Chaos marred President Uhuru Kenyatta’s public meeting in Migori Town on Monday. A group of youths, who were strategically standing in front of the dais, began chanting ODM slogans soon after Migori
The last time a President of Kenya with the surname Kenyatta had a State function interrupted by a hostile section of a crowd in Luo Nyanza the opposition leader had the surname Odinga.
That day was Saturday, October 25, 1969.
Forty-five years later, on Monday, September 8, 2014, another President Kenyatta faced a hostile section of another otherwise peaceable Luo Nyanza crowd chanting slogans associated with another opposition leader surnamed Odinga.
Forty-five years ago, the occasion was the official opening of the New Nyanza Provincial Hospital by President Kenyatta, a pet project of his estranged former VP that was part-financed by the then USSR, hence the references to it as the ‘Russian hospital’.
Jomo was determined to steal Jaramogi’s thunder by being seen to be the leader inaugurating a development project in deepest Luo Nyanza.
All official expectations were that the KPU leader would observe unwritten protocol and not even turn up. However, not only did he appear, there was a gritted-teeth oral confrontation between both leaders on the presidential podium, part of which was relayed live by an open microphone of the Voice of Kenya, the State broadcaster.
A stunned nation heard Jomo Kenyatta tell Jaramogi Odinga live on national radio, “if you were not my friend of such longstanding, I would have ground your hooligans to flour”.
And then the live transmission was unplugged and the chaotic scenes that followed were captured only by still photograph.
When sections of the overwhelmingly pro-Odinga crowd begun throwing rocks and metal folding chairs at the presidential dais, where Jomo and other VIPs were seated, the officers and men of the President’s Escort opened fire, shooting live rounds directly into the surging crowd.
Among the VIPs evacuated from the besieged enclosure with the President was Vice President Daniel Moi, then barely two years in the office.
The President’s Escort shot its way out of Kisumu on that day. To this day, the official death toll stands at between 10 and 14 and unofficial tolls have spoken of up to a maximum of 100 over the years. The report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission contains a memorandum by 11 survivors of the mayhem that makes for rather interesting reading.
Five days ago on Monday, President Kenyatta cut short the launch of a Sh7 billion mosquito net distribution initiative, part of the UN Millennium Development Goals’ programme, after youths shouted ODM slogans and hurled shoes at the VIP enclosure and plastic chairs into an open field, taking care not to strike anyone.
The rowdy youths are diehard supporters of Cord chief principal Raila Odinga, whose father the late Jaramogi had that confrontation with the late Jomo, Uhuru’s father, 45 years ago.
Causing a rumpus in or around a presidential dais is always a dangerous proposition, whatever era or country it might happen in.
In the Cold War’s Big Picture context of 1969, Kenyatta took extremely comprehensive security measures for himself and his entourage.
In the War on Terror context of 2014, Kenyatta Jnr moves around in armoured limousines and salute vehicles and is surrounded by a ring of fire of at least 50 plainclothesmen and -women, to say nothing of uniformed multiagency officers, many of them toting automatic rifles.
Aiming missiles such as shoes and plastic chairs at a VIP dais (or in its vicinity) that has the Head of State, ministers, diplomats, donor aid officials and is surrounded on one side by schoolchildren standing by to sing and dance for invited guests and the crowds, is an extremely high-risk proposition.
These are, after all, the times when grenades are frequently thrown at gatherings, including religious congregations, even in the capital city.
If anything had gone badly wrong at Migori – say, a highly-strung and trigger-happy trooper or agent discharging his or her weapon straight into the rowdy crowd – there would have been hell to pay on all sides.
For the President, who has a crimes-against-humanity case at the ICC that has entered uncharted territory, a shooting incident at which unarmed civilians, including women and children, perished or were injured as he was ringed off by phalanxes of security agents would have wiped off years of crisis PR and image management.
These are the years since December 15, 2010, when the then ICC Chief Prosecutor, Louis Moreno-Ocampo, indicted Uhuru and five other prominent Kenyans, including William Ruto, now Deputy President.
Any wrong move in Migori on Monday and all that crisis PR management would have gone up in a puff of smoke at a time when Ruto is actually away at The Hague, where his crimes-against-humanity case has also reached a pretty pass. Reluctant witnesses are being compelled to testify by video link from Nairobi and the first one (of eight) was promptly declared a hostile witness by the judges.
If the incident at Migori had ended in a hail of bullets, a body count and groaning injured survivors being visited by opposition leaders in hospitals and homes, the accompanying international media coverage would have made the ICC suspects’ Presidency rue the day it had conceived of entering office.
Uhuru must have had a terrible Monday night and all day Tuesday, recovering his equilibrium only around midweek, by which time the Intelligence service and local Migori police and administrators had taken a closer look at the rowdy incident and made their reports.
It is incidents like this that lead to brooding and introspection – and even character sea changes – at the very top. The incident at Migori had eerie parallels with the sabotaging of the Orange Democratic Movement’s National Delegates’ Convention on February 27. Both had terrific prospects for going badly wrong and resulting in massive bloodletting on live TV, and yet within the first five-to-10 seconds of each disruption, it was clear that the rowdy participants had no intention of harming anyone, leave alone a VIP.
Even persons with no security training or situational self-awareness could almost instantly tell that the rowdy Migori youths, like the men-in-black at the Kasarani Auditorium in February, were only out to spoil the party for the sake of spoiling the party.
The plainclothesmen Presidential guards, presumably his last line of defence in such open-air circumstances, knew instinctively that there was no real danger there. They took up positions around the President almost unobtrusively and unthreateningly. This was how President Kenyatta was able to have his say, although hurriedly and in brief.
Uhuru must have weighed and considered his and his handlers’ warm welcoming of Raila to Kiambu County a fortnight ago at Dr Njoroge Mungai’s funeral service and frowned very deeply indeed. At that service, held in the PCEA Church of the Torch at Thogoto, the former Prime Minister was seated between former President Mwai Kibaki and first First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta, Uhuru’s mum.
The President must be absolutely amazed that there exist strategists on the other side of the political aisle who can gamble with such a prospect and get him into such international loss of face all over again.
What’s more, Uhuru no doubt has advice coming to him from all directions, including, almost certainly, from two retired presidents who had major run-ins with the Odinga factor early in their own tenures at State House, as well as later.
Daniel arap Moi (in office 1978-2002), for instance, survived a coup attempt on August 1, 1982, barely four years in office, in which both the Jaramogi and Raila played a role. Twenty years later in his final months of a 24-year incumbency, Moi had to contend with Raila again, entering a marriage of convenience between Kanu and Odinga’s NDP in March 2002, only to see the latter lead an exodus out of the ruling party in October of that year.
Mwai Kibaki (2003-2013) also had to contend with Raila twice – at the November 2005 national referendum, Kenya’s first, and the December 2007 presidential poll. Raila won in 2005, but disputed the 2007 result and took the mass action route, detonating the post-election violence crisis.
The Odinga factor remains a versatile constant in Kenya’s presidential politics – and always dangerous from where the incumbents of any one era since 1964 sit.
What can you do with Sh100 in a day? To many, very little, but to members of Kitemoto Housing Co-operative Society, a Sacco formed by 100 boda boda (motorcycle) operators in Kitengela town, the amount can buy a house.
It all started in November 2009 after the boda boda operators got tired of frequent arrests by traffic police and the squalid conditions of the houses they were living in.
“The police were arresting our members even for little traffic offences and this angered us since we were losing motor bikes in the process due to confiscation. We then saw it wise to start a saving plan to help us paying for the fines as well as to improve our living conditions,” says Aloise Mwai, the group’s chairman.
To achieve this, the group came up with three goals: Planting trees in Kitengela town to help reduce dust; building themselves houses; and buying motorcycles for each member, rather than riding hired ones.
They have succeeded in buying themselves motorcycles; tree planting is on-going (although they say they are facing several challenges, including lack of seeds, high maintenance costs that include frequent watering and cultivation). Currently, they are in the process of completing houses for members.
Before starting the real estate project, they approached the Isinya District Co-operative Officer, Frank Maina, who advised them to form a group through which they could get loans. That is when they registered Kitengela Motorcycle Owners (Kitemoto) with 200 members.
However, about 100 members quit, saying the group would be like another pyramid scheme.
“Since we had set goals and we were focused on attaining them, we decided to move on,” says group secretary Gathaga Maina.
The group went for training on financial management, bookkeeping and savings.
They then approached the National Co-operative Housing Union (Nachu) nine months after inception. Nachu told them they could save and own houses and pay back at a low interest rate.
“What inspired us more to own houses was the fact that if we channelled the money we were spending on rent every month into repaying the Nachu loan for seven years, we could each own a Sh430,000 house,” says Gathaga.
They each started saving Sh100 per day in 2010. When each member’s savings hit Sh60,000, they bought a 50-acre land in Millennium area in Kisaju, Kajiado County, at Sh15 million.
“It was not an easy task saving Sh100 per day…it was a sacrifice that forced most of us to give up on leisure activities and focus on saving,” says John Ndegwa, a member.
Today, the 100 members are beaming with joy, since they are the proud owners of the Ngasemo estate.
Located 800m from Namanga-Kajiado Road and 13km from Kitengela town on an earth road, the estate comprises 100 bedsitters (starter units) for the members and 24 three-bedroom bungalows, ready for occupation. Each bungalow is going for Sh4.7 million to the public.
The starter units come with extra space for expansion. Since only 50 members have been able to pay the required Sh7,600 per month, the rest of the 50 units are rented to mama mbogas, who pay the Sh7,600 per month.
The bungalows come with tiled floors, two bedrooms and one master ensuite, with modern kitchen consisting of sink, tap, work tops, upper and lower kitchen cabinets and dining area-cum living room.
The estate has borehole water. Landscaping is to be done soon; power connection is being worked on. Also in place is chain link fence. A perimeter wall has also been planned. A septic tank has been installed for sewage disposal.
The members are toying with the idea of renting houses belonging to those who will not be willing to stay in the estate to students from the soon-to-be-constructed Tangaza College and existing institutions like KAG University and Kampala International University.
The members are, however, calling upon the Government to help them through youth fund to clear the loans so that they can start planning for phase two of the estate. The membership has since increased to 400.
“If we get funding from the government, we will be able to pay the loan quickly within less than seven years since loan is on reducing balance,” says Aloise.
Aloise is also requesting the Kajiado County government to build roads leading to the estates, including Ngasemo, which gets muddy when it rains.
The group also offers products for members like emergency loans.
According to Timothy Lekake, Eastern Regional Housing Officer with Nachu, the union works closely with various housing co-operatives to ensure decent living for low-income Kenyans.
Any interested group has to pay an affiliation fee of Sh12,500 — Sh2,500 caters for registration while Sh10,000 is for shareholding (a share is Sh10). “We had to conduct a needs assessment first for the members to ascertain the financial and income status and found that they were okay and went ahead to build for them houses,” says Lekake . He added: “The main objective of this project is to eliminate the mushrooming of slums and provide decent houses for the low-income class and those living in
informal settlements.” Lekake said Nachu has already done such projects in Nairobi’s Kawangware slums, Nakuru, Kondele in Kisumu, Mlolongo and now Kitengela.
Frank Maina, the Isinya Sub County Co-operative Officer who registers co-operatives within the sub-county, applauded the boda boda operators.
“I am proud of this project because many people, including myself, used to view boda boda operators as people with no vision. They have come up with a project worth emulating,” he told Home and Away at the project’s site.
He lauded the members for their discipline to save and manage their time well.
Aloise said Kitemoto members are also looking for a biogas investor to install the bio digester, which they hope to produce alternative energy to serve the estate.
Today, the Kitemoto chairman is a busy person, with different groups across the country inviting him for lectures.
“We are willing to share with more groups out there on how we got to where we are today,” he says.