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When Mount Kenya Mafia took charge of Kibaki’s State House

After the swearing-in at Uhuru Park, we felt that we had met our objective. Our party had won and we were going to form the next government.

It felt great! Retiring President Moi preceded us to State House, where a helicopter awaited to fly him out for good.

He was seen off by the then Head of the Civil Service, Dr Sally Kosgey, who was overcome with emotion and cried uncontrollably.

It was with high spirits that we drove to State House. Getting through the gates was a problem as security officers did not know some of us.

We considered that a minor setback but, eventually, we got in. Like earlier in the day at Uhuru Park, there was confusion in seating arrangements; all the more complicated by the presence of the Summit members, strong supporters of the President, foreign dignitaries and ambassadors. It was chaotic!

Prior to the swearing-in, we had agreed between the leaders of both NAK and the LDP that the Summit and a few members of co-ordinating committees would meet immediately after the luncheon at State House.

I was mandated by the Summit members to approach the new President soon after lunch to arrange for a meeting between him and them to work out how to implement the MoU.

FAMILIAR FACES

As we sat down for lunch at State House, somehow, I felt uneasy. None of the familiar faces of the Summit members, chairmen of co-ordinating committees and other senior colleagues with whom we had traversed the country (hobnobbed in committee meetings since October and were very much involved in the day-to-day running of the campaign) had any role at State House that day.

While we had the impression that the luncheon was organised by the government as State House functions are, we discovered that the lunch had been sponsored and organised by DP elders, chaired by my long-time friend, Mr Joe Wanjui.

It was not lost on us that the elders had been at the forefront of fundraising for Mr Kibaki. I had met them and had worked closely with Mr Wanjui at the Kibaki Centre.

They were all very pleasant individuals who did not attend our meetings – boardroom-like political committees or public rallies. Their concern was logistics.

There had been no warning of their role at State House and the way forward. Were we being sidelined so early in an enterprise in which we had sacrificed so much to make happen?

FEARED FOR THE WORST

A chill went through my body as I feared for the worst. Something seemed wrong.

Mr Wanjui made a very humorous speech. He spoke in metaphors but I remember that, among other things, he quoted something that had happened in the USA years ago where there was a campaign for one of the state governors. The gubernatorial candidate had marshalled a strong team which successfully installed him into the governor’s mansion.

The next day, two of his hard-working associates excitedly called on the phone to ask whether they could drop by. He took the call and gave some excuse but asked them to call again.

Two days later, they called again and he let his chief of staff give some excuse. The third time they called, the governor could not even remember their names.

Joe hoped that would not happen in Mr Kibaki’s period at State House.

STARTED LEAVING

After the lunch and before the guests started leaving, I quickly walked to the President to remind him of the proposed meeting with the Summit members.

Suddenly, a well-dressed man I had never met before came and said Mzee was very tired and needed a rest.

I discovered later that he was Kibaki’s physiotherapist. Of course, we were all aware of the health situation of the President.

In fact, we saw him almost on a daily basis for briefing since he returned from England.

So, I looked straight at the President and asked him what I should do and he told me we would talk about it the following day.

PRESIDENT GOING HOME

That answer did not satisfy me. I needed to know where we would meet and at what time. The President said that his people would let me know but I still wanted to know who would let me know. Then my heart sunk. I remembered Joe Wanjui’s analogy earlier.

A moment later, another old and dear friend of mine, Matere Keriri, stepped in and told me that the President was going home to Muthaiga and that they would let me know about the meeting.

Without much ado, President Mwai Kibaki was wheeled away. As that was going on, members of the Summit were waiting for the promised meeting.

Lawyer Ambrose Rachier was also present and had with him the original copy of the MoU.

I walked back to where the Summit members were waiting and told them that the President said he was not feeling well. Therefore, the meeting had been postponed.

They insisted I had to go to Kibaki’s home at Muthaiga to get his confirmation on when we would hold the agreed meeting, adding that they would be waiting for my word.

VERY AGITATED

The next day, I found many GSU officers guarding the President’s home. There were many people waiting to see him. Among them was his long-time ally, Charity Ngilu, who was very agitated that she had not been allowed into the home she had frequented so many times in the past.

Ngilu can get emotional. Right then, she was very upset and even ready for battle.

Matere Keriri came out of the house and told the GSU officers to let me in.

Things were moving so fast without the Summit’s knowledge that I felt dizzy. What was the role of my friend Matere Keriri? I wondered.

Ngilu jumped into my car and we entered the home together. When I finally met with Kibaki, I told him that the Summit members wanted to meet and congratulate him on his victory.

I added that they also needed to discuss with him about the things we had committed ourselves to when we had all agreed to campaign for him.

SURPRISE VISIT

I told him mine was not a surprise visit. Rather, I had come to let him know that the entire Summit would be coming to see him the following day.

Besides the MoU, there were a number of issues we had agreed to handle together on behalf of those who supported us from various quarters. One of them was to form a transition committee.

We needed a committee to work with the out-going government so that there was a smooth transition of administration.

We had appointed Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o as chairman of the committee. I told the President that the committee was ready and needed his authority to go to the various ministries, parastatals and other government agencies to organise a smooth handover.

Before the President could answer me, Charity Ngilu waded in. She wanted the President’s assurance there and then that he was going to effect the promises he had given to women during the campaign period.

ONE THIRD GENDER RULE

Our manifesto said that there would be a one-third gender rule in public appointments and Ngilu wanted this reflected in Cabinet appointments.

She also wanted to make sure that women would be awarded a fair share in the 12 parliamentary nominations to which NARC was entitled.

She was told that Dr Julia Ojiambo and Betty Tett had already been promised appointments as nominated MPs. She insisted that the name of Cecily Mbarire be added to the list.

I also added the name of Njoki Ndung’u, with whom I had worked very smoothly.

Although Charity Ngilu was listened to and received well by the President, I could see that she was still very upset by the way she was treated at the gate.

I got the feeling that their close relationship had changed. Trust is very easy to break. A meeting was agreed for the next day and I informed all members of the Summit to be at Muthaiga at the appointed time.

SERVE ONLY ONE TERM

Within the Summit, the Ford-Kenya wing wanted a definite undertaking by the President that he would serve for only one term and leave the seat to their man, Kijana Wamalwa.

We were not aware of this arrangement within LDP. When I reminded Ford-Kenya that this was not part of the MoU, they felt offended and this soured my relationship with them.

I was seemingly never forgiven for this. The Summit was supposed to agree on the names of those the President should appoint as Cabinet Ministers.

We had agreed on a lean cabinet of twenty-four. The NAK wing would have 12 and LDP 12. Raila was to prepare LDP’s 12 and Kijana Wamalwa NAK’s 12. When we met the President at Muthaiga, we handed him the lists.

The next day, the President named his first Cabinet. About four of our nominees had been left out and new people, who did not even participate in the campaign, were given full ministerial positions.

Further, although the President was supposed to appoint Raila Amolo Odinga Prime Minister in accordance with the MoU, he did not.

STRESSED EQUALITY

After the Cabinet was named, Summit members were still not discouraged. We thought we still had time and that everything would be ironed out in due course.

The MoU had stressed the word equality. It was very clear in the MoU that the NAK side would get 50 per cent of the ministerial positions and LDP the other 50 per cent.

This extended to parastatal appointments and diplomatic posts. However, it was stated that only the names of qualified personnel would be accepted. We wanted to end the culture of tribal domination and give everyone a piece of the national cake.

All the people named as Ministers rushed to see their offices and to pick their official transport the same day. I was appointed Minister for Home Affairs.

I could not have done better if I had been asked to choose. The Ministry was responsible for departments handling issues I had already been involved with such as children, prisons and people with special needs.

Ali Korane, the Permanent Secretary, welcomed me to the office I was destined to occupy for five years at Jogoo House.

FIXED APPOINTMENT

The Ministry was big — with 13 departments. Korane immediately organised a meeting in the boardroom where he introduced all heads of departments and other senior officials to me.

Although all the ministers and their assistants hit the ground running, the matter of the Summit members sitting with the President to go over the MoU remained unresolved.

I was constantly reminded by my colleagues to contact State House and fix a meeting with the President.

My friend Matere Keriri had been officially appointed State House Comptroller. I called him and sought an appointment.

He invited me to State House to see him alone the next day. When I saw him, he informed me that he had not fixed any appointment for the Summit to see the President.

He told me flatly that there was no longer any place or need for the Summit since the President had already formed a Cabinet.

FREE SERVICES

He then jokingly asked me whether as chairman of the Summit, I would be calling and chairing the Summit meetings with the President attending as a member, not sitting at the head of the table.

A month earlier, my dispirited friend Matere had humbly approached us at Kibaki Centre to offer his free services to the campaign and, as old friends, we worked together amicably.

How things change! I explained to him that the Summit was not a permanent feature. It had a lifespan. I insisted that if the MoU was implemented in full and in an honourable manner, the Summit would immediately be dissolved.

Although our discussions were carried out in a friendly and jovial mood, my friend was quite categorical that the Summit had no place in the government. I asked him about the MoU and he just laughed, then asked me, “What about it?” That ended our meeting.

I duly informed the other members of the situation. It was at that time that I realised we had been duped. All those signatures on the MoU were a charade! They were not worth the paper they were on. Trouble was brewing; the political tiger was on the prowl, seeking whom to devour.

CAMPAIGNED HARDEST
The people who had campaigned the hardest for NARC and sacrificed the most soon found out that they could no longer even secure an appointment to see the President.

During my subsequent visits to State House, I saw new faces I had never seen during the campaigns. Even some Cabinet appointees were total strangers to the NARC campaign.

At least people like Kiraitu Murungi, David Mwiraria and Matu Wamae had been with us in the trenches and it was reasonable for them to be at the centre of things.

As January rolled on, the nagging feeling I had been fighting in my mind crystallised into the realisation that there was betrayal in the land.

It was an unfortunate turn of events because we could very easily have avoided going that route.

The seed of bitterness sown at this time within the NARC leadership would be with us for a very long time and the country would later pay a very steep price for it. None among the top NARC leadership was even talking about the promised new constitution any more, let alone delivering it in 100 days.

SIMMERING DISCONTENT
Although there was simmering discontent within the government, none of those who felt betrayed let it affect their performance; causing the public at large to be very optimistic and exuberant.

The slogan, “Yote yawezekana bila Moi (all is possible without Moi)” continued to be the rallying cry. People still believed we would push through a new constitution within 100 days as we had promised.

We kept the discontent quiet. The fight against graft started with what was called a radical surgery of the Judiciary.

The public was so enthusiastic in the fight against corruption that they started arresting policemen suspected of taking bribes.

They monitored civil servants and reported cases of graft. There was a lot of goodwill in the land and if we had cultivated it further by treating one another honourably, we would have made Kenya a model country in the world.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

The sense of goodwill in the country, particularly in Central Province, was exemplified about a month later when the President travelled to Nyeri accompanied by Raila Odinga.

In every place their entourage stopped in Central Kenya, people wanted to see and hear Raila speak. They gathered in long queues, calling him “njamba” (Gikuyu for hero). There were high expectations everywhere.

***
In spite of the unfinished business of the MoU, the entire Cabinet was in a celebratory mood after the appointments.

We started holding what are called “homecoming parties”. The first one I attended was in Mwingi town for David Musila, who had been elected the Deputy Speaker.

The party was well attended and I interacted closely, for the first time, with some NARC ministers and government appointees I had not met nor seen before.

The next party was Dr Mukhisa Kituyi’s at his rural home in Tongareni. He chartered a plane to ferry many colleagues, whom I joined from Nairobi; again, I met many more new MPs at the party.

I followed suit and hosted my own party at my home in Funyula on 24 January, 2003. I invited many people and those from Western and Nyanza Provinces made their own transport arrangements.

In addition, I chartered a 26-seater aircraft in which I flew with some of my special guests from other parts of the country and landed at the Busia airstrip, which is not well maintained as it is rarely used other than by the Flying Doctors Service. We had to circle the airstrip twice while our supporters, waiting below, struggled to move away cattle that were grazing there.

JUBILANT CROWD
After the obligatory impromptu public address to the jubilant crowd, we drove to my home in a convoy of about 50 vehicles accompanied by the aircraft’s two young pilots and two hostesses.

We had a great time. By 4pm, we dispersed and I escorted my guests back to the Busia airstrip to bid them farewell.

After they were seated in the aircraft, they realised that two passengers were missing. As the engines revved for take-off, the missing duo (Labour Minister, Ahmed Khalif and Omar Shariff Hussein, who had stopped at a nearby mosque to pray) arrived. They soon boarded.

As the aircraft started taxing for take-off, we all could see something was not quite right. The speed was not right for take-off. We could sense trouble.

Eventually, it took off awkwardly with one wing touching the ground. It clumsily rose in the air and flew for about one minute, then it got entangled in some electricity lines just outside the airstrip’s perimeter.

It was a traumatising experience. There were many people watching and there was a sense of helplessness because we could not do anything about the situation. Then the aeroplane crashed on top of a newly-built house, just a few metres from the airstrip. Luckily, the owner had not moved in.

RESCUE THE PLANE
After a paralysis of probably not more than a few seconds, but which seemed like a lifetime, we all rushed to the scene to rescue the people in the plane.

Mercifully, there was no explosion hence no fire. The plane was hanging from the gables of the house. We could see fuel leaking from the plane, yet among the rescuers, there was somebody smoking.

A school girl in uniform grabbed the fellow and quickly put out the cigarette. The typical Kenyan behaviour of rising to the occasion during tragedies came into play.

Within no time, the injured had been evacuated; some of them badly injured. Martha Karua, Dr Wanjiru Kihoro, Jebii Kilimo, Robinson Githae, George Khaniri and Ahmed Khalif were rushed to Busia District Hospital. We could not find Raphael Tuju.

KERIRI When Mount Kenya Mafia took charge of Kibaki’s State House

Former State House Comptroller Matere Keriri making a point at an earlier event. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Surprisingly, he had dropped out of the crashing aeroplane and had seemingly walked about in a daze when somehow somebody got him to Tanaka Hospital, a private facility nearby.

We had a few tense moments looking for him. Tragically, the two young and cheerful pilots had perished in the crash. Equally sad, on reaching the Busia District Hospital, the Minister for Labour, Ahmed Khalif, was pronounced dead.

After evacuating everyone from the scene, we called the Flying Doctors Service to airlift those who needed specialised treatment to Nairobi. Dr Wanjiru Kihoro was in a coma.

***

The non-implementation of the MoU and the feeling that the LDP wing had been taken for a ride were the issues that made Raila Odinga very outspoken. Equally, all MPs from Luo Nyanza, except Raphael Tuju, were very angry at the raw deal the LDP wing received.

We decided to organise a get-together of all NARC MPs for what the media called a bonding session at Mount Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki.

The President was still unwell and so the Vice President chaired the meeting. I was his assistant by virtue of being chairman of the moribund Summit, which was almost dead then. I had worked with almost all personalities from the NAK wing and had cultivated good relationships from across the board.

START DELIBERATIONS

On arrival at Mount Kenya Safari Club late in the evening, the air was full of camaraderie.

We all assembled in the main meeting room and prepared to start deliberations, Raila’s penchant for drama came to the fore.

Just as we had settled for the plenary session, we heard the sound of the rotor blades of a helicopter.

There was commotion in the room and all MPs from Luo Nyanza suddenly abandoned the meeting and rushed out.

Raila was making his entry. He seemingly meant everything to those MPs. While I sympathised with him for having been shortchanged in our bid to have the MoU implemented, such theatrics could easily jeopardise the delicate situation in NARC.

BONDING SESSION

The NAK wing was not making matters any easier. The Mount Kenya Safari Club meeting was supposed to be a bonding session.

However, during the first session, hardline positions taken by a contingent of the NAK wing equally met hardline attitudes from Raila’s side. As a result, the relationship among government ministers momentarily soured. We managed, however, to bring calm, called a truce and left Nanyuki seemingly united.

It did not take long before the din to revisit the MoU increased, especially from Luo Nyanza and Western MPs. Many ministers and other leaders from these regions started feeling that they were being excluded from the decision-making centre of a government they had worked so hard to put into power.

The term “Mount Kenya Mafia” was coined to describe the small group of people who had now exclusively surrounded the sick President and were blocking access to him.

I foresaw big problems ahead.
The President had promised to be accessible to all his ministers but he was breaking his word.

PLUM POSTS

Things fell further apart when parastatal chiefs were appointed in a very disproportionate way, with a number of the strategic and plum posts going to individuals from Central Province. Some were, however, qualified to hold the positions. But that was not the point. There were equally eminently qualified people from the LDP wing.

Among the very qualified in the Central Province team of appointees was Eddy Njoroge, who had really slaved for the NARC campaigns at Kibaki Centre.

He was appointed CEO of KenGen.

Joe Wanjui, a former successful prince of industry, was appointed Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, which he also deserved as he had done much work mobilising resources for NARC campaigns.

Nick Wanjohi, who was appointed Vice Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agri­culture and Technology (JKUAT) and, of course, Matere Keriri as State House Controller also deserved it.

Some appointees were neither qualified nor had they contributed much to the campaigns. It was this latter group of non-deserving Central Province appointees that created bad blood among some Cabi­net colleagues.

SKEWED APPOINTMENTS

The skewed appointments were the final nail in the coffin of the NARC house. It was neither the 50/50 of NAK/LDP formula previously agreed, nor did it reflect the face of Kenya.

Raila had very high expectations and trusted Kibaki but he then felt he had been given a raw deal.

He had been denied any chance to reward his own people and he was sharpening the knives, ready for battle.

Raila evokes only two emotions in people: passionate fanatical blind loyalty, on one hand, or passionate hate on the other.

There is no middle way. The man seems to thrive on it and he is not fazed by it. Although the NARC Cabinet hit the ground running in 2003 and performed effectively, sibling type of infighting was the order of the day. Martha Karua and Kiraitu Murungi separately, for instance, and a few others including opposition members were always at war with Raila.

Only President Kibaki succeeded in ignoring those emotions with his inscrutable silence. I too had no problem with Raila. I had to frequently host them to dinner at my house to quell the infightings.

On Monday: Untold story behind the surprise appointment of Mr Moody Awori as Vice President and perspectives on the worst political violence in Kenya’s history that followed the 2007 elections.

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