East Africa

Kenya: Guessing Game

Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi
Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Coolum, March 4, 2002 (Photo: AFP).  

Who is likely to succeed President Daniel Arap Moi, who has been in power since 1978? As the general election (in which Moi is expected to stand down) scheduled for the latter part of this year draws nearer, speculation has heated up.  The talk gathered momentum when Moi was quoted by the Kenyan press as saying he would pave the way for a younger leader.

Intrigue within the ruling KANU (Kenya African National Union) has confounded even the savviest of political analysts. After President Moi merged KANU with the former opposition National Development Party (NDP) led by Raila Odinga on March 18 to form New KANU and made Odinga the party’s secretary-general, aspirants in both KANU and the larger opposition realm were left pondering Moi’s next move.

“When it comes to strategy, President Moi is like a mole; you have to smoke him out of his hole. If you cannot narrow down his options, you cannot beat him,” wrote Mutahi Ngunyi in the Sunday Nation on April 14. He added: “I hold the view that it would be both naive and foolish for Kenyans to assume he can lose this election.”

Moi also dissolved the position of first vice chairman of KANU and in its place created four new posts, none of which was reserved for the vice president, George Saitoti, although traditionally the vice president has always occupied the number-two position in the party.  The four positions were taken by KANU’s Uhuru Kenyatta (son of Kenya’s first president), Musalia Mudavadi, Katana Ngala, and Kalonzo Musyoka, all of whom were tagged “Young Turks” and said to be front-runners in the succession race.

The move earned Moi a few words of praise. “President Moi deserves kudos for the shrewd manner, the magnanimity, and maturity in the way he so successfully handled this delicate issue to its successful conclusion,” wrote Leo Odera Omolo in the Kenya Times (April 30). But John Githongo observed in The East African (April 22-28): “We in the press wrote as if the Moi succession battle was all sewn up after March 18. Then it became apparent, with the selection of four vice chairmen of KANU, that the president had revealed to us that he is not only the professor of Kenyan politics, but also the master of its confusion.”

Perhaps the East African Standard (May 5) described the Moi succession race aptly when it noted, “It is amazing how fast fortunes change in politics. Early this year if you asked most Kenyans to name who they thought were the top three KANU politicians most likely to be the ruling party’s torch-bearers in the forthcoming general election, you were likely to get the name Musalia Mudavadi coming right after or even before that of Vice President Prof. George Saitoti. Today neither...are being viewed as members of the A-team in the Moi succession matrix within KANU.”