President Daniel arap Moi held a secret meeting at the White House with US President George W. Bush months before he left office as he sought assurances over his personal safety if he ceded power in a smooth transition, the Sunday Nation can reveal.
In “an act of good faith” after he returned to Kenya, the former President met the top military brass in a symbolic “handover” ahead of the December 2002 General Election to show that he had no intention of clinging on to power, according to his long-serving and trusted official, Dr Sally Kosgei.
“What it meant is that, even if he (Moi) wanted to stay in power, he could barely do so without the military as he had abdicated his duties as the commander in chief of the armed forces,” Dr Kosgei, an insider and powerful figure in the Moi administration, told the Sunday Nation in an exclusive interview. Dr Kosgei, the one-time Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet, who was sacked in what she says is a humiliating manner, also reveals that unlike previous proclamations that Moi wanted to cling on to power, the then Head of State had prepared for his exit for almost five years after cruising to victory in the 1997 General Election.
Dr Kosgei sat at the nerve centre of the State power machinery from where she spent years writing and drafting letters, notes and other documents for the Cabinet and State House. She watched the last moments of the 24-year reign of the Moi presidency that ended with the handover of power to Mr Mwai Kibaki in 2003.
Dr Kosgei was famously captured on television weeping at State House as the Kenya Air Force helicopter was just about to lift President Moi out of the premises to his Kabarak home, a symbolic final flight marking the end of his iron-fisted rule.
“Although he wanted a smooth and organised transition of power, some people went to great lengths to ruin it,” she reveals, stating that finer details of the last days of the Moi presidency will be contained in her memoir which she is finalising. Dr Kosgei says that the former President gave his last speech as president-elect after he won the 1997 General Election after which he set in motion plans for his succession.
“His speech after winning the 1997 General Election was largely about him leaving office. He didn’t want to stay in office even for one extra day,” she recalls. Things would move further during a meeting in the US where President Moi received an award for conducting a successful vaccination campaign.
“It is during that award ceremony when we made final plans to have the President (Moi) hold a meeting with President Bush at the White House about his succession, safety and protection if he left power willingly,” she recalls. According to insiders, the former President sought the meeting as they believed that Western nations wielded a lot of influence on political succession, especially in Africa.
Other than Dr Kosgei, the only other person who attended the secret White House meeting in 2002 was then Energy Cabinet minister Chris Okemo.
Dr Kosgei says that President Bush was concerned about the tendency of African leaders to cling on to power whenever their terms came to an end and wanted Mr Moi to lead by example by voluntarily relinquishing the presidency when the time came. Although the constitution barred Mr Moi from seeking a third term, fears were rife, especially within the opposition and civil society groups, that Moi would borrow a leaf from other long-serving African strongmen and declare himself a president for life.
This is because he had severally been on record saying that he could not find anybody with the skills to rule the country. Despite Mr Moi’s several public declarations that he would retire at the end of that year, rumours that he was scheming to stay on persisted.
The rumours were based on the “strongman syndrome” across Africa which saw many presidents refuse to step down, occasionally leading to bloody coups. They included Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo, Gabon’s Omar Bongo and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak who all clung to power and had to be swept aside through popular uprisings.
Mr Bush’s assurance that the US would guarantee his safety once he handed over power in a peaceful transition emboldened the retired president to proceed with his succession plan.
On Sunday July 28, 2002, Moi declared publicly for the first time that Uhuru Kenyatta, who was then the Local Government minister, was his preferred choice as Kanu’s presidential candidate while addressing a delegation from Lugari constituency.
“It was a surprise to many people including me on how he arrived at Uhuru Kenyatta,” Dr Kosgei recalls.
A day before the announcement, Transport minister Musalia Mudavadi had become the first of the three Kanu vice chairmen to announce his intention to be the party’s presidential flag-bearer. Other Kanu presidential hopefuls included Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga, Katana Ngala and George Saitoti.
In October 2002, Moi held a low-key Moi Day celebrations, a departure from his well attended national day events he was known for. Unbeknownst to the public, the President had also set in place a team that was to oversee the political transition. This team met regularly, drafted a programme for the handover ceremony and swearing in of the new president and even invited foreign dignitaries including heads of state who would attend the historic event. Among the issues that the transition team was tasked with was preparing for a smooth handover ceremony and helping the incoming administration to set up a government.
By October 2002, the team that met regularly from 6am to 8pm , had already prepared two speeches which Moi would read during the handover ceremony, the first one in the event of a victory for his candidate, in this case Mr Kenyatta, and the second in the event of a defeat. The team comprised then Attorney General and current Busia senator Amos Wako, spymaster Wilson Boinnet, Chief Justice Bernard Chunga and Dr Kosgei who was the head. The other two members of the team were then Chief of General Staff Joseph Kibwana and police commissioner Philemon Abong'o. The existence of the team was only made public on December 17, 2002.
A few weeks before the 2002 General Election, President Moi met military commanders to ensure they were all on the same page in terms of the handing over. The 2002 elections brought to an end Kanu’s 39-year stranglehold on power in a unique ballot.
“For the first time in Kenya’s post-colonial history, the country faced an election in which the incumbent president was barred by the constitution from seeking re-election. The president identified his preferred heir, pushed him beyond the party nomination stage triggering a split in the ruling party, and seemed determined to see him triumph in the general election at whatever cost,” writes Dr Patrick Asingo in the book “The Politics of Transition in Kenya from KANU to NARC.”
The election returned a humiliating defeat for Kanu with the opposition candidate Mwai Kibaki capturing nearly two thirds of the vote and his coalition winning a huge majority in parliament.
The list of those defeated at constituency level read like the who-is-who in Kanu led by Moi’s last Vice President Mudavadi and 14 cabinet ministers. Dr Kosgei claims that meticulous arrangements for a colourful swearing-in ceremony were ruined by politicians who wanted to embarrass the outgoing president.
On the day of the handing over ceremony, Dr Kosgei claims that Mr Kibaki got delayed for hours over unknown reasons, creating anxiety.
“This is what forced Moi to drive himself to Uhuru Park so as to hand over the instruments of power,” she claims.
In his address, Mr Kibaki, who never gave a chance to the retiring president to say goodbye to the people he had led for 24 years, warned that Mr Moi’s cronies could face charges for plundering billions of shillings from state coffers.
Speaking from a wheelchair, the President-elect said; “I have inherited a country that has been ravaged by years of misrule,” as Moi listened.