Tue. Nov 24th, 2020



How Moi brought down his VPs

5 min read

What Prof Saitoti did not know was that vintage Moi had, behind his back, plotted his downfall, albeit slowly, and that the first would be a salvo at the Kasarani Gymnasium, and in public.

As Moi’s vice-president since 1988, Prof Saitoti thought he had an upper hand in the Moi succession as the country’s second senior-most politician. But Moi had other thoughts on him.

How Moi treated his vice-presidents — starting with Mwai Kibaki — said much about his leadership style. At best, they were figureheads with little say in the Kanu administration and, at worst, they were humiliated — like in the case of Dr Josephat Karanja — or demoted, as he did to Kibaki.

In politics, and Moi seemed to believe, there are no permanent friends: only interests and survival. He never trusted his deputies.

To start with, Moi and Kibaki had not been strangers and the appointment of Kibaki in 1978 as Moi’s deputy was a bid to win over the Kikuyu — and again, Kibaki had been one of the ardent supporters of a Moi presidency for minus that; it could have gone to the Kiambu clique.

When a group allied to Njonjo started undermining Kibaki, and just before Moi dropped the May 8, 1983 “traitor bombshell” that saw powerful minister and kingmaker Charles Mugane Njonjo resign, Moi had openly castigated “those undermining the vice-president … nobody should try to frustrate him because he will not perform his duties properly.”

That was the only time that Moi came to the defence of Kibaki, who also used the 1983 Njonjo crisis to scatter his enemies who by then included Njonjo himself. But the absence of Njonjo from the political scene also meant that Kibaki was the most vulnerable of all senior politicians.

Having humbled Njonjo, Moi decided to maintain his influence by dividing the Kikuyu. But, as he courted the Kiambu group, he devoted some of his political activity between 1984 and 1988 to undermine Kibaki and limit his influence.

Kibaki was restricted to his Othaya constituency and ,by the 1985 Kanu elections, the attacks on Kibaki had turned personal and Foreign Minister Elijah Mwangale was openly campaigning to be appointed the VP.

It was not lost on observers that Kibaki was also under siege in Nyeri from Waruru Kanja who besmirched Kibaki’s bosom friend, Isaiah Mathenge, as a “home guard”.

Others who would openly attack Kibaki included Nakuru Kanu supremo Kariuki Chotara.

Kariuki Chotara openly attacked Kibaki. PHOTO |
Kariuki Chotara openly attacked Kibaki. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By 1988, it was clear that Kibaki would be dropped after the General Election as he was no longer seen as having a national image — thanks to the incessant attacks.

He was taken as too lukewarm for the establishment — as he hardly fought back.


During the 1988 Kanu elections, Dr Josephat Karanja replaced Kibaki as the party vice-president after the latter opted out. There had been attempts to rig the Nyeri branch chairman position and Kibaki was forced to tell off the provincial administration saying: “Rigging has some intelligence. This scheme is by people who have no sense of intelligence.”

That was the only time that Kibaki took on the Kanu machine that had been created by Moi.

In Kanu’s national line-up, Mr Davidson Kuguru, a semi-literate farmer, replaced the London School of Economics-trained Kibaki.

But Dr Karanja would not survive for long. The campaign to oust him started in February 1989 and was engineered by the little-known Director of Motor Vehicle Inspection, Kuria Kanyingi, backed by Cabinet minister Arthur Magugu.

Kanyingi started holding harambees in Kiambu which were supposed to demean Dr Karanja.

Soon, when Moi was out of the country, some politicians accused Karanja of claiming he was the acting President.

The attacks were relentless, and every weekend, rallies attended in Kiambu would claim there was a “kneel-before-me” politician.

In April 1989, Dr Karanja was named in Parliament as the politician sowing seeds of discord. A unanimous vote of no confidence was passed.

On May 1, 1989, Dr Karanja resigned as the party vice-president and as Member of Parliament.

The problem was that the Kikuyu had made Dr Karanja their rallying point which scared Moi.

Before he left, Dr Karanja told Parliament: “Common decency has been thrown out of the window and replaced by political thuggery and vindictiveness.”


Moi now turned to the Kajiado North MP, Prof George Saitoti — whose Kikuyu parents had emigrated to Maasailand where he adopted a Maasai name. Saitoti was a political novice who had been plucked from the university and Kenya Commercial Bank boardroom to become the Minister for Finance.

Saitoti had played the underdog role as Moi’s yes-man as he prepared to one day rise to the top.

As a Kanu-hawk, Saitoti underestimated Moi’s intentions and this would be seen later as Moi’s final term came to a close and jostling for the presidency started within Kanu.

Moi wanted to choreograph his succession and Saitoti wanted to have his own. While Moi had brought in Raila Odinga from the opposition to strengthen Kanu, he also brought into the fore Uhuru Kenyatta as his preferred candidate.

Then Vice-President and Minister for Planning
Then Vice-President and Minister for Planning and National Development, Professor George Saitoti, welcomes president Moi on his arrival at Parliament Buildings on January 26, 1993. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

During the merger conference at Kasarani, Prof Saitoti found that his name was removed from the list of Kanu vice-chairmen. He could not believe that he had just been dumped — and he confronted Moi who dismissed him with “Kimya profesa!”

Saitoiti watched as his plans went under. He would be dethroned later after he became part of a Kanu rebellion that was protesting the elevation of Uhuru Kenyatta as the Kanu candidate.

With a few months to go, and in a bid to get the Luhya votes, President Moi appointed Musalia Mudavadi his deputy. But it was a futile bid as Mudavadi had followed a dying party to its grave.

With no clear successor, Moi had failed to manage Kanu’s future and, when confronted by a united opposition, his former vice-president Mwai Kibaki was elected Kenya’s third President with a landslide.


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