In Summary
  • Power barons around ageing and ailing Mzee Kenyatta would go to great lengths to block VP Moi, painting him as not good enough for the presidency.
  • Odinga defected from Kanu to join the opposition ranks, introducing a third dynamic that enabled him to play impasse breaker when he declared “Kibaki Tosha”.

The hurdles facing Deputy President William Ruto’s ambitions to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta are part of a familiar story in Kenya’s past four transitions.

Like past perceived frontrunners, Dr Ruto will need a thick skin, particularly to ward off two key threats: Establishment forces who feature local rivals and their shadowy “deep state” backers, and external “international community” interests pulling diplomatic strings.

Fierce resistance against apparent frontrunners by establishment forces has been the norm rather than the exception in the past four power transitions.

The script for change of guard at State House featured incumbent power barons weaving a web of intrigues to push through a preferred successor even as they swore by the gods of democracy.

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who was independent Kenya’s first Head of State, set the tough ground rules on succession.


Colonial Governor Patrick Renison described Mzee Kenyatta as “an African leader unto darkness and death” in 1959, to which Mzee Kenyatta retorted that “my leadership is unto light and prosperity”.

On March 20, 1961, Sir Renison pushed his message in a national radio broadcast.

“I love Kenya too much to risk releasing Kenyatta ... in spite of great difficulties after Mau Mau horrors, it is my view that Jomo Kenyatta should be kept in restriction indefinitely. I do not propose to release him until the security risk can be accepted and contained.”

By security risk, the governor meant the dread among European settlers, the colonial powers, their loyalists and the church in Kikuyuland that civil war would break upon Kenyatta’s release.

This dread was fuelled by horror stories brought to Nairobi by whites fleeing the Congo (now DRC) immediately after independence in 1960.


Years earlier, there was a memorandum by prominent Africans in support of a colonial policy to let Mzee Kenyatta and his compatriots rot in detention.

“Due to your evil actions, the government has justifiably decided that no Mau Mau leader should ever return to Kikuyu country. We have endorsed and recommended the decision... declaring all Mau Mau leaders banished and should never return to Kikuyuland for good,” read the chilling memorandum dated January 27, 1954.

On behalf of then Kiambu District, they included senior Chief Josiah Njonjo, father of Kenyatta’s long-serving Attorney General Charles Njonjo, Chief Magugu Waweru, the Rev Wanyoike Kamwe, Councillor Mbira, Chief Kibathi Gitangu, Rev Williams Njoroge (for the Presbyterian Church of East Africa) and Canon Samuel Nguru (for Anglican Church).

On behalf of then-Nyeri District, the epicentre of Mau Mau activities and home to Mau Mau legends, Senior Chief Muhoya, the first African Head of PCEA in East Africa, Rev Charles Muhoro Kareri, and Chief Eliud Mugo (Mathira) signed.


For Murang’a District (Fort Hall) were senior chief Njiiri Karanja, Chief Ignatio Murai (late cabinet minister John Michuki’s father-in-law), the Rev Alijah Gachanja and Chief Samuel Githu. Other signatories were from Embu and the Rift Valley.

While one may excuse loyalist chiefs and religious leaders of European missionary denominations, it still leaves many conflicted that celebrated nationalists James Gichuru, Harry Thuku, Eliud Mathu and Muchoki Gikonyo had lent their names and political credentials to the memorandum.

Mzee Kenyatta would remain in detention until August 1961, after a group of activists organised a secret conference at Nyeri County Hall, Ruring’u, on December 26, 1960, bringing together all the signatories of the 1954 memorandum, to write and sign a counter document.

The gist of the counter memorandum that would be secretly sneaked to White Hall was that there would be no civil war should Mzee Kenyatta be released.

The counter memorandum, coupled with political pressure, compelled colonial authorities to cave in and relent on Mzee Kenyatta’s status.


Fast forward to the second half of the 1970s, and establishment power barons around ageing and ailing Mzee Kenyatta would go to great lengths to block vice president Daniel arap Moi, painting him as not good enough for the presidency.

Page 1 of 2