On the morning of Tuesday August 22, 1978, at 3 am, Kenya’s founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta died in his sleep at State House, Mombasa.
It was a huge shock for a country only 15 years into independence. The challenge of leadership fell on the shoulders of his Vice President Daniel Moi. Moi had until then been in the shadows of the founding President.
The Constitution stipulated that in the event the President dies in office, the Vice President would act as President for 90 days, after which a General Election would be conducted.
Twelve hours after the death of President Kenyatta, Vice President Moi was sworn in as acting President at State House Nairobi. He appointed Mr. Mwai Kibaki has hisVice President.
For the next one year, President Moi run the country with the Cabinet he inherited from Mzee Kenyatta until the General Elections of November 8, 1979. At the time the country was a defacto one party state With Kanu as the only legal party.
Following the election, 740 candidates contested the 140 seats o MPs. President Moi was unopposed for the presidency and his Baringo Central parliamentary seat.
The elections saw many long standing MPs, including seven Cabinet Ministers, lose their seats,ushering in a new cadre of leaders. President Moi was elected unopposed and shortly there after begun the process of forming the first Nyayo era’ Cabinet. On Wednesday November 28, 1979, President Moi formally named his ‘First’ Cabinet of 24.
The Nyayo Philosophy was coined by President Moi. It is Kiswahili for footsteps and became the slogan for the new President who promised to follow in the foot-steps of Mzee Kenyatta.
On the day that he named his first Cabinet, he told Kenyans about changes he was making in the structure and why he thought them necessary.
It is instructive that Kanu was central to President Moi’s vision on governance. In any event, it was the ruling and the only party and the new President Went about making sure that it was central to his rule. In June 1982, all other political parties were outlawed and Kenya became a dejure one party state.
That meant that anyone who would subsequently seek any elective office would have to be a member of Kanu and that no other political party would be registered.
The big shock came in August of 1982. In the early hours of August, 1, 1982, Kenyans Woke up to a coup attempt by junior Kenya Air Force soldiers.
The attempted coup gave Moi thechance to consolidate his powerand disloyal elements, real and imagined.
The attempt was followed by a reorganisation of the command structure of the armed forces and the police.
Police Commissioner Ben Gethi was arrested and detained for questioning at Kamiti Prison and retired in public interest soon after he was set free. General Mahmoud Mohammed who led the suppression of the coup and recapture of the Voice of Kenya (now Kenya Broadcasting Corporation) studios that the coup plotters had taken over was appointed Chief of General Staff.
MPs passed laws that gave the President emergency powers, and the provincial administration and civil service were both transferred to the Office of the President, for the first time in post-independence Kenya. Parliament’s privilege to access information from the Office of the President was revoked, subordinating it to the presidency.
In 1986 Parliament imposed limits on the independence of the Judiciary. Soon Joseph Kamere, Attorney General at the time of the coup, was replaced with Cecil Miller.
Two expatriate judges 4 Derek Schoﬁeld and Patrick O’Connor – resigned, complaining that the judicial system was “blatantly contravened by those who are supposed to be its supreme guardians”. Parliament gave police powers to detain dissident politicians and intellectuals. Detention without trial, which had been suspended in 1978, was re-introduced through a constitutional amendment.
Politicians Raila Odinga, Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, George Anyona, Koigi Wamwere and lawyers Gitobu Imanyara, John Khaminwa, Gibson Kamau Kuria and Kiraitu Murungi were detained. Many fled and sought refuge in Europe and th United States.
The centrality of Kanu and President Moi’s stranglehold is best exempliﬁed by the aftermath of the 1982 coup. The death toll and the coup’s impact on the economy were announced by a lowly Kanu official — not the military, the police or the Cabinet.
The job fell on then Kanu parliamentary group secretary Mark Bosire to announce that 145 people had died as a result of the insurrection and billions worth of goods looted.
Mr. Bosire talked to journalists after a parliamentary committee meeting attended by President Moi. For Cabinet ministers, assistant ministers, Kanu party workers and civil servants, loyalty was implicitly or explicitly demanded.
“I would like ministers, assistant ministers and others to sing like a parrot after me,” President Moi said in 1984. “That is how we can progress.”
By 1988, when the next General Elections were due, Kanu had adopted the queue voting system. A large number of politicians not viewed warmly by the new administration lost their seats.
The 1988 General Election would go down in history as one of the most controversial.
Kanu abolished the secret ballot in the primaries in February 1988 and instead required voters to lineup in public behind photographs of the candidate of their choice. Only members of the party could vote in the primaries, but all registered v0ters were eligible to take part in the general elections, in which balloting was secret.
Disputes could hardly be resolved as the queue was the only record and those who voted could not be reassembled in the event of a dispute. No records were kept as to the names of the voters and their identiﬁcation data.
After the election, President Moi dropped his deputy of nearly 10 years, Vice President Mwai Kibaki from the number two perch and appointed newly- elected Kajiado North MP Prof George Saitoti. Mr. Kibaki was appointed Health minister until he resigned in December 1991 after multi – party politics had been re-introduced. He formed the Democratic Party of Kenya.
The 1988 General Election fiascos parked off a push for the return to multi-party system of Government so that those dissatisfied with Kanu’s rule could form alternative political parties.
With the buffer that the East provided for developing nations against the West’s freedom and democratic demands starting to crumble, the Western nations started to place condition on donor aid. Multi-party politics was a key condition. Kenya was no exception and soon, those who had different political opinions from President Moi and the Kanu Were agitating for a return to multi-party politics.
Aid would often be tied to evidence of democratic participation and press freedom. But Moi strongly held to the view that multi-party politics was a recipe for ethnic divisions.
But Western donors would not relent. On December 3, 1991, President Moi reversed nine years of single-party Kanu domination, in a speech to Kanu delegates in Nairobi.“From today, everyone is allowed to register their party,” Moi said to cheers from thousands of Kanu delegates. “Let the opposition go and get the mandate from the people. They will get zero.”The crowd of 3,500 delegates at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani, Nairobi, endorsed the decision to abolish Section 2 (a) of the Constitution that had banned multi-party politics.
Kanu first approved the proposal after which Parliament formalised the change.
There was a ﬂurry of political activity after the announcement as politicians rushed to register parties.
President Moi marshaled vibrantKanu grassroots support and won the 1992 multi-party elections against a weak and fragmented opposition. He beat the still disorganised opposition again in 1997. Donors continued to ratchet up the pressure pressing the government to crack down on rampant corruption in the government.
After the 1997 polls, aware his term was soon coming to an end, President Moi started to reach out to the opposition to consolidate his position and that of Kanu.
He reached out, in 1998, to Raila Odinga and cobbled together a pact with the National Democratic Party. Odinga, detained for much of the 1980 s for his political opposition to Kanu, was appointed Energy minister in 2001, crowning thre eyears of cooperation. And in March of 2002, the two parties merged and Odinga became the new Secretary General of Kanu.
The union did not last a year. The rebellion that broke out in Kanu was sparked off by Moi’s decision to appoint youthful Uhuru Kenyatta as Kanu’s candidate for President.
Odinga, Vice President George Saitoti and Cabinet minister Kalonzo Musyoka, unhappy that Kanu’s nomination was not open to competition, broke away joined the opposition. Odinga and his team through LDP, a new party hurriedly formed, joined Mwai Kibaki, Charity Ngilu and Michael Wamalwa to form Narc.
It is Narc that swept Kanu out of power after 40 years at the helm. At the handing over ceremony on December 30, 2002, at Uhuru Park, President Moi said: “Fellow Kenyans: Politics is about winning and losing. Today, KANU (Kenya African National Union) must accept that it lost the election.This may be hard after 40 years in power but in a democratic country, constructive opposition has a vital role to play. The opposition must challenge the government, it must keep the government on its toes. I expect the Kanu opposition to live up to this responsibility…”