economy went through motions of sleaze and as organised crime took root.

But it was the place of Jirongo after the 1992 elections that seemed to scare the Bad Boys of Baringo. There were other complaints: For instance, YK had started infiltrating the party branches and at one point, the Minister for Labour, Philip Masinde complained that Dr Julia Ojiambo, then Kanu’s Director for Women and Youth Affairs, was secretly trying to open YK ’92 branches in Busia and infiltrate it.

Jirongo was said to have lobbied for the appointment of Musalia Mudavadi as Vice President in place of Prof Saitoti but, as Moi was about to make the move, somebody realised that he was only 32 and was not qualified. That is how Mudavadi ended up at the Treasury and Prof Saitoti went to Home Affairs, according to insiders.

But after the Moi victory, Moi did not want the lobby to become a new centre of power. More so, his lieutenants were also uncomfortable. Jirongo, the outsider, would carry that cross – as his company Sololo Outlets, which had been involved in several NSSF projects, started to feature in many other scandals.

Thirty years later, the political terrain is still littered with the same YK ’92 veterans jostling for space. For as the more things change, the more they remain the same. A case of same monkeys different forests. Cry my beloved country.

[email protected]; @johnkamau1