Moses Muhia. (File)
Two decades after pulling a fast one on Uhuru Kenyatta during his inaugural bid into elective politics, the man who postponed the young Kenyatta’s dream has finally spoken.
Moses Muhia, the former Gatundu South MP (1997-2002) has admitted tricking the future President into slowing down his campaign, leading to a massive defeat.
On Christmas Eve of 1997, violent protests beset Gatundu town after Muhia reportedly went missing. The man had been pulled off the race through a political deal, but like a stubborn gadfly he wouldn’t budge.
A kidnap theory was spurn and sold to the press, whose publication spread like bush fire, leading to a serious revolt against the Kenyattas on the ground.
When we spoke to Muhia about the kidnapping story, he was a little hesitant to discuss history. However, when we convinced him, he admitted to “playing games” with Uhuru’s team at the time but denied pocketing any of their money.
“Politics being the art of the possible, you have to look at all routes when you are eyeing a political seat. I did what I had to do to secure victory,” he admitted without elaborating. He says there was no way he was going to drop from the race. Muhia explained that since he was running against “giants” he had to cover himself up with some bit of intelligence.
“My ambition was high and they were trying to stop me. Since I knew they were mighty, I played with their minds and gave them every impression that I was out of the race. In my place, my team was on the ground educating the voters,” he says.
David Kigochi, an ex-tourism official and now the leader of Farmers Party, was central to the negotiations for Muhia to drop from the race. He recalls the events of that eventful Christmas which changed the fortunes for a young Uhuru Kenyatta.
“He (Muhia) called Nation’s Mutegi Njau and told him he had been kidnapped by State House operatives working in cahoots with the Kenyatta family. Immediately after those who pressured him to call left, he informed us and we congregated in my town office, the three of us – Uhuru, Muhia and myself,” Kigochi says.
From Room 108 of Ruprani House off Moktar Dadah Street in the city, the team engaged Daily Nation to drop the story. Luckily for them, Nation informed them they were waiting on Muhia to physically present himself to the newsroom so that they can confirm and run the story.
And since they had Muhia with them, they knew the story would never be authenticated. So they basically downed whiskies, smoked cigarettes and devoured chicken wings as the day wore off and the “Noel night” beckoned. “Unfortunately, one of Muhia’s wives was a relation of one of the bosses at Nation at the time. She was able to confirm that indeed Muhia had not been going home for those particular days and I guess riding on that confirmation, they belatedly decided to go with the story… we were devastated,” Kigochi says.
The following day, the Nation screamed on its front page “Missing candidate in hiding” with an ugly main picture of wild protestors burning tyres in Gatundu town to boot.
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In the story, Muhia said he had been kidnapped, taken to State House where he was ordered to step down in favour of Uhuru “because President Moi had promised to deliver the seat to the Kenyatta family.”
“That headline finished us. I remember it was Christmas day and I was supposed to take my family to Naivasha. I couldn’t. We spent the whole day fire-fighting. We got Muhia to issue a press statement, drafted before my own eyes and Uhuru’s in my office. We even went to KBC studios with Muhia but it was too late,” Kigochi says.
On Boxing Day, Nation ran a story tucked in the middle of page two, headlined “Candidate denies he was coerced.” In the story, Muhia recanted every single bit of the story, disowned the protests and apologised to Gatundu residents “who may have been inconvenienced by the protests.”
“I want to take this earliest opportunity to deny the report and state that my absence from Gatundu had nothing whatsoever to do with kidnapping,” his said in the statement. A copy of the statement is still kept at Kigochi’s Ruprani House archives.
The report by Mburu Mwangi added, rather unconvinced: “Observers believe Mr Muhia, a quantity surveyor, was making a retreat apparently because pressure has been mounting for him to step down from what Kanu believes would be the easiest seat to take in opposition-dominated Central province.”
Kigochi admits that indeed was true. In fact, he says, Muhia was not supposed to be in the race in the first place as they had already paid him back his campaign spending before the December 2 nominations.
“We paid him off his expenses. I know because I personally handed over the money in my Parklands home. And he left his voters card with us. The idea was to get him disqualified at the nomination stage. He was rejected in Gatundu and asked to get a written authorisation from commission headquarters in Nairobi,” Kigochi says.
What shocked most, Kigochi says, is that when Muhia arrived at ECK headquarters in Nairobi, he found his letter ready and was able to deliver it back in Gatundu for clearance.
To this day, Kigochi believes, other powerful forces opposed to Kenyatta being introduced to national politics must have been at play in the race. Although cleared, Muhia had largely kept off the race.
Towards the disappearance period, renegotiations to have him withdraw commenced with State House operatives now involved. Kigochi still keeps the draft “withdrawal” letter they had prepared for Muhia on December 23, 1997 for onward transmission to the electoral commission. He backed off last minute after State House failed to facilitate second deal.
“If you are paid to drop you drop. I did not drop. I was to take the money later but since I did not quit, I never took the money,” Muhia told Sunday Standard.
When Muhia eventually went to Gatundu to address his wild supporters, he was convinced by the same forces to again claim he made his recantation statements under duress.
“Our goose was cooked,” Kigochi says with a nostalgic chuckle.
To add insult into the injury, Muhia’s team hatched another unsavory tactic of infiltrating Kenyatta’s campaign on the 11th hour. Teams of people supporting Muhia somehow acquired his campaign T-shirts and while donning them rode rough on people.
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On December 27, two days before the election, Uhuru printed out an alert in the Nation alerting Kenyans that some malicious people were on the loose with the aim of tarnishing his name.
Twenty years later, Muhia is now at peace with himself and history. He told us that he has since embraced the man he trounced through deceit and conspiracy.
“He is a straightforward person. He is the president we are going to miss.”