On the eve of New Year, 2008, at a church in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, marauding youths besieged the Kenya Assemblies of God Church at Kiambaa. They killed 35 men, women and children that had sought refuge in the House of God. Pastor Stephen Mburu, who witnessed and survived the attack, described to the media the terrifying scenes.
The Saturday Nation of 1 March 2008, captured the pastor’s description of the assailants spearing victims that tried to flee the blaze. Others were flung back into the embers. He retold how he pleaded with the attackers who struck him several times, pushing him into the inferno. He had no recollection of how he escaped, but he lost eight teeth.
As soon as Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner in the 2007 General Election, violence broke out in the Rift Valley, spewing into the western Kenya, Lake Victoria and coastal regions. What followed was mayhem. It manifested in systematic killings, rapes, arson attacks, looting and the destruction of property.
At that point, Kibaki reached out to Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka.
It took the former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to broker a deal that established a coalition called the Government of National Unity.
In his memoirs, Seasons of Hope, the former Kitui Senator and Kalonzo confidant, David Musila, reckons that as the violence escalated, wisdom persuaded them to join the Kibaki side to help stabilise the country. Soon a working formula of a partnership between Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) and Kalonzo’s Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-K) was drafted. Kalonzo and his party joined government and he was immediately appointed Vice President.
On Thursday 28 February 2008 Kibaki and Raila Odinga, signed a pact at Nairobi’s Harambee House at a ceremony witnessed by, among others, Kofi Annan, Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete and former Tanzania President William Benjamin Mkapa. The two Kenyan leaders agreed to lay aside their adversarial stance, promising to restore peace in Kenya and stability in the region.
Kalonzo took the moral high ground even as he was castigated for joining Kibaki. Indeed, some of his critics called him a traitor. Others called him selfish while others even claimed that he was a political project of Kibaki and former President Daniel arap Moi.
The day he was appointed Kenya’s 10th Vice President, Tuesday 8 January 2008, remains unforgettable. However, he said of that action that earned him enemies and friends in equal number: “I do not regret my decision then, just as I do not regret my decision to re-join Raila under the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), in the 2013 elections, and under NASA in 2017. In 2008, I played the crucial role of peacemaker. Kenya might have slid further into anarchy had I joined ODM.”
Another compelling reason for joining Kibaki, was to save the lives of hundreds of Kikuyu families in his Ukambani, homeland. With the violence taking on an ugly ethnic angle, he sensed that he would have endangered their lives had he joined forces with ODM.
In 2003 Kibaki as took over the instruments of power, he promised to deliver a new Constitution. Moi had presided over a vibrant process at the Bomas of Kenya where Kenyans from all walks of life had reviewed the Constitution of Kenya. A small clique of politicians from Central Province coalesced around President Kibaki, excluding Odinga and Kalonzo from Kibaki’s affairs.
Despite the diminishing of a cordial relationship between Kibaki and Kalonzo, the Vice President enjoyed his stint as Foreign Affairs Minister under Kibaki’s first term. He was doing what he loved most, banking on years of experience and travel that had transformed him into a skilled diplomat, negotiator and mediator.
Kibaki tasked him with the duty of uniting the people of South Sudan and Somalia respectively. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in South Sudan had waged a fierce war against the Muslim north whose leadership was keen to forcibly impose Islamic Sharia law in the mainly Christian and animist south. Millions had died after years of a bloody war led by John DeMabior Garang in the south against the Khartoum government.
Kalonzo had sharpened his skills from the time he was first appointed Foreign Affairs Minister after the 1992 General Election during Moi’s tenure. He began chairing peace negotiations through the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). After the 2002 elections Kalonzo went back to familiar territory in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Once again, he took over the peace process that had been expertly led by General Lazarus Sumbeiywo.
Kalonzo believes that the breakthrough in the Sudanese peace process arrived when Kibaki dispatched him to President Bashir in Khartoum and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, with goodwill messages. Kalonzo briefed both presidents on the peace process. Due to the importance of River Nile to their country’s livelihood, Egyptians had become key players in the negotiations.
“I got a call from Sumbeiywo soon after arriving in Cairo. He told me that the Sudanese talks at Mt. Kenya Safari Club were stuck and we needed to bring both Vice President Taha and John Garang on board,” recalls Kalonzo with a smile
While the tension-packed talks were taking place, Kenya was mourning the death of Vice President Michael Wamalwa. “I assured Bashir that I was willing to put my career and reputation on the line by taking the risk of bringing Garang and Taha together at the peace table. I told him, ‘Mr. President, in the event that John refuses to meet Taha, Kenya is mourning the passing on of our vice president. May I humbly suggest that your vice president attends the State funeral? In the event that John refuses to see him, he will at least represent you at the funeral’.” Taha flew to Kenya and drove straight to Wamalwa’s home in Runda, Nairobi.
The parties waited for Garang who eventually arrived after two days. The talks were back on track. By bringing Garang and Taha to the negotiating table, Kalonzo had given the Sudanese peace process a major dose of confidence and a chance at survival.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, wrote to Kibaki requesting that given the advanced stage in the Sudanese talks, that Kalonzo be given the chance to complete the process. Kalonzo received a letter asking him to continue, however, a month later he received yet another letter asking him to hand over to John Koech. He was devastated.
Kalonzo’s dream was, however, realised with the eventual birth of South Sudan as a new nation following the referendum in early 2011 on its marriage to the north. He was delighted to see the peace efforts bearing fruit. Then in July 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Kalonzo as a Special Envoy to the Republic of South Sudan.
To date, Kalonzo has no idea why Kibaki moved him to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in 2004, but the appointment came with many blessings. He took up his new job with enthusiasm. He was soon traversing the country, planting trees; fighting environmental pollution; and educating Kenyans on the impact of bad environmental practices.
Kalonzo acknowledges that the Environment docket tested his ego, humility and diplomacy to the limits: “I was given a deputy who was more qualified in environmental and development issues than I will ever be,” he recalls. “Indeed, she should have been my boss.” In her own right, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai was a highly acclaimed global citizen, whom Kalonzo accompanied to Oslo, Norway, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
He learnt a lot from his interactions with Maathai and his work in the Ministry. He put all this to work by overseeing the transformation of his home in Karen and in Yatta by planting plenty of indigenous trees.
The year 2005 was politically a volatile one. This is the year Kenyans rejected a draft Constitution that the government supported. For decades, Kenyans had fought for and agitated for constitutional changes that would offer them an assurance of their basic and human rights while taming the powers of the Executive. Ever since the era of President Jomo Kenyatta, through to Moi, the Presidency had become extremely powerful and prone to abuse.
Kenyans in their thousands met for months at the Bomas of Kenya under the Constitutional of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC), to deliberate on the Constitution they wanted.
The Bomas Draft Constitution was born with a draft proposal for a less powerful President. It proposed that there be a Deputy President who would be the President’s running mate during elections. The Bomas draft allowed for the establishment of the office of the Prime Minister (PM) with executive authority. The PM would be the Head of Government and Leader of Government Business in Parliament. The President would appoint the PM from the majority party or parties which formed the government.
The Kibaki administration suddenly withdrew from the Bomas conference and later, through the then Attorney General (AG) Amos Wako, came up with a draft Constitution that came to be known as the Wako draft. The Wako draft differed greatly from the Bomas one, especially on the Presidency. It retained an executive President enjoying all authority as provided for in the Constitution at the time.
The Wako draft provided for a non-executive PM, who would be appointed and fired by the President. The Prime Minister’s main function would be Leader of Government Business in Parliament and would be assisted by two deputy premiers, also appointed by the President. The PM could be appointed from among Members of Parliament (MPs) of a party or parties on the government side, and not necessarily from the party with the majority in Parliament. The Wako draft proposed a two-tier system of government where there would be a central government and a devolved one at the district level.
A new Bill was drafted by the AG and a team of lawyers. Wako unveiled the draft on 24 August 2005 to be subjected to a referendum.
The Christian religious leaders were opposed to the inclusion of religious courts in the new Constitution, arguing that Kenya was a secular state and as such should not have religious courts entrenched in its Constitution.
Kalonzo linked up with KANU’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Odinga and a host of other MPs in opposing the new Constitution. On 27 August, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and KANU announced that they would jointly campaign against the proposed Constitution. The parties said that they could not break pledges made to the electorate during the 2002 General Election. Meanwhile, Kalonzo and his Cabinet colleagues Odinga, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Najib Balala and Ochillo Ayacko issued a press statement declaring their opposition to the draft Constitution.
The Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), picked 21 November 2005 as the day of the referendum. It also released the symbols that would stand for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on the ballot papers, a banana and an orange respectively. On 8 September, the ‘no’ camp officially launched its campaign. They cautioned Kibaki that he was endangering the survival of his government by supporting the new Constitution. Kalonzo dared him to sack the five ‘rebel’ ministers who had opposed the proposed Constitution.
On 21 November, millions of Kenyans voted in the referendum, and on 23 November, it was apparent that the ‘no’ team had won. The proposed new Constitution was rejected. The tally stood at 3,548,477 Kenyans (57% of the entire vote) who voted no, against 2,532,918 Kenyans (43% of the total vote) that polled yes.
On 24 November, Kalonzo, Odinga, Balala, Nyong’o, and Ayacko were fired from the Cabinet, and Kalonzo suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory on the back bench.
Kalonzo argues that unlike Moi, President Kibaki was difficult to understand and even more difficult to predict. He kept to himself and only allowed very few people into his inner sanctum to share his thoughts. He posits that, had the wrangles that put the LDP–NAK marriage asunder and had the missteps that followed thereafter not occurred, perhaps Kibaki would have become the greatest President Kenya ever had.
The Vice President’s office was the biggest and most influential that Kalonzo has ever held. However, occupying the office was not a walk in the park. The position came with the Home Affairs docket which is responsible for the Kenya Prisons Services. Kalonzo had to continue with the prison reforms that Moody Awori initiated when he was Kibaki’s Vice President between 2003 and 2007.
Kalonzo said that as Kibaki’s deputy, he was kept very busy with local and international assignments. “But I must say he was very good at delegation. As his VP, Kibaki gave me a lot of assignments to carry out on his behalf but I noted that he personally handled all the major ones himself. He also gave me a relatively free hand to operate and I would hold sessions with him once a week.”
Kalonzo and his PS Ludeki Chweya, worked hard on their Prisons and Betting Control docket. Although his office should have been in charge of cohesion and reconciliation, he never got the portfolio.
Due to Kibaki’s nature, many would approach Kalonzo to speak on their behalf whenever they had issues that required the President’s ear.
There were also occasions when he would make certain pleas: “During one formal Cabinet meeting I requested Kibaki to forgive 4,000 prisoners on death row. I do not believe in the death penalty. I convinced Kibaki to remit the 4,000 to life imprisonment,” Kalonzo said.
Whereas President Moi regularly called his ministers, Kibaki never once called Kalonzo for the entire period served as his principal assistant. Kalonzo says he would occasionally call Kibaki on the hotline.
During their last days in office, Kalonzo wanted to see him on a matter he considered critical. The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission under Bethwel Kiplagat, had released a report which wrongly mentioned Kalonzo adversely. He desperately wanted to talk to the President about it but never got the chance. Kalonzo wondered how the report with such glaring factual gaps could have been allowed to pass.
Kalonzo took a long and silent pause when what he calls his most misunderstood assignment, the ICC (International Criminal Court) shuttle diplomacy, was brought up during the interview for this article. The assignment earned him numerous friends and plenty of foes.
“I have gone on the record several time defending my much-maligned efforts to have Kenyan cases at the ICC deferred. My efforts were aimed at safeguarding Kenya’s sovereignty while allowing for thorough investigations to ensure that even suspects not included in the list prepared by Justice Phillip Waki and handed to the ICC were brought to justice,” he said.
He added that his efforts were never meant to save the ‘Ocampo Six’ (Kenyatta, William Ruto, Joshua arap Sang, Hussein Ali, Francis Muthaura and Henry Kosgey); neither were they meant to win him political glory.
He was accused of ignoring the plight of post-election victims who lost their loved ones and property. It was also said that he eagerly took on the deferral mission in the hope of being endorsed as Kibaki’s successor. However, he postulates that Kibaki’s endorsement of his candidature, if it ever came, would have been a matter of agreement following the support he gave him in 2008. The ICC assignment was part of his duty to assist the President. He traversed the world, and especially Africa, to convince leaders to push for an African Union (AU) joint resolution requesting deferral of the Kenya cases at the ICC. The Kibaki government declared his mission a success as the AU later resolved to support Kenya’s request for a 12-month deferral to allow the country to finalise reforms and initiate local trials.
Opposition grew against his flurry of diplomatic activity. Some objected to public funds being spent in a quest to protect ‘six individuals facing private prosecution’.
Kalonzo reflectively looks at his tour of duty in the Kibaki administration: “My time as Kibaki’s principal assistance came with many memorable lessons, some of which changed my perspective of politics and art of governance for ever.”