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Where are they now? Intrigues in appointment of Moi Cabinet

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By KAMAU NGOTHO
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On the morning of November 28, 1979, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) — then called the Voice of Kenya (VoK) and the only radio and television station in the country — had a breaking news item.

President Daniel arap Moi, who had been in power for only 15 months, would be announcing his first Cabinet following a General Election earlier in the month.

It would be his first full Cabinet to appoint after making do with one left behind by his predecessor, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who died in August 1978.

The breaking news brought a moment of great anxiety. I remember my father’s friends coming to our home in Sipili, Laikipia West, and sitting in a quiet corner in the compound huddled around a transistor Sanyo radio to await the announcement of the new Cabinet that would be broadcast live from State House, Nakuru.

The cause for anxiety is that in those days, the Cabinet was something of a sacred institution.

At school we were made to memorise the names and portfolios of respective ministers and would be examined on these.

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All that changed in the Moi era when Cabinet ministers would be appointed but reshuffled or fired with the same frequency the President changed or discarded a pair of socks.

In what would become Moi’s modus operandi throughout his presidency — not letting the right hand know what the left was up to — when appointing his first Cabinet, he secretly assigned three factions to work on separate lists, making each believe theirs was the one and only list.

In team one was the kingmakers, Attorney General Charles Njonjo and assistant minister G.G. Kariuki.

This is the group that greatly contributed to Mr Moi’s ascendancy to power and acted with a sense of entitlement.

They believed they owned Moi and wanted to fill all the space around him.

A week before the announcement of the Cabinet, G.G. had hosted Moi, Njonjo and Cabinet Secretary Jeremiah Kiereini for lunch at his rural home in Nyahururu, where their list of who to appoint was exhaustively discussed.

A major consideration in the Njonjo/G.G. list was loyalty and who best to perpetuate their agenda at State capture.

But unknown to the Njonjo/GG group, President Moi had instructed Vice-President Mwai Kibaki and the permanent secretary in charge of personnel directorate J.A. Gethenji to draw their own list taking into consideration qualification, continuity from the Kenyatta era, and regional balance.

And even as the two teams worked on their separate lists, yet another clandestine team led by Moi’s long-time aide and MP-elect Nicholas Biwott was preparing a third one.

The “homeboys” team of Biwott regarded the first two as “strangers” in their party.

On Friday morning, before he flew out for lunch at G.G.’s home in Nyahururu, Moi received the list prepared by his deputy Kibaki and his team.

Late in afternoon, he flew from Nyahururu armed with the list prepared by the Njonjo/G.G. group.

And in the evening, in the quiet of his Kabarak home, he received the list from the Biwott “homeboys” squad.

On Saturday, Moi had a long chat with the Security Intelligence head James Kanyotu, discussing and harmonising the three lists at hand, as Kanyotu had his boys cobble through secret files for security clearance.

On Sunday the President went to church to pray that all would be well.

On Tuesday afternoon, he telephoned Kibaki and Njonjo to ask them to be at State House, Nakuru, where he would unveil the new Cabinet.

From the facial expressions of the two, who sat beside the President as he read out the names in the new Cabinet, you could tell none was entirely happy with every name mentioned.

And it was the same disappointment for Biwott wherever he was.

But Moi, with the help of the Security Intelligence head, at least ensured each of the three groups got a piece but not the whole pie.

The best illustration of the delicate balancing act was in the three names picked as ministers of State in the office of the President.

The first was James Gichuru, whose name came from the Kibaki list as a gesture of continuity from the Kenyatta era, and an olive branch to the Kenyatta men, Gichuru among them, who were opposed to Vice-President Moi’s taking over from his boss.

The other minister of State in the President’s office would be G.G. Kariuki, a loud signal that the Njonjo kingmaker team was on the prowl.

The third minister of State would be Nicholas Biwott, a message to the “homeboys” that they, too, would have their rightful place in the sun.

Of the 24 appointed to serve in Moi’s first Cabinet in November 1979, only six are still alive today. They include:

Mwai Kibaki: He was appointed Vice-President and retained the position for 10 years before Moi demoted him to ordinary Cabinet minister.

In retirement and at 88, he leads a quiet life in his Nairobi home, occasionally spending time at his rural home in Nyeri after serving as President between 2002 and 2013.

Once in a while he goes to the Muthaiga Golf Club to touch base with old buddies.

But unlike in the days gone by when he had ample appetite for fermented drinks, these days he only takes tea.

Charles Njonjo: After playing kingmaker to the Prince (Moi), the latter struck a Machiavelli on him, relegating him to the political dustbin.

After years of not seeing each other, their common physician, Dr David Silverstein, brought them back together.

But by then Njonjo had forever lost his appetite for politics. He still goes to office and does a round of swimming as he looks forward to his 100th birthday next year.

Charles Rubia: On losing in the 1983 elections, he quit active politics, only to resurface at the height of agitation for the return to multiparty politics in the 1990s.

Moi detained him without trial alongside politician Kenneth Matiba and other multiparty crusaders.

On release from prison, he unsuccessfully attempted a return to active politics, but shortly after retreated to a well-deserved retirement.

Henry Kosgey: He was reappointed to the Cabinet in 1983 to serve as Sports minister, only to soil his name in scandal during the 1987 All-African Games held in Nairobi.

He went into oblivion on losing the 1988 election, only for his name to resurface in yet another scandal at the State-owned Kenya National Assurance, a thriving company he had been picked to head only to sink it into the sewer.

Once again he retreated to obscurity, to resurface in post-Moi-era opposition politics, but, again! — he flew into dark clouds when he appeared on the list of six charged at the International Criminal Court in The Hague in connection with 2007/8 post-election violence.

After he was cleared of charges, he retired from politics. His son Alex Kosgey is the MP for Tinderet constituency.

But unlike his father, he retains such a low profile nobody seems to know there is an MP by that name.

Daniel Mutinda: On losing in the 1983 election through a court petition, he found solace in returning to his old profession, law.

He ran a law office in Nairobi for some time before retreating to his rural home in Kitui.

James Osogo: He lost in the 1983 election and henceforth it became a trend for him to contest every election and lose.

Then he gave up on politics to concentrate on farming and business. Now in his late 80s, he lives in Port Victoria, Busia County.

The other 18 on the list of 24 are now past tense. The first to go was minister of State James Gichuru in August 1982.

Coincidentally, the last to join him in the journey from which nobody returns were old colleagues as ministers of State in OP, G.G. and Biwott, both of whom died in quick succession two years ago.

Another three in Moi’s first Cabinet have left but their offspring have kept their names in the limelight. They include Moses Mudavadi, who died in 1989.

But his son Musalia ventured into politics and served in the Moi Cabinet up to the level of Vice-President, a post he held for three months, the shortest for any occupant of that office. He wants to be President of Kenya in the next election.

Then there is Jeremiah Nyagah, whose son Joe veered to politics and served in the Moi Cabinet.

He, too, wants to be elected President of Kenya, but the last time he tried he got so few votes even he doesn’t remember how many they were.

His younger brother, Norman, too, wandered into politics and was three times elected MP in Nairobi. Their younger brother Nahashon was one time governor of the Central Bank.

The other departed member of Moi’s first Cabinet whose name has remained in the public domain is Dr Zachary Onyonka, whose son, Momaima, is a third-term MP.

Two on the departed list of Moi’s first Cabinet left under extremely sad circumstances.

Dr Robert Ouko was dragged away from his rural home by unknown people in the wee hours of the night and was found dead and his body burnt in a bush.

The other, Paul Ngei, lost in elections, was declared bankrupt and had his two legs amputated on account of illness. He died a forgotten, neglected old man.

But, lest you forget, the captain of the Team 24 of 1979, Daniel arap Moi, 95, is still very much around.





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