Moi’s treachery against Raila: The KANU – NDP merger

There was an important political milestone after the 1997 elections: President Daniel arap Moi was in his last term of office. Kenya’s constitution states that an individual can become president for only two elected terms.

Former President Daniel arap Moi (right) with some ministers in this 1999 photo. Picture by East African Standard.

With an ethnically fragmented opposition, Raila Odinga realized that the only hope of becoming president was by joining KANU and fighting it out for the succession. In 1998, Raila’s NDP and Moi’s KANU entered a period of co-operation. During that time, Raila influenced the appointment of Luos into high government positions. By the beginning of the new millenium, the co-operation became a merger. KANU and NDP merged to become a single KANU party with Moi as party President.

In June 2001, Raila and several other members from the former NDP became ministers in the Moi government. In early 2002, KANU held internal elections where Raila became the party’s Secretary General. Elections were due in December 2002, just a few months away. Raila’s position and the demeanour of President Daniel arap Moi indicated that the elections were already a done deal. The presidency was going to be Raila Odinga’s for the taking.

In the period of 1998 – 2002, during the co-operation and, later, merger of NDP and KANU, the opposition warned Raila on the dangers of working with Moi. Hardly surprising, considering that Kenya’s opposition consisted of people who had fallen out of favor with Moi!

Michael Wamalwa of FORD-K told Raila that he would not get whatever deal he was making with Moi. Democratic Party leader, Mwai Kibaki, who had served as Moi’s Vice president for eight years, told Raila that Moi was not in the habit of making deals and certainly not with Raila’s record of opposition politics. Within his own Luo community, personalities like James Orengo told Raila not to trust Moi. However, for reasons that are difficult to understand, Raila had absolute faith in Moi.

Political pundits could tell that Moi’s co-operation with NDP was a scheme to contain Raila. Besides, Moi needed Raila’s NDP in Parliament to counter any challenges posed by Kibaki’s Democratic Party and Wamalwa’s FORD-K. In other words, Raila’s willingness to co-operate and merge with KANU was to Moi’s advantage. There was no visible benefit either for the NDP or for Raila’s Luo tribe. But in spite of these misgivings, Raila was certain that he could use KANU to ascend to Kenya’s presidency.

Moi was the Machiavellian power broker who never gave anything for free and with Raila, there was no exception. While discussing the NDP and KANU merger, Raila asked Moi to help in the economic empowerment of the Luo by transferring the ownership of the Kisumu Molasses Plant to a holding company owned by the tribe.

The Kisumu Molasses plant was a government project conceived in the late 1970s to produce spirits and ethanol using molasses from neighboring sugar companies. Construction began in the early 1980s along the Kisumu – Busia highway but the project was never completed. There were allegations that massive corruption by Moi ministers had led to the collapse of the project. Indeed, the issue of Kisumu Molasses was among the grievances that the Luo had against Moi. That and the murder of Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko in 1990.

Robert Ouko, who was also the legislator for Kisumu, apparently possessed a dossier on Kisumu Molasses. In February 1990, Ouko was abducted from his house, tortured and killed by unknown people. But that’s another story.

The point is this: Kisumu Molasses Plant sat on land that the government had acquired from a Luo clan in Kisumu – the Kanyakwar clan. Raila promised his Luo people that co-operation with KANU would revive the Kisumu Molasses Plant, which experts had dismissed as a, “white elephant.” Raila called on the Luo to contribute funds that would establish an entity to run the plant hence boosting the faltering economy of Kisumu. The fund raising managed to collect close to Kshs200 million (US$3.12 million) which was nevertheless far below the government’s price for the plant.

Following discussions between Raila and Moi, the Kenyan government agreed to transfer ownership of the plant to Raila and the Luo holding company he had established. However, true to Moi’s nature, it later turned out that the transfer applied only to the plant and equipment, not including land. As far as the law was concerned, the land where Kisumu Molasses stood was government land. Therefore, Raila found himself operating a factory on public land. It is a saga that has not been resolved to date and, indeed, the land remains a subject of dispute between Raila and the Kenyan government.

Raila become Secretary General of KANU in February 2002 in a political scheme engineered by none other than Moi. KANU, by then, was close to 40 years old and had ruled Kenya uninterrupted since independence from Britain in 1963. Since his presidency began in 1978, Moi had turned KANU into a powerful political machine with roots in every sector of Kenya’s society.

In KANU, the prospective presidential candidates were VP George Saitoti, Musalia Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka. There had been another potential candidate, Simeon Nyachae, a former Chief Secretary in the Moi presidency. However, Nyachae fell out with Moi and joined FORD-People (FORD-P) which was a splinter group from the original FORD movement of the early 1990s.

Raila’s entry into KANU through Moi’s schemes complicated the KANU succession. Personalities such as Joseph Kamotho and Kalonzo Musyoka had spent the better part of their political careers fighting against people like Raila. Now, the man on whose behalf they were fighting for now expected all of them to work together. But Moi was not done yet, he still had another card up his sleeves.

As the clock ticked towards the 2002 polls, Moi introduced a dark horse into the game. He picked Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the late Jomo Kenyatta as his successor. Moi went around the country introducing Uhuru to the public. Moi said, “I have analyzed the qualities of all the people around me and I have seen the potential in this young man. I am not running again for office but when you vote for Uhuru, you will be voting for me.”

It is a mystery as to why Moi settled on Uhuru Kenyatta only months to the polls. It was obvious that Uhuru was going to lose the elections, hence Moi’s appeal that, “a vote for Uhuru is a vote for me.” For all his faults, Moi is not a fool and his enduring quality is his ability to decipher political trends. Yet, by choosing on Uhuru, Moi was going against his instincts in a move that puzzled his closest aides. Moi lost many friends as a result of his refusal to change his mind. If he wanted Uhuru to succeed him all along, why wait until the last minute?

The situation in KANU was getting tense. Dissent over the choice of Uhuru Kenyatta had created an alliance between Raila, Saitoti, Kamotho, Kalonzo, Mudavadi and Najib Balala, a coastal politician. The group called itself the, “Rainbow Alliance,” and projected itself as an opposition within the ruling party. Seeing that he had lost control of his erstwhile allies, Moi brought into the limelight young KANU politicians to fight for him. These included William Ruto and Isaac Ruto, both of them Kalenjin politicians from the Rift Valley. William Ruto told the Rainbow alliance to leave KANU and form its own party.

In October 2002, Rainbow did exactly that. KANU held a delegates conference at the Moi Sports Centre and declared Uhuru Kenyatta as the official presidential candidate for the 2002 elections. In a move reminiscent of Raila’s takeover of the NDP in 1996, the Rainbow alliance immediately joined a little known party, known as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). It is widely believed that the party’s leader (or owner in Kenyan circles) was handsomely compensated for agreeing to hand over the party to the Rainbow alliance.

Please read more on Prime Minister, Raila Odinga by downloading the document, “Hostage to Fate: A Story of Raila Odinga.” Its in Microsoft Word format which is easily viewed on most computers.

Click to download the story in Microsoft Word Document. (214KB)

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