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VOLUME 18, NO. 1-2 (MAY-JULY 2003)

The 2002 Elections The Road Travelled, The Lessons Learned


Polarisation of politics in Kenya along ethnic lines

by Karega-Műnene

A significant number of Kenyans still remain puzzled about the fact that the self-appointed "professor of politics", Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, who was the second President of the Republic of Kenya, lost his "professorial acumen" towards the end of last year. Some suggest that it was not possible for him to beat the big brains in the opposition, especially after the brains united to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). Others argue that Moi was never a professor of politics in the first place. Rather, some of us regarded him as one because a number of our leading politicians and academics appeared to have believed in that lie. It was because of this belief that some people assumed they could only rise on the political ladder if one joined Moi and, by extension, the then ruling party, Kenya African National Union (KANU). This line of thinking aptly explains the dissolution of the National Development Party (NDP) at the KANU national delegates meeting at the Kasarani Sports Complex in March 2002.

Moi's Nyayo politics

I take the position that Moi was not the "professor of politics" he wanted us to believe, but a very keen student of the first President of Kenya, the late Jomo Kenyatta. Unfortunately, Moi was selective on what to copy from Kenyatta, namely, (1) self-preservation in politics, (2) insatiable greed for land and wealth, and (3) nepotism and tribalism. In this regard, we cannot accuse Moi of dishonesty when he promised us he would follow Kenyatta's footsteps (nyayo) when, on Kenyatta's death in August 1978, he assumed the presidency. Indeed Moi, the student, excelled in all three points of the lesson but failed miserably whenever he tried to be original. Examples of such failures abound: witness the Nyayo Milk project, Nyayo Wards, Nyayo Pioneer Car, Nyayo Tea Zones, Nyayo Buses, and more recently, the Uhuru Project.

When the Uhuru project failed, some of us could not believe that the "professor of politics" had failed. That is because Moi had succeeded in making a significant number of Kenyans suppose he was invincible. In actual fact, however, it was because we failed to appreciate that Moi only succeeded where he had something to copy from his predecessor, Kenyatta. As such, we failed to realize that Moi could not copy Kenyatta on presidential succession since Kenyatta did not in the real sense manage his own succession. Rather, Moi became President by virtue of Kenyatta's death.

While the extent of Kenyatta's and Moi's wealth remains unknown to the general public, there is no doubt that the two and their respective families are excessively rich. Since both Kenyatta and Moi are not famous for their acumen in business, one can only assume that their wealth accrued to them on account of their high office. This may explain why political power was so dear to them in their life. While Kenyatta's authority enabled him to hold on to office and to implement his wishes with considerable ease, Moi compensated for his lack of such authority by seeking legal backing and sometimes a semblance of such backing. For example, Kenyatta's authority enabled him to rule Kenya as a one-party state without amending the national constitution. In contrast, Moi found it necessary to amend the constitution to make Kenya a one-party state by law through the insertion of the infamous section 2A. In time, the one-party state became a one-man state as parliament, the cabinet, the judiciary, the civil service, the parastatal sector and public universities acquiesced to Moi's wishes.

Equally illustrative is the implementation of the infamous 1988 queue voting (mlolongo), which was specifically designed to rid Parliament of those who were regarded as disloyal to Moi. For this to happen, KANU amended its procedure for nominating candidates in that year's general election. This was enunciated in the booklet The Kenya African National Union nomination rules. Moi also unashamedly used state resources to buy loyalty in curious ways. He dished out loads of local currency notes to ordinary Kenyans he found on the roadside, regardless of whether they were minding their own business or waiting to catch a glimpse of him.

Since appointment to senior positions in the civil service and in the parastatal sector guaranteed high social status and wealth right from the days of independence, Moi, like Kenyatta, was not averse to appointing people from his village or ethnic group to those positions. Given the fact that there were only a handful of Tugen who could be appointed to those positions, Moi reached out to well educated people from the Nandi, the Kipsigis, the Keiyo, the Sabaot, the Pokot and the Marakwet, all of whom are considered to belong to one ethnic group, the Kalenjin. Eventually, Moi cast the net wider to include the Maasai, the Turkana and the Samburu, hence the coining of the acronym KAMATUSA. As a result of this redefinition of ethnic identity, a group of people in the former South Nyanza District, for example, disowned their hitherto widely recognised Luo identity and demanded recognition of their Suba ethnicity through the creation of the Suba District.

The birth of ethnic politics in Kenya

At this juncture one is tempted to ask how and when did ethnicity become such an important factor in our politics? At/ independence, for example, the current President of the Republic of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, and the late Thomas Joseph Mboya went to Parliament on cosmopolitan Nairobi tickets and Achieng Oneko on a cosmopolitan Nakuru ticket. Interestingly, rather than nurture the cosmopolitan politics of the time, the troika of Kenyan politics at the time: Kenyatta, Mboya and Oginga Odinga, as well as their disciples, quickly retreated to ethnic refuges in their attempt to consolidate their political influence. Consequently, tribal organisations like the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (GEMA), the Luo Union, the Akamba Union gained notoriety as political platforms during the remainder of Kenyatta's reign. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that these developments compelled some of the significant national political leaders to retreat to safe ethnic constituencies: Mwai Kibaki, for example, moved to Nyeri and Achieng Oneko to Nyanza.

The ethnic manoeuvres by the troika of Kenyan politics and their lieutenants culminated in the 13 March 1966 KANU national delegates meeting at the Limuru Conference Centre, ostensibly to hold party elections. As it soon emerged, the meeting's agenda was to get rid of the then KANU Vice-President who was also the country's Vice-President, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. The key architect of the organisational format, who was used in cutting Oginga Odinga to size at the meeting, was Tom Mboya. By using Mboya in this way, Kenyatta probably intended to blunt charges of tribalism that could easily have been levelled against him (as a Gikuyu leader) at the time. To a casual observer, the political intrigue and battle was simply a Luo affair.

As was to happen at another KANU national delegates meeting in 2002, the delegates at the Limuru Conference meeting amended the KANU constitution, abolishing the position of the single Vice-President. In its place, they created eight positions of party Vice-President, representing the country's eight provinces. The Party line-up at the end of the conference was as follows:

Jomo Kenyatta President National Office Gikuyu
Joseph T. Mboya Secretary General National Office Luo
Ronald Ngala Vice President Coast Giriama
Mohamed Jubat Vice President North Eastern Somali
Jeremiah Nyagah Vice President Eastern Embu/Mbere
Mwai Kibaki Vice President Nairobi Gikuyu
James Gichuru Vice President Central Gikuyu
Daniel T. arap Moi Vice President Rift Valley Tugen/Kalenjin
Eric Khasakhala Vice Presiden Nyanza Gusii
Lawrence Sagini Vice President Nyanza Gusii

Besides representing the provinces, the party Vice-Presidents represented specific ethnic groups. Interestingly, the Gikuyu community got the lion's share of the party positions: Kenyatta, Mwai Kibaki and James Gichuru. The fact that Kenyatta viewed the Gikuyu academic elite and the ex-Mau Mau and their offspring as a threat to his reign probably necessitated this arrangement. This postulation is supported by the fact that, by the time of Kenyatta's death, the majority of political detainees in the country came from the Gikuyu community.

Thus, in one stroke, Kenyatta's 1966 manoeuvres polarised this country's politics along ethnic lines. The operating logic here appears to have been as follows: if a member of the Gikuyu ethnic group opposed Mwai Kibaki, James Gichuru, or Jeremiah Nyagah, let alone Kenyatta, he/she could be considered an enemy of the Gikuyu (and by extension the Embu and Meru communities) because he/she was blocking one of their own from succeeding Kenyatta. Similarly, if a member of the Luo ethnic group opposed Thomas Mboya he/she became an enemy of the Luo because he/she was interfering with the accession of Mboya, a Luo, to the presidency.

Intensification of ethnic politics

Further polarisation of our politics occurred in 1969 with the assassination of Tom Mboya and the proscription of the Kenya Peoples Union and detention of its leadership. These events introduced the politics of ethnic intrigue and hatred into Kenya. The assassination of J. M. Kariuki in March 1975 provided a much-desired temporary relief (since the Kenyatta leadership-and by extension the GEMA communities-had "eaten" one of their own. Sad to say for this country, however, and as recent complaints by some politicians and intellectuals indicate, we are still grappling with the politics of ethnic intrigue and hatred.

The changes in the leadership of KANU resulting from the Limuru Conference delegates meeting had the desired impact for, in April 1966 Oginga Odinga resigned from the Vice-Presidency of KANU and the Republic. Thereupon Kenyatta appointed the late Joseph Murumbi Vice President. But Murumbi soon resigned to be replaced by Daniel arap Moi, who remained Vice-President until Kenyatta's death in August 1978. Curiously, none of the eight KANU Vice-Presidents was appointed Vice-President of the Republic on Odinga's resignation. While time was on Kenyatta's side in 1966 thus enabling him to name the "outsider" Murumbi Vice-President, in 2002 Moi was faced with a crucial general election, which may explain his procrastination in appointing a Vice-President when George Saitoti was sacked. When he chaired the KANU national delegates meeting at the Kasarani Sports Complex on the18th of March 2002, Moi simply turned back a few pages in our history book. As was the case in the 1966 KANU delegates meeting, the agenda was to block the then Vice-President, George Saitoti, from being a significant player in the succession game. True to form, the meeting amended the party constitution to allow for the absorption of the National Development Party (NDP), hence the creation of the "New KANU" and the four positions of party Vice-Chairmen. The Party line-up at the end of the meeting was as follows:

ETHNIC GROUP Chairman National Office Tugen/Kalenjin
Raila Odinga Secretary General National Office Luo
Uhuru Kenyatta Vice-Chairman Central Gikuyu
Musalia Mudavadi Vice-Chairman Western Luyia
Kalonzo Musyoka Vice-Chairman Eastern Kamba
Katana Ngala Vice-Chairman Coast Giriama

On the surface, the line-up may appear less tribalistic than the Kenyatta 1966 line-up. However, given the fact that Moi had little respect for protocol and was therefore more at ease dealing with lesser officials than with senior ones, the Kalenjin community, and by extension the KAMATUSA group got the lion's share of the positions that mattered. Besides Moi's executive party Chairmanship, there was Nicholas Biwott (Organising Secretary), Julius Sunkuli (Deputy Secretary-General), William Ruto (Director of Elections) and his son Gideon Moi who was not a party official. The events leading to the last year's general election and after clearly demonstrate that power was vested in the lesser officials (and non-officials) rather than in the Vice-Chairmen or the Secretary-General.

That Moi successfully set the political agenda since the advent of multi-party politics in the country in 1992 is not in doubt. As such, it was likely that the average Kenyan would have agreed with Moi's assertion that KANU was the only national party, while the rest were ethnic outfits. As was the case with Kenyatta, it was therefore logical for Moi to assume that anyone who opposed the "New KANU" line-up could be seen as an enemy of the "tribe", hence the logic governing the creation of the four positions of party Vice-Chairman. Those elected to these positions came from the ethnic groups that provided significant opposition to KANU: the Luyia (who were led by Kijana Wamalwa), the Gikuyu (who were led by Mwai Kibaki) and the Akamba (who were led by Charity Ngilu). The only exception were the coastal communities who, it was hoped, could help tip the scale in KANU's favour if the race for the State House came too close to call, hence the inclusion of the colourless Katana Ngala.

By making Raila Odinga Secretary-General of the "New KANU", Moi hoped to bring intra-Luo opposition politics to an end. It was, therefore, expected that any Luo (read James Orengo and Shem Ochuodho) who opposed KANU and therefore Raila Odinga, would be regarded by the Luo as an enemy of the "tribe" because he/she was obstructing the ascendancy of one of their own to the presidency. In one stroke, Moi reduced Raila Odinga from being the representative of the cosmopolitan Lang'ata Constituency to the position of the undisputed leader of the Luo ethnic group. It was also hoped that Musalia Mudavadi would become the undisputed leader of the Luyia (with the exception of the recalcitrant Bukusu) and Kalonzo Musyoka and Uhuru Kenyatta undisputed leaders of the Kamba and the Gikuyu (and the Embu and Meru ethnic groups), respectively.

According to the Moi logic, any Luyia who opposed Musalia Mudavadi (read Kijana Wamalwa) would be seen as an enemy of the Luyia. Similarly, any politician from the Coast who opposed Katana Ngala, became an enemy of the Coastal peoples. Anybody from the Gikuyu ethnic group who opposed Uhuru Kenyatta (read Mwai Kibaki and Kenneth Matiba) was an outright enemy of the Gikuyu (and the Embu and Meru communities). And any Kamba politician opposed to Kalonzo Musyoka (read Charity Ngilu) was an enemy of the Kamba community. If one belonged to the KAMATUSA group and was opposed to Moi, Nicholas Biwott, Julius Sunkuli, or William Ruto (read Kipruto Kirwa, Kipkalya Kones and Tabitha Seei) he/she automatically became a sell-out for helping another community to steal the presidency from his/her own. These manoeuvres only served to polarise this country's politics further along ethnic lines. Is it surprising at all that KANU is on its way to becoming an ethnic party?

It is not lost to a keen observer that, with the exception of Katana Ngala, whose ambition for high office was always doubtful, the new KANU officials wasted no time in trying to consolidate their positions. Kalonzo Musyoka, for example, quickly threw a party in his Mwingi constituency to celebrate his victory in the new KANU "elections". In so doing, Kalonzo intended to consolidate his position as leader of the Kamba ethnic group, with the blessings, of course, of Mulu Mutisya (the hitherto undisputed Kamba king-maker). Being somewhat more sophisticated than Mulu Mutisya, Kalonzo reportedly transported representatives of KANU from every district in Eastern Province to the victory party. Of course, attainment of provincial leadership status would come in handy for Kalonzo in sharing the spoils if KANU triumphed in the general elections.

Understanding Moi's tribal card game

It is quite amazing that Moi, a man with less than ten years of formal education outperformed Kenyatta, his teacher, in the game of politics, striding the Kenyan political landscape like a colossus for close to a quarter of a century. Besides his legendary patience and ability to exploit state resources to his advantage, his persistent presentation of himself as an underdog enabled him to reign supreme. That Moi appears to have started his political career as the "reluctant politician" is significant. (Recall in this connection Benjamin Kipkorir's description of himself as a "reluctant scholar" and more recently Sally Kosgei's description of herself as a "reluctant civil servant"). This stance enabled him to watch from the sidelines before striking back, as his enemies exhausted their missiles. It also enabled him to escaped public censure for practising tribalism in virtually every aspect of life.

Throughout his reign, Moi enjoyed playing politics to the public gallery, where he delighted in humiliating people who were better educated than him. Such humiliation did not only raise questions about his culprit's academic credentials and abilities in the public mind, but also left the culprit at Moi's mercy. This streak is also evident in the manner he chose and treated his Vice-Presidents, all of whom were university graduates and from large ethnic groups. The humiliation that each one of them suffered at Moi's hands appears to have been a desperate attempt by Moi to demonstrate to them and to the general public that university graduates and, indeed, university lecturers and professors were Moi's second best. Undoubtedly, this was the mind-set of a man with a serious inferiority complex, trying to compensate for his rather low education standards. This observation is given credence by the fact that throughout his reign Moi never humiliated politicians with his level of education or less like the late Kariuki Chotara, Kabiru Kimemia, Philemon Chelagat, Stephen Michoma, Mulu Mutisya, Shariff Nassir and Ezekiel Bargetuny, to mention a few. If anything, by their poor education, or lack of it, as well by their lack of sophistication, such politicians made Moi look good.

Viewed against this background, one is tempted to forgive Moi for his naked promotion of parochial ethnic interests at the expense of national interests. Unlike his teacher Kenyatta, the student failed to appreciate the relationship between the nation's economic prosperity and self-preservation in politics, hence the country's economic stagnation throughout his reign. The student appears to have been so keen to promote himself to professor that he forgot he had to matriculate and graduate before he could be allowed to tutor undergraduates, let alone become professor. For a man who always reminded the country that he did not have advisors, it is highly likely that his ego got the better of him, thus making him ignore good advice whenever it was proffered.

Under both Kenyatta and Moi a small group of State House supporters had a priori knowledge of the planned sequence of events during the 15 March 1966 and 18 March 2002 KANU national delegates meetings at the Limuru Conference Centre and at the Kasarani Sports Complex, respectively. According to one-time Moi confidant, G.G. Kariuki, the design of the 2002 "elections" followed the system that was employed in the October 1978 KANU "elections". In those "elections" the party national delegates conference was presented with a "slate of party officials…listing the names of the candidates for all party offices on a provincial [and ethnic] basis." This approach had the desired effect of "surpris[ing] the internal party opposition, which was still deliberating its strategy, and thus left the impression that the names on …[the] list (which …[was] titled "Kenya imeamua" or "Kenya has decided") had the support of the Kenyan people.

Given the similarities between the 1966 and 2002 KANU national delegates meetings, one is tempted to pose a few questions. To begin with, was it by coincidence or by design that the position of Secretary-General in both cases was filled by a Luo, namely, Tom Mboya in 1966 and Raila Odinga in 2002? Was Moi making a statement to Raila Odinga that, like Tom Mboya, he had reached the pinnacle of his political career in KANU when he became Secretary-General? Secondly, was it by coincidence or by design that both elections, ushering in a "new KANU," were held a mere three days apart in March? Was Moi hoping the Kenyatta magic would rub off on his manoeuvres?

Tribal politics-a way out?

That the recently elected NARC government has been accused of nepotism and tribalism raises the question whether this country will ever have a government that will escape such accusations. Is this really possible granted that we define our individual identities first by ethnic affiliation? Is ethnicity necessarily bad? Since there is strength in diversity, why cannot we, as Kenyans, harness that strength instead of using it divisively?

Unfortunately for Kenya, the majority of our leaders, who include politicians, religious leaders, in addition to the economic and academic elite, are not known for being social reformers. Instead, virtually all of them seek high office as a means to accessing and appropriating public resources for selfish reasons. Insofar as this state of affairs persists, ethnic factors will remain a major bane to this country. Perhaps there is hope that the enactment of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Bill and the Public Officers Ethics Bill, which will promote merit and punish theft of public resources, will help us to harness the strength in our diversity.

Published Quarterly by DR. GERALD J. WANJOHI
Likoni Lane - P .O. Box 32440 - Nairobi - Kenya
Telephone: 254.2.712632/311674/312822

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