Untold story of succession wars inside Kibaki State House
On the evening of December 3, 2012, we were watching news at the home of politician John Keen when Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, and Musalia Mudavadi appeared on the screen at an odd venue, Jevanjee Gardens. They were there to announce they would be going into the presidential election scheduled for March 2013 as a coalition of their respective parties: The National Alliance, United Republican Party and United Democratic Front.
Immediately Mr Keen telephoned his longtime friend George Muhoho, who is Mr Kenyatta’s uncle, to get more details on the breaking story. When he put the phone down, Mr Keen told me Mr Muhoho had told him the deal was unlikely to last since it was influential individuals in President Mwai Kibaki’s State House that had coerced Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto to make the announcement.
This is the story told to me by Mr Keen. In the last few days, Mr Kenyatta had gone underground, switching off his phones. He was aware that a section of highly placed officials were putting pressure on President Kibaki to prevail upon him to withdraw his candidacy in favour of Mr Mudavadi. Unable to reach Mr Kenyatta, they had asked Mr Muhoho to locate his nephew and bring him to a meeting at State House the following morning.
STATE HOUSE MEETING
At State House, Mr Kenyatta was ushered into a meeting attended by the President, two top civil servants, a top security head, and a senior State House official. Mr Kibaki wouldn’t utter a word only inviting Mr Kenyatta to listen to what the four men had to say.
The four made a strong case that Mr Kenyatta’s candidature wasn’t advisable on two grounds. That if he were to win the race, there would be a problem in the diplomatic circles given that he had a pending case at the International Criminal Court. The US assistant secretary of State, Johnny Carson, had already captured the thinking in western capitals with the famous line: Choices have consequences. Second, they argued that most Kenyan voters had no appetite for another Kikuyu presidency after Mr Kibaki.
Uhuru and Ruto allies in secret talks
The four concluded that Mr Kenyatta shelve his presidential ambitions at least for the 2013 election, and instead support Mr Mudavadi who they argued was a safe pair of hands.
In the arrangement, Mr Kenyatta, who had already picked Mr Ruto as his Jubilee Coalition running-mate, would be designated Deputy President with Mr Ruto slotted for the Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly if they won the election.
Mr Kenyatta said he had no objection to the plan, but he doubted Mr Ruto, who had only agreed to be a running mate after painstaking negotiations, would agree. Mr Kenyata is actually said to have been ready to be the Majority Leader for Mr Ruto to remain as Mr Mudavadi’s running mate.
With the electoral commission deadline for presidential candidates to present their papers approaching, Mr Kenyatta immediately left State House, held a brief meeting with Mr Ruto and the two later went to Mr Mudavadi’s Nairobi residence. The trio would later appear together in the evening to drop the bombshell.
Secretly, I learnt, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto knew there would be no deal. They were just playing games when they announced Mr Mudavadi as the candidate. In the next three days, Mr Kenyatta would play Houdini, only meeting or available on telephone to a few trusted aides and allies.
To be sure he had political cover; it is said that after the State House “deal”, Mr Kenyatta met a top military official who later convinced President Kibaki that the Mudavadi plan was not viable. Meanwhile, Mr Kenyatta’s allies went into overdrive. At least 40 MPs from Mount Kenya region called a press conference to announce their votes “would go to Bondo” (meaning they would mobilise their supporters to vote for Cord candidate Raila Odinga) if Mr Kenyatta’s name was not on the ballot. A few days later, Mr Kenyatta himself disowned the Mudavadi plan, claiming he had been pushed by “dark forces” to make the previous announcement.
A few weeks earlier, the State House coterie opposed to his candidacy had ordered Mr Kenyatta out of a government office he had been operating from at the NHIF building. The office had previously been set aside for First Lady Lucy Kibaki, but she was not using it. One reason for the action was said to be the decision by Mr Kenyatta’s TNA party to clear Ms Mary Wambui to vie for the Othaya parliamentary seat against wishes of a section of the President’s family.
Among Ms Wambui’s many “sins” was a statement she had made a few days earlier at a function attended by Mama Ngina Kenyatta where she said she had been persuading “my husband”– who she didn’t mention by name – to leave the “big seat” to Mr Kenyatta as a successor. Ms Wambui was, for years, the subject of controversy after claims emerged, but denied several times, that she was Mr Kibaki’s second wife.
A section of the Kibaki family openly supported a Mudavadi candidacy with his nephew, Ndiritu Muriithi, now the Laikipia Governor, being a UDF aspirant.
The Kibaki succession battle had begun in earnest just before the 2007 election when the President sought a second and last term. The influential government officials at the time were for Cabinet minister George Saitoti.
It happened that in the 2002 election, Prof Saitoti and Mr Kibaki had secretly reached an agreement. Mr Kibaki would support Prof Saitoti’s presidential bid at the end of two terms. That came after Kanu defectors, angered at President Moi bulldozing of Mr Kenyatta’s 2002 presidential candidature in Kanu, had teamed up in LDP, and sought alliance with Mr Kibaki’s NAK to form the National Rainbow Coalition.
Within the LDP wing led by Raila Odinga, Prof Saitoti had a strong desire to vie for the presidency if only to revenge on Kanu where he felt he had been mistreated as the heir-apparent having been Vice-President to Mr Moi for close to a decade.
Politician Joseph Kamotho once told me that while Mr Odinga had agreed to make the famous “Kibaki Tosha” declaration to get a single strong opposition candidate, Prof Saitoti needed some convincing.
That happened two days before Mr Odinga’s declaration of Mr Kibaki as the candidate. Mr Kibaki and Prof Saitoti were left in a room at the home of politician Moody Awori and told not to come out until they reached an agreement.
Prof Saitoti reportedly agreed to support Mr Kibaki in the understanding that the favour would be returned 10 years later. That explains why Prof Saitoti remained close to Mr Kibaki even after the LDP wing led by Mr Odinga fell out with the President.
Immediately Narc took power, Prof Saitoti went into a cold war with Mr Kenyatta, then the leader of the opposition Kanu. Mr Kamotho would disclose to me that the first move was the ejection of Kanu from the Kenyatta International Conference Centre by the new government.
The Saitoti/Uhuru rivalry would play out in the open in the 2007 election when Kanu fielded a candidate to take on the professor in Kajiado North parliamentary election. Mr Kenyatta also tactfully supported the ODM candidate in Kajiado North, Moses ole Sakuda, in the spirit that the enemy of my enemy must be my friend. The game plan was to have the Kanu candidate deny Prof Saitoti the huge Kikuyu vote in the constituency even as he shared the Maasai vote with the ODM candidate. Prof Saitoti narrowly sailed through after a contested vote recount.
In the countdown to the 2007 election, Mr Kibaki had also sought Mr Kenyatta’s support. In return, Mr Kibaki would support Mr Kenyatta’s presidential bid after the five-year term. Early into Mr Kibaki’s last term, word leaked that Mr Odinga and Prof Saitoti had secretly agreed to work together. I came to know about it one day when meeting Mr Kamotho at the Mayfair Hotel. Cabinet minister Otieno Kajwang’ just appeared at our table and pulled a seat.
In his straight-shooting style, he told Mr Kamotho: “Mheshimiwa, Agwambo (Raila) will soon be knocking at your door. We want you to help our man Saitoti lock out Uhuru in Mt Kenya region. Agwambo has better chances when Saitoti is on the ballot. With the young man (Uhuru) you can never be sure which way it goes.”
Then came the ICC where Mr Kenyatta was in the list of the “wanted six” linked to the 2007/2008 post-election violence. It emerged that ICC chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had written to the Kenya government to say he would be willing to drop the cases if given assurances that the cases would be handled locally. The letter apparently first mysteriously “disappeared” within the corridors of the Office of the President until the matter was brought to Mr Kibaki’s attention through a back channel.
The President promptly summoned the Cabinet inter-ministerial committee on ICC, which was headed by Prof Saitoti, the Internal Security minister, and where Mr Kenyatta sat in his capacity as deputy Prime Minister.
Knowing the issue of the “disappeared” letter, the President went straight to ask that the committee work with the ICC prosecutor to have the cases tried locally. It was then that an angry Mr Kenyatta reportedly confronted Prof Saitoti, accusing him of working behind the scenes to push for the cases to continue.
CALL OFF MEETING
A bitter exchange followed and Mr Kibaki had to abruptly call off the meeting. The full committee was never to meet again. By then, Mr Kibaki was torn between keeping his 2002 pledge to support Prof Saitoti, and keeping one made to Mr Kenyatta in 2007.
Typical of Mr Kibaki, he pretended he remembered neither of the promises and let the two bulls in his kraal fight it out. The final showdown never came as Prof Saitoti suddenly died in an air crash in June 2012. But the succession battles were taken over by other players, culminating in the December 3, 2012 chilly meeting at State House.