Moi’s plot for Central vote started Uhuru’s 18-year walk to power

President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta with the former President  Moi at the former’s Kabarnet Gardens home in Nairobi last week. Photo: PPS
President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta with the former President Moi at the former’s Kabarnet Gardens home in Nairobi last week. Photo: PPS 

Tuesday, shortly after mid-day, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta will walk to the podium to take two oaths of office to become Kenya’s youngest head of State.

While Kibaki and Jomo Kenyatta both took presidency at 70, Daniel arap Moi in 1978 at 54, Uhuru will be taking over at 52.

It all started some 18 years ago — August 1995 — when Mr Kenyatta, then only 35, was hurled from his apolitical solace and tasked to lead a Gatundu coffee farmers delegation to State House, Nairobi marking his official entry into the cut-throat politics in his Kiambu backyard.

By then, coffee politics had formed the bedrock of central Kenya politics as the liberalisation of the industry saw giant coffee societies tumble and as farmers waged war on corrupt leaders.

Even before President Moi waited to receive the Uhuru delegation, he had noticed the young Kenyatta’s dalliance with politics in July 1990 when he joined hands with Alfred Getonga, the son of pioneer Nairobi Town Clerk, Argwings Ceaser Kodhek (son to former Cabinet minister Argwings Kodhek), Peter Mboya (son to the trade unionist and former cabinet Minister Tom Mboya and Francis Michuki (son to the late Cabinet Minister John Michuki) asking for political tolerance within the ruling party, Kanu.


The then 29-year-old Uhuru and his group of former St Mary School students got some good-bashing from the Kanu hawks who dismissed them as “sons of prominent Kenyans who had chosen to abuse their privileged position in society to undermine the government.”

But by having the courage to appear before the George Saitoti-led Kanu Electoral Review Committee — it reported back that Kenyans were not ready for plural politics — Kenyatta had added a voice to the clamour for multi-party politics - only that he never followed it up.

By this time, he had a young family having wed in 1989 to Margaret Gakuo, the daughter of a former Kenya Railways manager Dr E.N. Gakuo. Also, Kenyatta was concentrating on building his own company, Wilham Kenya Ltd, hoping to become a major horticulture exporter and wanted to open a top-end pub in Kilimani.

As the country went to the first multi-party election in 1992, the larger Kenyatta family was torn between supporting Kibaki’s Democratic Party (DP) and Kenneth Matiba’s Ford Asili. While Mr. Kenyatta did not campaign for any, he was widely known to be a sympathiser of Mr Matiba.

For the next two years, he struggled to build his company, driving around his pick-up truck hoping to build a business empire.

In the Gatundu backyard, a group led by former Permanent Secretary, Wamatu Njoroge and a tourism ministry official, David Kigochi (he is now Chairman of Farmer’s Party) emerged and started to woo Kenyatta back into politics.

To evade their political mission they disguised themselves as Gatundu Professionals Group and first approached Mama Ngina Kenyatta to allow the young Kenyatta into politics.

With Mr Njoroge firmly in Kanu politics and as President Moi sought to have a foothold in central Kenya politics where both Kibaki and Matiba held sway, the Uhuru Kenyatta delegation to Moi was an easier one to arrange.

Mr Kenyatta then sold his firm and started appearing in presidential harambees as the Gatundu Professionals started reorganizing the Kanu Party having managed to dissolve the Gatundu sub-branch to pave way for Kenyatta’s formal entry into Kanu politics.

In Moi’s gerrymandering style, the Electoral Commission had managed to curve a safe haven for Kenyatta before the 1997 general elections. The hope within Kanu was that the new Gatundu South Constituency would form a Kanu base in Central Kenya as it encompassed Jomo Kenyatta’s Ichaweri home.

Kenyatta’s cousin Ngengi Muigai had been prevailed out of the 1997 race to save the Kenyatta family of a clash over the new seat. That November 1997, hundreds of former freedom fighters converged at Kenyatta’s Gatundu home to witness Uhuru and his brother Muhoho being made Kikuyu elders. It was Uhuru’s first signal that he was getting into elective politics having been elected the Thika Kanu branch chairman.

Uhuru ran on a Kanu ticket and managed to poll 10,000 votes for Kanu almost matching Joseph Kamotho’s record in Central Province of 11,000 votes. Although he lost to Democratic Party’s Moses Muihia, he had shown his political temerity.

Kenyatta’s failure to capture the Gatundu seat tormented him. His close friends say that he had at this time decided to quit politics. For two years, little was heard of Kenyatta until President Moi, ever hopeful to play ball with a Kenyatta, appointed him in 1999 as the Chairman of Kenya Tourism Board.

With the Moi Succession debate picking, and with no clear front runners, Mr Kenyatta’s name started cropping up both within Kanu and inside State House where Kikuyu business leaders felt comfortable with the young Kenyatta.

It was now Moi’s time to make a sacrifice and nominated MP, Mark Too, was prevailed upon to step down for Kenyatta as nominated MP. Kenyatta was subsequently appointed to the cabinet as Minister for Local Government.

Born in October 1961, Kenyatta attended St Mary’s School in Nairobi and played as a winger in the School’s Rugby team. He had emerged with an ‘O’ Level Division 1 with a distinction in English.

In one of rare photos taken at St. Mary’s, Uhuru is pictured in school uniform receiving an award as the top “A” Level student in history from then Vice-President and Minister for Finance, Mwai Kibaki, the man he is succeeding as President.

In school, besides playing rugby, Uhuru’s other passion was drama and in November 1977, he featured in the Comic Opera “The Mikado” as Father with Child.

However, while still at St Mary’s at the age of 17, Kenyatta lost his father in August 1978. This was a big blow to him. He completed his A Levels, and passed with three principals and started working as a teller at the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB)’s Kipande House in Nairobi. Kenyatta left the bank in 1980 for Amherst College USA to study Political Science and Economics.

Kenyatta had chosen Amherst College since his cousin, Ngengi Muigai, had graduated from the same school in June 1969.

Although his father was the President, the young Kenyatta would spend time in the Gatundu home until he was seven years-old in 1968, when he celebrated his birthday at State House. It was the only time that he did so in State House - and now he has a second chance.

In the presidential election held on December 27, 2002, Kenyatta was defeated by opposition leader Mwai Kibaki, taking only 31 per cent of the vote against 62 per cent for Kibaki. This marked the end of KANU’s continuous 39 years of rule since independence. That time, Kenyatta was dismissed as President Moi’s “project”.

Kenyatta subsequently became the Leader of Official Opposition taking his duties seriously on the floor of the House.

As the clamour for a new Constitution continued Uhuru led his party Kanu in campaigns against the draft constitution in year 2005, having teamed up with the Liberal Democratic Movement (LDP) wing of NARC led by Raila Odinga, the man he defeated in the March 4 presidential poll. The later had rebelled against Kibaki over a Memorandum of Understanding that was never fulfilled after the Narc victory.

Within Kanu, Uhuru continued to get the leadership virtually unchallenged. In late January 2005, he defeated Nicholas Biwott for chairmanship of KANU, taking 2,980 votes among party delegates against Biwott’s 622.

In September 13, 2007, Kenyatta withdrew from the December 2007 presidential election and said that he would back Kibaki for re-election. He said that he did not want to run unless he could be sure of winning.

By joining the PNU coalition, Uhuru got an entrenched position in the Kibaki government.

After the disputed polls that saw violence engulf parts of the country, Uhuru was appointed to the ministry of local government in January 2008.
Uhuru’s entry into the Presidential race this year on The National Alliance (TNA) ticket is the culmination of a political history that has twists and turns.

He has during the last five years been serving as Kenya’s Deputy Prime Minister and sold himself to the electorate as representing a new Kenya.

His dramatic political career took a turn on December 15, 2010 when he was named as a suspect of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor for allegedly planning and funding the violence in both Naivasha and Nakuru.