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Is Uhuru Moi's ace in the pack? (Countryfile: Kenya).

President Moi threw the cat among the pigeons when, against all expectations, he named the political lightweight, uhuru kenyatta as his heir apparent in the forthcoming presidential elections. Anver Versi analyses the strategy behind this move.

Election fever is mounting on a daily basis. With only three months to go before the country elects its new President and Parliament (elections are scheduled for end December), the increasingly frenzied footwork of politicians as they hop from one camp to the other and back again has held the country in thrall.

Newspapers are having a field day as they report juicy stories of political back-stabbing, outright treachery among former friends and the nimble taking of positions for when the music stops. The public is lapping it all up and loving every moment of it.

But soon, perhaps too soon, the people of Kenya will have to undertake the serious business of choosing not only new Members of Parliament but, for the first time in 20 years, a new President. And this is where the apprehensions lie. Kenya, without the dominating figure of Daniel arap Moi at the head, is another country. This is unknown territory with unseen perils.

Kenya, which has enjoyed relative stability since independence in 1963, wants a smooth transition of power above all else. The spectre of violent political upheavals if there is a perceived vacuum at the top is all too real. This is the dilemma most Kenyans find themselves facing: they want free and fair elections but they do not want a bitter power struggle which could quickly degenerate into bloody ethnic clashes.

Kenya came very close to political disintegration when the first President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was ailing and obviously in his last days. He had chosen Moi, then a political lightweight from a minority tribe, as his successor by appointing him Vice - President. However, as Kenyatta's health continued to deteriorate, there was a determined bid by some powerful politicians, who came to be called 'Change the Constitution Group' to prevent Moi from automatically succeeding to the Presidency in the event Kenyatta died in office.

In hindsight, it is easy to see that had the group succeeded in its aims, Kenya could well have been plunged into a cycle of violence and blood letting. The group failed thanks largely to the stance taken by the then Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, senior political figures and behind the scenes manoeuvres by Britain. Moi duely succeeded to the Presidency

The situation now facing Kenya is similar to that in 1978 when Kenyatta died. For the last two years, in fact as soon as Moi had announced that he would stand down in the forthcoming elections, it was clear that whoever he selected as his preferred choice would have enormous advantages over whoever else threw their hats into the ring.


Moi, easily Africa's greatest political tactician, kept his choice close to his chest. He watched and waited while various personalities began to show their hand as they attempted to position themselves in the front row. Speculation began to mount.

Then came the bombshell. Against all expectation, Moi threw his weight behind a political unknown, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta. Shocked disbelief turned into thinly veiled anger as long serving loyalists like former Vice - President George Saitoti and Transport Minister Musalia Mudavadi, and newer allies such as Raila Odinga saw their ambitions turning into dust.

Saitoti immediately declared his intention of contesting for the ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu) nomination due in October, as did former opposition leader, Raila Odinga. Saitoti was sacked by Moi who said he would brook no opposition to his choice.

"The interests of the nation come first' he said. No one had yet been appointed to the Vice - Presidency when African Business went to press.

Saitoti joined the Rainbow Alliance, a rebel group within the party. Others in the alliance include Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka, both Cabinet Ministers. Odinga is also the Secretary-General of the ruling party, Kanu. The Alliance suffered a heavy blow when Mudavadi, a heavyweight politician, withdrew from the group and firmly backed Kenyatta as the party's candidate for the Presidential elections.


The situation, as it stands, is as follows: Uhuru Kenyatta is backed by Moi himself and the 'Young Turks' within Kanu; Saitoti and Odinga head the rebel Rainbow Alliance in Kanu and then there is the opposition. The National Alliance of Kenya is a loose umbrella of some six opposition parties of which the Democratic Party, led by veteran politician Mwai Kibaki is the most significant.

Before the Uhuru Kenyatta bombshell, the person seen as most likely to succeed Moi had been George Saitoti. The conviction that Saitoti had been the chosen one gained credence because many believed that, following the Goldenberg scandal in which he was heavily embroiled, he had only retained his Cabinet post because of Moi's weight of support behind him.

Saitoti, who had earlier made a reputation for himself as a brilliant Finance Minister fell from grace after the infamous Goldenberg scandal which led to suspension of aid from the IMF. Although there were a spate of arrests, Saitoti was left unscathed but there was widespread speculation that his days in the government were numbered. Moi, however stood firmly by his Vice-President.

The other strong candidate, at least according to the rumour mills, had been Raila Odinga. Son of the fiery freedom fighter Oginga Odinga who had provided the strongest opposition to Jomo Kenyatta, he maintained the family tradition of challenging the government and often found himself spending time in jail for his troubles. He became leader of the Nationalist Development Party (NPD) in 1997.

In 2001, he accepted Moi's invitation to join Kanu in forming the first coalition government since independence and was made Minister of Energy. He later merged his party with Kanu and was elected Secretary-General of the ruling party.

Speculation around the potential successor to Moi were based on Kenya's political staple: 'tribal arithmetic'. Moi's own dominance was based on the fact that he came from a minority tribe, the Kalenjin and that he had effectively neutralised the political power of the numerically superior Kikuyu. By deftly playing one tribe against the other, he had maintained an ethnic balance and at the same time opened the ruling party to all comers. The only route to power, privilege and wealth was through Kanu.

But this had required a nimbleness of wit, force of character and a strong arm. Who among his hopeful successor would possess the same qualities? Saitoti, claiming to be at least half Maasai, had the advantage of belonging to a minority tribe but long years under Moi's shadow had given him little scope to display the sort of leadership qualities that the new President of Kenya would need. Saitoti's personality also worked against him: quiet spoken, intellectual, even bookish he made an excellent Minister but would he be able to mix it in the bare-knuckle brawling of Kenyan politics? Moi exuded strength; Saitoti typified reflection. Finally, he still carried the Goldenberg albatross around his neck.

Raila Odinga could count on the backing of his Luo tribe -- the third largest in the country -- but this could be seen more as a disadvantage than a plus. If as President he gave the Luo their 'fair share' of government positions and business opportunities, he would be seen as a tribalist by other groups; if he did not, he would be seen as a sell-out by his own constituency. In addition, by joining Kanu and being rewarded with a Cabinet post, he was accused of lacking principals and therefore could not be trusted.

But what does one make of Uhuru Kenyatta? Those who know him say he is an easy going businessman with limited interest in politics. He failed to win a parliamentary seat in 1997 but gained some national recognition when he was appointed chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board in 1999. Then he enjoyed a meteoric rise in the country's political environment: he was nominated as an MP by Moi in October 2001 and one month later was given a Cabinet post as Minister of Local Government. In July 2002, Moi put his name forward as the heir apparent.

Between now and the elections, we shall no doubt learn more about the stuff Uhuru is made of.
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Author:Versi, Anver
Publication:African Business
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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