By Henry Munene
In a new tell-all book, a former Kenyan electoral agency official explains how, in 2002, he was forced to drop his decision to contest a seat that Kenya’s second President Daniel arap Moi had held for more than three decades.
Thomas Letangule claims his decision to vie for the Baringo Central parliamentary seat in 2002 attracted threats, arm-twisting and warnings conveyed through operatives of the then ruling party, Kanu.
In Trailblazer, Letangule claims state machinery was deployed to ensure Moi’s son, Gideon, who wants to run for president in 2022, would clinch the seat previously held by his father, whose term of office was ending after 24 years in power.
Through a cocktail of threats and promises of plum State jobs, Letangule says he was prevailed to drop his bid at every turn.
Early in his campaign, he claims, people suspected to be State security agents had sent two ladies to drug him and a friend as they enjoyed a meal at a hotel in Nakuru.
He says the motive of the attack crystallised when they realised that the women had only stolen Letangule’s phone.
The money he had was still in his wallet, leading him to suspect that the intention was to find out from the phone who Letangule, who was vying on the opposition’s ticket in a predominantly Kanu zone, was talking to.
The lawyer claims he had to keep looking over his shoulders, and switch vehicles often for fear of being targeted at a time when friends were turning foes at an alarming rate.
Trailblazer, comes with details of discomfiting meetings with strangers and top Kanu officials.
One such meeting was held in a hotel in Westlands, Nairobi, shortly after his name was published in the dailies alongside Gideon’s as a contestant for the seat the senior Moi was about to vacate.
Moi was grooming Uhuru Kenyatta to take over the presidency. At the same time, he was preparing Gideon to take over the parliamentary seat to which he had been re-elected unopposed for the entire period he was in power.
The fact that Letangule was running on the leftist Narc ticket, against the backdrop of a united opposition under which Kibaki was tipped to wallop Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta at the ballot, made matters even worse for the lawyer.
At the charged meeting in Westlands, the book narrates, a top official in the Land ministry and several people Letangule was not known to, warned him of unspecified action if he did not withdraw from the race. They told him that they would not allow him to “embarrass” Moi.
Letangule almost buckled under pressure, but requested to be allowed to first talk to a group of elders who were deeply involved in his campaign. Early the following day, however, Letangule got another call and was informed that Gideon was waiting for him at his (Gideon’s) Post Bank office.
Letangule found Gideon with William Ruto, now Deputy President, and another top State official. Ruto, currently a political rival of Gideon in the fight for political control of the vote-rich Rift Valley region, was then a staunch defender of Kanu and the Moi presidency.
Letangule says that, at the meeting, he was required to drop his bid for the Baringo Central seat on the spot. His explanation that he needed to consult his campaign team and other associates was flatly rejected.
“No, no. Your request will not be granted,” Gideon is quoted in the book as saying.
The author says the timing was not surprising, as the list of electoral candidates’ names was by now being awaited in London, where the ballots for the 2002 General Election were to be printed.
It was clear the three men were not here to negotiate. Letangule’s explanation that he had decided to vie so as to give a political voice to his minority Ilchamus community in Baringo was brushed aside.
After allegedly being threatened into signing a written consent, the former electoral commissioner was asked to sign a draft resignation note. They were not leaving anything to chance.
“Within seconds of my withdrawal from the race, journalists filled the room and were shown where to set up,” Letangule writes.
“I knew the drill. As the cameras started rolling, I was to stand with Gideon Moi, William Ruto and the others as a show of solidarity. We were all to shake hands and flash wide, happy smiles, while holding the signed resignation draft.”
At the well-choreographed press conference, Letangule grudgingly said he had stepped aside for Gideon Moi “for the sake of peace, unity and community co-existence in Baringo Central”.
He writes, “Even before the fake smiles on our faces could disappear, the newsrooms were already breaking the freshly recorded sound bite on the one o’clock news about my resignation.”
Afterwards, the team of elders behind his campaign, he says, was hosted at Gideon Moi’s residence in Karen where “we were treated to sumptuous delicacies”.
The decision to run against Gideon had taken took a heavy toll on him.
“My family hardly got my attention, and most of the people I thought were my friends had long deserted me. The law firm was slowly crumbling. It was practically in financial shambles because I had been away for too long,” he writes.
Not even his decision to bury the bitter memories of the quashed electoral bid by immersing himself in community service helped. He says he discovered, a little too late, that a close ally called Lenatii had been leaking details of his campaign strategy to the Kanu operatives.
In a chapter titled ‘Chicanery and the Intrigues of the Political World’, the author says he suspected that Simon ole Kirgotty, whom they had petitioned then President Moi to promote from a DO and had by now risen to the powerful position of Motor Vehicle Registrar, was not on his side in his lost battle for the Baringo Central seat.
In a vicious game of betrayal, Letangule asked Samuel Lesirma to allow his campaign team to hold a fundraiser at his restaurant, The Gazebo Grill, in Nairobi’s Upper Hill area.
Although Lesirma readily agreed, he later changed his mind when he realised they wanted to fund-raise for the Opposition. But it was not the change of mind that startled them; it was the fact that Lesirma chose not to inform them that he had rescinded his decision to host them.
Meanwhile, they printed invitation cards and passed them round to everyone.
“Unknown to us, however, my friend Lenatii was already aware that Lesirma had decided we would not hold the fundraiser at his premises,” the author says.
Letangule says in the book that when he and his team went to find out how plans were progressing at the restaurant, they found Lesirma’s wife, who informed them the meeting had been cancelled and that she thought they had been informed. It had all been a waste of cash and time.
The writer paints a picture of a cornered man who was shunned even in his own community.
Barazas, he adds, were held to criticise his decision to vie against Gideon.
In one instance, he says, a paramount chief literally jumped out of their car when he realised he had been given a lift in an “opposition campaign vehicle”.
In what could be reminiscent of the powerful Provincial Administration that was fiercely loyal to Kanu in its heyday, a chief called Nabori, under whose leadership Letangule grew, once bumped into him and he “practically scampered off as if he had seen a ghost”.
Another Chief, Daniel Nakure, abandoned his half-eaten meal at a hotel when Letangule walked in.
The autobiography, which comes with fresh details of the 2013 disputed presidential election, comes with a foreword by senior Counsel Pheroze Nowrojee. (