Kenya: Tuju's Fight to Repossess KICC From Claws of Kanu Bigwigs

6 February 2020
opinion

One bright Tuesday morning, 17 years ago, an exuberant Tourism minister Raphael Tuju grandly marched to the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in Nairobi, and dramatically repossessed the iconic building from independence party, Kanu, and installed a Mr GN Macharia as the new chief executive of the premises.

As expected, the February 11, 2003, move by the 43-year-old minister was violently resisted by Kanu officials. For decades, the 28-storey building had served as the party's headquarters.

A group of legislators from the party and former Kanu executive officer Peter Gicumbi heckled Mr Tuju, forcing the minister in the one-month old National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) government to take refuge in a lift for nearly seven minutes.

In fact, party youths beat up a man who had arrived with Mr Tuju and his assistant minister, Ms Beth Mugo.

It took the intervention of KICC police post commander Mary Wangui to free the minister from the lift after calling for reinforcements.

When he eventually walked to his freedom, Tuju was confronted by Kanu's lawyer, the late Mutula Kilonzo, who dismissed the minister's move as null and void.

Tuju retorted amid boos from Kanu officers, "I want to make it known that the government has taken over. If Kanu wishes to go to court, well and good."

The executive order by President Mwai Kibaki to repossess KICC was a symbolic gesture by the Narc administration to deliver back to Kenyans what the Moi administration had over the years plundered or forcefully allocated to the then ruling party or politically correct individuals.

According to Koigi wa Wamwere, an assistant minister for Information in the Kibaki administration, the repossession of KICC marked the beginning of an official crackdown on the mega scandals by the Moi regime.

Constructed under project account No. 530-801(A)-001, the building was registered as a government building No. NRB/ADM/38/1.

However, in 1989, Moi made a claim to the plot and the building, with Kanu registering him and then party chairman Oloo Aringo as registered trustees of plot No. CR 209/11157 for Kanu.

KICC was just among the few notable success stories as a lot of government property and public land was reportedly grabbed and reallocated to Kanu or politicians and their cronies. According to Tuju, the plunder was aided by the fact that at one time, the boundary between Kanu party and the State was blurred, or even non-existent.

In 1989, renowned environmentalist, Prof Wangari Maathai, similarly thwarted Moi's attempt to grab public land in the heart of the city.

Moi had identified part of Uhuru Park's recreational area for a proposed Kenya Times Media Trust Complex, which was envisioned to consist of a 60-storey tower housing among other things, the headquarters for Kanu, the Kenya Times newspaper (the organ of the ruling party), a trading centre, offices, an auditorium, galleries, shopping malls, and parking space.

The Nobel Laureate writes in her autobiography, Unbowed: One Woman's Story:

"In 1988, the government had further encroached on the park by building a monument near the intersection of Kenyatta Avenue and Uhuru Highway that celebrated 10 years of President Moi's Nyayo philosophy and 25 years of independence.

"It was a bitter irony that the park, named to celebrate our independence, was subjected, like so many of Kenya's public goods, to land grabbers in the government."

But perhaps the biggest scars in the Moi regime touches on wanton abuse of human rights.

Noting that he started off as a loving and forthright leader, ex-minister and ally to Moi, Katana Ngala, observes that Moi totally changed his leadership approach following the 1982 attempted coup on his government.

"He resorted to handling suspected aggressors with force and dealing firmly with those opposed to his rule," says the former Kanu vice chairman.

This aptly captures the ugly drama at the infamous torture chambers of Nyayo House, where scores of government critics were maimed and left for dead.

Many in the countryside similarly tasted the state terror. Exactly 36 years ago, for instance, scores of young and old men in northern Kenya were tortured and herded to Wagalla Airstrip in Wajir County by military officers where they were stripped naked and forced to lie on pebbly ground for four days under hot sunshine without food and water.

The Wagalla massacre, as it has come to be known, started as a mere effort to disarm the ethnic Degodia clan following clan-related conflict in the region populated by Kenyan-Somalis.

But this 'simple' exercise escalated to a systematic massacre targeting a civilian population, making it one of Kenya's worst cases of human rights abuses.

Though government authorities put the official number of dead at 57, eyewitnesses claim as many as 5,000 people were killed. Key Permanent Secretaries in the Moi regime, including Joseph Mathenge (Security and Administration, Bethuel Kiplagat (Foreign Affairs), David Mwiraria (Home Affairs and J Gituma (Information) were fingered in the bloody scandal

The other unresolved dark spot that occurred under Moi's watch is the murder of British tourist Julie Ward.

In 1988, late Jonathan Moi, the former President's first son, made headlines after he was linked to the murder.

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