It is said that one should never despise one’s humble beginnings, for who knows where they could lead? This saying rings true for Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, who rose from being a poor village boy in the dry, windswept town of Tseikuru on the northern fringes of present-day Kitui County to become a Cabinet Minister and eventually the 10th Vice President of Kenya.
It was a combination of hope, courage, resilience, determination and faith that saw him overcome the harsh realities of his childhood to distinguish himself as one of the most seasoned diplomats on the Kenyan landscape during his tenure as President Daniel arap Moi’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, especially owing to his efforts to mediate conflicts in the African region.
Musyoka clawed his way up the nation’s political ladder first by becoming Kenya’s youngest Member of Parliament at age 31, when he was elected for the first time in 1985. He went on to serve in public office for 28 years until March 2013, when his political coalition party lost in the General Election.
Musyoka was born in Tseikuru on 24 December 1953 to peasant, Christian parents. His father managed a shop in the sleepy town located in the semi-arid area of Mwingi, which was part of Kitui District as it was known at the time. He attended Tseikuru Full Primary School for his basic education between 1960 and 1967. He then moved to Kitui High School and later in 1973, joined Meru School in Meru District (now Meru County) for his ‘A’ level studies. He went on to the University of Nairobi in 1977, from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Law degree before doing the requisite Postgraduate Diploma in Law at the Kenya School of Law the following year.
After working briefly in the Customs Department at the Port of Mombasa, he did his pupillage at Kaplan & Stratton Advocates then worked as a manager in the Legal Department of the Comcraft Group. He would later go into private practice and in 1979, attended the Mediterranean Institute of Management in Cyprus for a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Management on a scholarship from the Rotary Club.
As Foreign Affairs Minister and mediator of various conflicts in Africa, Musyoka travelled extensively to various countries as Head of Government Delegation representing the Head of State
Musyoka’s debut in elective politics saw him vie for the Kitui North Constituency seat in 1983. He lost, coming fourth in a crowded field that was won by veteran politician Peter Manandu. At the time, Kenya was a one-party state, so the only party fielding candidates was KANU.
A second chance presented itself just two years later, albeit through tragedy. Manandu, who was quite popular in the constituency, was shot and killed in controversial circumstances by an Administration Police officer at the shopping centre in Tseikuru. Although Musyoka was at first reluctant to participate in the subsequent by-election given the circumstances, he was eventually prevailed upon by his supporters to relent. After a rigorous campaign, he won amid wagging tongues that claimed the development had been a little too convenient for him.
After just one year in Parliament, Musyoka was appointed Assistant Minister for Works, Housing and Physical Planning, where he worked until 1988. He was re-elected as an MP in the controversial mlolongo (queue voting) system in 1988. In Parliament, the young lawyer was being recognised for his articulate expression and regard for detail during his contributions on the floor of the House. This was perhaps why he was elected to the coveted position of Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, which he held from 1988 to 1992. Another feather in his political cap was his election by the KANU National Delegates’ Conference – the party’s top organ – as the KANU National Organising Secretary. This effectively made him a national leader overnight. He held that position until 2002.
When Kenya experienced a significant political shift following the introduction of multipartism, Musyoka stayed on in KANU as other politicians formed or joined other parties that sought to oust the ruling party in the 1992 General Election. He once again retained his parliamentary seat and started working to align himself with Ukambani’s emerging power broker, the late Mulu Mutisya, who was then the President’s point man in the region. The two forged a close political relationship and Musyoka remained a notable leader in the region. With his political star still rising, he won the newly-created Mwingi North parliamentary seat after which he was appointed to the prestigious Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation docket as Minister, where he once again distinguished himself.
As an MP, Musyoka was credited with initiating several development programmes in his constituency, including major water projects following successful negotiations for funding with the Italian government. Mwingi, his home base, is one of the fastest growing towns in Kenya because of the water it gets from the Kiambere-Mwingi pipeline.
In the diplomatic arena, he made his mark when, as the President’s envoy, he mediated the Sudan peace process, an initiative of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and a consortium of donor countries. The negotiations led to the signing of protocols on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, conflict resolution, ceasefire and withdrawal of troops. The Machakos Protocol, which was the agreement on the principles of government and governance, was signed on 20 July 2002.
This led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, also known as the Naivasha Agreement, on 9 January 2005 by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Government of Sudan. A referendum was held in Sudan from 9 to 15 January 2011 to determine if South Sudan should declare its independence from Sudan. Some 98.83 per cent of the population voted for independence and the Republic of South Sudan was born on 9 July 2011.
As Foreign Affairs Minister and mediator of various conflicts in Africa, including Mozambique, Musyoka travelled extensively to various countries as Head of Government Delegation representing the Head of State. He also addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 and 1998. When British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, praised Musyoka in the presence of Moi after the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Musyoka was quoted by the media as saying that he was likely to lose his Foreign Affairs docket. Sure enough, after that year’s General Election, he was moved to the Ministry of Education and Manpower Development. In 2001, midway through his term, which was also Moi’s final term in office, he was transferred to the Ministry of Tourism and Information in yet another Cabinet reshuffle.
Meanwhile, Musyoka had been under pressure from friends, supporters in his constituency and advisers to run for the presidency in the run-up to the 2002 multiparty elections in which Moi was no longer eligible to vie. In his autobiography entitled Against All Odds, Musyoka wrote that soon after joining politics as a young lawyer, he had an ambition to become President of Kenya. “I was ready to run for the highest seat as early as 1997 except that Moi was still President and I could not run against him as I regarded him as a father,” he revealed.
Fuelled by determination to contest the presidency, he went to see Moi to find out whether he would allow KANU to choose its flag bearer in a democratic manner. Moi did not respond to him immediately, but a few weeks later, he publicly declared his support for Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor.
“I retreated to my constituency for some time to cool down and seek solace. When I returned, Moi summoned me to State House. I went into his office and he told me, ‘You know Stephen, I have been thinking over this issue. Don’t bother bringing Mzee Mulu Mutisya and Kamba elders to meet Kalenjin elders, because the Kalenjin elders have decided to support Uhuru Kenyatta’,” Musyoka wrote.
Together with a few other leaders, he advised Moi to drop the ‘Uhuru Kenyatta Project’, which they said would lead to KANU’s defeat, but the President inexplicably stuck to his guns.
“I have never understood Moi’s decision to pick Uhuru. It seemed almost desperate. Moi could have left office as a hero instead of enduring the humiliation he faced at the polls and during the official handing-over ceremony at Uhuru Park when (Mwai) Kibaki was sworn in as the third President.”
In view of this turn of events, Musyoka decamped from the ruling party to the little-known Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as a founder member. Once Moi announced Kenyatta as his preferred successor, political bigwigs such as Raila Odinga, George Saitoti, Kijana Wamalwa and Charity Ngilu left the ruling party and other parties and coalesced under the banner of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), with Kibaki as the leader.
Musyoka was once more re-elected MP for Mwingi North in the 2002 elections that saw Kibaki win the presidency, thus ending KANU’s 40-year rule. Musyoka was re-appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs but in a Cabinet reshuffle two years later, he was moved to the less prestigious Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.
In late August 2004, he was removed from his position as Chairman of the Sudanese and Somali peace talks and replaced by John Koech. However, he remained actively involved in politics and in 2007, vied for the presidency through the ODM-Kenya party, having decamped from LDP. According to official results, Kibaki won the election, defeating Odinga and Musyoka, who was placed a distant third with 9 per cent of the votes. Following the post-election violence that was an expression of dissatisfaction with the poll results, Kibaki appointed Musyoka as Vice President and Minister for Home Affairs on 8 January 2008, but this did little to pacify the violence in the country.
Amid the mayhem, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed to mediate between Kibaki and Odinga after the African Union failed to broker a deal through former Ghanaian President John Kufuor. In less than a month, Annan managed to deliver a successful mediation that led to the signing of the National Accord and the formation of the Grand Coalition Government that saw Odinga’s key lieutenants being appointed Cabinet Ministers as he took the newly-minted position of Prime Minister and Co-coordinator of Government Programmes.
With Musyoka as Vice President and Odinga as Prime Minister, there was often some jostling over who between them was second in command after the President. Yet curiously, the two joined forces ahead of the March 2013 General Election and formed the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), with Musyoka even shelving his presidential ambitions to run as Odinga’s running mate. However, their main opponent, Kenyatta, was declared the winner and was sworn in as the fourth President of Kenya.