Political Banditry and Moi’s hatchet men in Western Kenya
By Maurice N. Amutabi
Back in the day, Burudi Nabwera was such a powerful minister in the Office of the President, and his word greatly mattered, for it represented the thinking of the Government. I first met Burudi Nabwera in person while I was a student at the University of Nairobi in the 1980s. He looked candid but serious, surrounded by bodyguards. He was generous, like his boss former President Daniel Moi, and gave out cash handouts. Nabwera was not appointed a minister by Daniel Moi from nowhere. It seems to me that Moi knew Nabwera had political muscle, gravitas and wherewithal. Moi liked political musclemen, besides sycophants. You were either good at bullying, like Burudi Nabwera, Elijah Mwangale and Moses Mudavadi, or at sycophancy like Shariff Nassir and Joseph Kamotho in order to serve in Moi’s cabinet.
Nabwera was not charismatic and articulate, but had been part of the struggle against Kenyatta and Kiambu mafia and Moi knew about it. He knew that Burudi Nabwera could tell the Kikuyu off on behalf of Moi. Moi sought to use Nabwera to undermine Martin Shikuku and Masinde Muliro. Burudi’s shrewdness emerged between 1969 and 1974 during President Jomo Kenyatta’s political surgery which targeted the so-called dissident members from government. The surgery saw the removal of the popular and flamboyant MP for Nyandarua North, J. M. Kariuki from government alongside his political allies, MP for Butere Martin Shikuku, MP for Starehe Charles Rubia, and MP for Lurambi Burudi Nabwera from their posts as assistant ministers. It is possible that this event left an indelible mark on Moi about Nabwera.
Moi cherished people like Nabwera in his cabinet because he could use them to check and undermine his political enemies and mavericks out to sabotage his government. It was largely for these reasons that Nabwera ended up in Moi’s cabinet. Moi knew that Nabwera was not really popular on the ground, where it was believed that he was always defeated by Joshua Angatia, whom Moi did not know well and feared might team up with radicals like Martin Shikuku, Lawrence Sifuna and Wasike Ndombi to undermine his leadership. Moi also liked politicians to be indebted to him. He knew that this made them vulnerable and easy to use. When Burudi Nbwera’s re-election was threatened, it was expedient that Nabwera should be given his constituency, separate from Joshua Angatia. This led to the creation of Lugari constituency hived off from Lurambi North.
Nabwera’s reign and leadership in Kakamega as KANU chairman was forceful and vicious. He ruled like a real KANU supremo, using unheralded politicians to engage in ‘banditry’ against established politicians who did not toe the line. For example, he used Jesse Opembe, Elizabeth Efiketi and Okwara to undermine Omwana wa Oyondi (Shikuku or peoples’ watchman) to the extent that Shikuku could not even hold a location post in KANU and yet he was popularly elected as an MP. So long as Nabwera remained a minister, many suffered in his wake, in Kakamega. It was exactly under the same circumstances that Moses Budamba Mudavadi also emerged as a supremo in KANU politics, and in Western.
Like Nabwera, Moses Mudavadi was also created by former President Daniel Moi in order to deal with Martin Shikuku and Masinde Muliro. Mudavadi was a friend of Moi and their friendship went back many years. Each time Moses Mudavadi tried to go to parliament there were two fiery MPs that always stood in his way, Peter Kibisu and Bahati Semo. These two were so popular that Mudavadi always came third when Kibisu or Semo was first.
When Moi became President in 1979, he made sure that Mudavadi emerged victorious and rewarded him with a cabinet position. He used Mudavadi to burry Kibisu’s political light forever. Mudavadi soon warmed his way to the party top posts, replacing Burudi Nabwera as KANU secretary general. Both Nabwera and Mudavadi were to ensure that the wings of Shikuku and Masinde Muliro were clipped and their political activities minimized.
Thus, like Nabwera, Mudavadi was part of Moi’s political banditry in Western Kenya, to cut Shikuku and Masinde Muliro to size. Mudavadi became Moi’s hatchet man and marksman in Western. He was such a reliable hit man that Moi allowed him to receive goodwill delegations at his Mululu home in Vihiga. People in western visited Mululu to make demands on the state. Not even the vice president received delegations at his home, but Mudavadi did, especially when he served as minister for local government and was used by Moi to reward supporters with positions of nominated councillors. Mudavadi did the dirty work for Moi. When Moi wanted to dissolve the City Council, he simply appointed Mudavadi as the minister for local government and asked him to deal with City Hall. Mudavadi disbanded the city council due to rampant corruption and replaced it with city commissions headed, first by Eric Mwangola and later by Fred Gumo.
Elijah Mwangale was also one of the bad boys that Moi used in Western Kenya, to undermine Masinde Muliro. Mwangale came into prominence after the assassination of J. M Kariuki when he headed the special committee which parliament had constituted to investigate the circumstances surrounding the MP’s assassination. The members of special investigative committee included Jean-Marie Seroney (deputy speaker of the House), and MPs Maina Wanjigi (MP for Kamukunji), and Charles Rubia (MP for Starehe). During the vote on the report in parliament, a minister Pius Masinde Muliro and two assistant ministers, John Keen and Peter Kibisu, lost their posts for voting with backbenchers. Their mistake was voting against the government on whether to accept the report of the special investigative committee or merely acknowledging it. Although Mwangale and Muliro were reading from the same script during Kenyatta’s time, things changed during Moi’s time when Mwangale was appointed a cabinet minister with the express purpose of dealing with Masinde Muliro and reducing his influence.
The multiparty democratic dispensation confirmed Moi’s worst fears in Western Kenya. The two gentlemen – Shikuku and Muliro – that Moi had fought so hard to contain turned out to be some of the most influential in Kenya’s second liberation. Many scholars agree that Kenya’s political transition owes a lot to the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) formed in August 1991, by six opposition leaders, Masinde Muliro (Luyia), Martin Shikuku (Luyia), Oginga Odinga (Luo), Philip Gachoka (Kikuyu), George Nthenge (Kamba) and Mohammed Bahmariz (Coastal Arab-Bajuni). In what was clearly a well-crafted ethnic alliance, FORD became a mass movement almost overnight and scared the shit out of Moi. Moi had worked very hard to use political banditry to put Martin Shikuku and Masinde Muliro down, but had failed. The movement and fire they helped ignite led to the removal of Moi’s KANU from power in 2002.
Prof. Amutabi teaches Political Science at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.