Kenya: Why We Swore in President Kibaki at Nightfall in 2007 - Kiraitu Murungi

President Mwai Kibaki would readily have handed over power had he lost the 2007 election. That is according to his constitutional affairs minister and close confidante, Kiraitu Murungi. If anything, the governor of Meru County says that the President maintained his vintage calm demeanor even on that fateful day of December 30, 2007 as the election results trickled to a painfully slow drip amid rising anxiety and tension in the country.

One of a few trusted allies, Mr Murungi was at State House with President Kibaki in the tense hours following the tight poll that pitted his boss against Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga. For the first time, details of the goings-on in the inner sanctum of power as the country hung on a thin thread three days after the General Election on December 27, 2007 can be revealed.

"I was with Kibaki at State House as the results were being tallied by the Electoral Commission of Kenya at KICC. We were following the proceedings on TV while Kibaki was in his room upstairs. He occasionally came downstairs to find out how the exercise was going on. As usual, he looked very calm and composed. It was as if nothing major was happening," says Mr Murungi.

The revelations are contained in a new bare-it-all book authored by veteran journalist Njeri Rugene and published by Kenway Publications, an imprint of East African Educational Publishers. Beyond Politics: A Conversation with Kiraitu Murungi, also details the Meru governor's thoughts on the country's other major political figures with whom he interacted closely, making the book a colourful commentary on Kenya's recent history.

He says had Kibaki lost the election he would have handed power to Mr Odinga because "he is not power-hungry."

Kibaki's legendary calm amid storms has been written before, but this is the first time a confidante is opening a window into the mind of the enigmatic leader at one of the most trying moments in Kenya's history.

He writes that by 5pm the tension in the room had become unbearable. Results from all stations had been tallied except one and a helicopter had been sent to fetch them.

"KICC was becoming chaotic. The opposition crowd at KICC was threatening to burn the country with mass action, Sierra Leone-style, unless Raila Odinga was declared the winner," says Mr Murungi.

He blames Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) chairman Samuel Kivuitu for "throwing paraffin into the fire" with his remarks that the delayed votes from the Kibaki stronghold of Tharaka-Nithi were being cooked. However, Mr Murungi says, there was considerable sigh of relief in Kibaki's inner circle when Mr Kivuitu "finally" announced that the President had won by a 300,000-vote margin at about 5.30pm.

It was all a race against time as, constitutionally, this was the last day of Kibaki's five-year term.

"Had the Electoral Commission of Kenya not announced the winner by 6pm, the country would have had no president or commander-in-chief, and it would be engulfed in flames," he says.

Preparations were immediately made to swear in Kibaki as President at State House by 6pm.

"There was no time for elaborate ceremonies. In all this, Kibaki had remained very calm."

He says he, Attorney-General Amos Wako and a few other advisors had read and re-read the Constitution and the law to ensure there would be no illegality in the swearing in.

"Contrary to the propaganda that Kibaki was sworn in at night, he was sworn in before 6pm. The Constitution did not prescribe the place where the swearing in should take place," he says.

Following the announcement of Kibaki as winner the country was thrown into chaos, leading the death of more than 1,000 people and the displacement of thousands of others.

While the Independent Review Commission (IREC), the body of inquiry established in February 2008 to investigate all aspects of the 2007 General elections under the chairmanship of South African judge Johann Kriegler, said it was impossible to establish who won (ODM believed votes were manipulated in Kibaki's strongholds to give him an edge), Mr Murungi insists the Party of National Unity (PNU) leader won fair and square.

He believes that it is the "ODM propaganda machine" and the "reckless statements" by Mr Kivuitu that votes were "being cooked" in PNU strongholds that set the country ablaze.

Yet, comparing the presidencies of Uhuru Kenyatta and his predecessor, Mwai Kibaki, Mr Murungi appears to blame the latter for the 2007 chaos. "Kibaki concentrated on the economy and did poorly on politics, leading to the 2007/8 post-election violence. On the other hand, Uhuru has focused on politics and performed poorly on the economy."

Mr Murungi was not always a Kibaki man. In the advent of multi-party elections in 1992, he had cast his lot with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, whom he considered to have been more progressive.

"During the struggle for multi-party democracy, we dismissed Kibaki as part of the conservative Kanu elite. He had trivialised our struggle, saying that trying to remove Kanu from power was like "cutting a mugumo tree with a razor blade."

Mr Murungi explains that even when the future president defected from Kanu and formed Democratic Party (DP) in 1991, fellow opposition leaders did not trust him. We thought it was part of Moi's strategy to divide the Kikuyu and weaken the opposition. Kibaki's DP was viewed merely as Kanu B, which would perpetuate the status quo," he says in the book, which takes the form of a long interview.

It was only later when he joined Parliament as Ford-Kenya MP for South Imenti that his party and DP formed a working relationship that Murungi came to know Kibaki personally. When he won re-election, this time on the DP ticket, Kibaki appointed him Shadow Attorney-General and they became very close.

Concerning the third president's philosophy of politics, Mr Murungi discloses that Kibaki frowned upon high-sounding classifications such as 'capitalist' or 'liberal democrat', telling his lieutenants that wananchi were never interested in such terms.

"When we asked him whether we could describe DP as a social democratic party, he told us to say it was a party for promoting the interests of the common man and woman of Kenya. Kibaki was specifically concerned about uplifting the milk, coffee, tea, pyrethrum and other agricultural produce -- and improvement of rural roads," Mr Murungi recalls.

"Like former President Moi, who had his Nyayo philosophy of peace, love and unity, Kibaki's philosophy, I think, was Fanyeni Kazi (Work Hard). He had no time for idlers and gossips. He always referred to them as bure kabisa! (totally useless).

Mr Murungi's time in the Cabinet was not without controversy as graft allegations followed him like a shadow. Yet Kibaki kept appointing him. Was he the blue-eyed boy of the administration?

"Kibaki did not favour me. He did what he thought was right. He asked me to step aside when Anglo-Leasing investigations were being conducted. I was at home for nine months. It was only after I was cleared of wrongdoing that he reappointed me to the Cabinet. He never bowed to pressure. He was convinced I was innocent."

Also raising eyebrows was Mr Murungi's curious call on Moi, upon Narc's ascension to power, to go sit under a tree and watch TV to see how government is run. The statement, he now claims, was twisted out of context.

He explains that he made the statement to deflect pressure from vindictive civil society activists who wanted Moi arrested and charged with various crimes.

Mr Murungi explains that despite Kibaki's external appearance of weakness he "is as tough as nails" and nothing would move him if he took a position. "He was immune to manipulation. What mattered to him was intellectual conviction that what he was doing was right."

He remembers the defeat of the government-backed referendum in 2005 as another major upset in Kibaki's administration, but one which, in his characteristic fashion, he took calmly.

"LDP and the old Kanu machinery had combined to defeat the government. This made us panic. We did not know what would happen. But Kibaki was cool. He said what had been defeated at the referendum was the proposal for a new constitution, not his government."

Saying he would respect the will of the people not to have a new constitution and rule under the old one, he dissolved the Cabinet and sent all ministers home. "For two months he ruled only with Vice-President Moody Awori and Attorney-General Amos Wako. He later reconstituted the Cabinet and ignored the opposition for three years. As a result, he achieved an unprecedented GDP growth of seven per cent," says Mr Murungi.

Mr Murungi also uses the opportunity offered by the long interview to deflect real and perceived failures of the Narc administration, of which he was a key architect.

For instance, he says the Truth and Justice Commission, mooted along the Desmond Tutu-led one in South Africa after apartheid, could not be established because the government received intelligence that if the commission was formed and implemented it would further polarise the country.

"A security decision was made to shelve the report. As the minister in charge, I had to balance the imperatives of State security against human rights abuses. Government is not about abstract idealism," he explains.

Editor's note: Beyond Politics: A Conversation with Kiraitu Murungi will be launched tomorrow at Serena Hotel in Nairobi by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and will be available in all major bookshops across the country soon afterwards.

The author, Njeri Rugene, was one of the longest-serving Parliamentary editors at the Daily Nation. A Kalmar University, Sweden, fellow on Journalism, Women and Leadership, she is the author of Women Changing the way the World Works and Founder and Executive Director of The Woman's Newsroom Foundation.

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