Kenyatta asked his principal assistant if he had goats which they could eat together at a sitting later seen as ceremony for passing on the leadership baton
Noah Cheploen @cheploennoah
A few weeks before he died, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta did something unusual when he called Vice-President Daniel arap Moi to Lake Nakuru Lodge where he was being entertained by the famous Nyakinyua Women Dancers.
When Moi arrived he asked him: Do you have goats for us to eat?”
Lee Njiru, then a 29-year-old press officer attached to the Founding Father of the Nation, says Moi responded in the affirmative and immediately dispatched his security team to his farm to fetch two mature male goats.
The animals were slaughtered in a shed which was purposely built for the dancers in case it rained, Njiru, a man blessed with razor sharp memory now recalls.
“In Kikuyu tradition, shedding of animal blood is symbolic of a friendship and if there is an existing friendship, cementing it. Those who saw that ceremony said President Kenyatta was passing the baton of leadership to Moi,” he said.
Njiru — who later became retired President Moi’s press secretary —remembers the chain of events before the death of Mzee that also shaped the country’s history. Before Jomo left for Mombasa, where he died, there are things he did which were a pointer to his wishes.
One, he visited Moi at his Kabarak home where the Vice-President hosted him for lunch and entertainment by traditional dancers, Njiru told People Daily.
A few days later Mzee left for Mombasa where he was to open Mombasa Show and also met some of Kenya’s envoys who had been recalled for briefing.
“His diary was such that he would be in Mombasa so that the cold season could not find him in Nairobi. He didn’t like the cold weather,” said Njiru.
As the press officer, Njiru had unrestricted access to the country’s most powerful man and could therefore see signs of frailties.
“This was manifested in the way he used to sign documents. When he became President, his signature was executed with admirable flourish but in the late 70s it appeared like a broom in the wind,” he said.
“And, anybody who wants to check can look for a book where judges sign the Oath of Office and the President counter signs it; that book is there in the Judiciary and you can see how his signature changed. We knew that Kenyatta had spent most of his time in detention and had been tortured psychologically, he was getting old and all these factors contributed to the deterioration of his health,” he explained.
They then travelled to Lunga Lunga at the border of Kenya and Tanzania and Mzee asked for a photo session with Moi first and with the rest of his entourage and according to Njiru, this was interpreted to mean that Kenyatta was sending a coded message to Moi.
“People interpreted that to mean that he was telling him (Moi) protect our territorial integrity when I am gone.”
While opening the Mombasa Show, at the end of the written speech where it was written ‘Thank You’ he said “Amen” and people interpreted that to mean he was also sending a message.
On August 21, while meeting the envoys, signs of his deteriorating health had began to show.
“People got surprised and when he was shown his room upstairs, he rested midway the stairs. He was breathless,” Njiru recalls.
After resting in his room he came back because he was supposed to take the envoys to Msambweni Primary School for entertainment. But upon reaching Likoni ferry Mzee realised that he had forgotten his fly whisk, which was a sign of power and authority.
A car was dispatched to collect it as they waited and once he got it they proceeded with the journey but along the way a decision was made to drive back to State House, Mombasa, after Kenyatta collapsed.
Present were powerful people like Coast Provincial Commissioner Eliud Mahihu, Minister of State Mbiyu Koinange and Comptroller of State House Alexander Gitau.
That Saturday Moi had been in Embu conducting a fundraiser for a secondary school with area MP Jacky Mbarire before he drove to his home in Kabarak, Nakuru.
While in Kabarak, Moi reported that his telephone line was out of order. That was Monday.
At about 3am, Tuesday, his telephone rang. “He picked and Mahihu was on the other end and said: “Kenya has lost its eyes!” and Moi understood and when Mahihu finished talking, the Director of Special Branch (nowadays National Intelligence Service) James Kanyotu also called Moi and told him to travel to Nairobi right away.
“Moi hurriedly left with the light security he had to Mau View Hotel where his main security team was putting up. He woke them up and they drove to Nairobi,” said Njiru. Kanyotu had organised for Moi’s security to be beefed up, he said.
“That morning I received a call at Mickey’s Hotel where I was staying in Mombasa and I was told to report to Mombasa State House immediately.
“I took a taxi and upon reaching State House, I found an ambulance and recalling how I had seen Kenyatta during the day I knew something bad had happened.
“Using the same taxi, I went to the hotel where my driver Ndung’u Mukiri was staying and we drove to Nairobi as we had been instructed.”
In Nairobi State officials asked Voice of Kenya (VOK), the State broadcaster, to announce that Mzee Kenyatta had died but the star presenters, like Daniel Njuguna Gatei refused, saying the Constitution did not allow people to even imagine the death of the President.
They finally convinced Ali Hassan Mazoa who announced in Kiswahili and Nobert Okare in English.
“The Chief of General Staff Jackson Mulinge came to State House and told Head of Public Service Geoffrey Karithi that Moi had to be sworn in as President immediately,” Njiru adds.
“Karithi told me to call VoK to bring their equipment so that Moi could be sworn in. That was around 3pm.” According to Njiru, most of the politicians who were against Moi succeeding Kenyatta were out of the country.
“All troublemakers were not there because the majority of them were abroad. After Moi was sworn in, there was this narrative that he was just a passing cloud but he stayed in power for 24 years, four months and eight days before retirement,” he adds.
Njiru holds the record of being the longest serving aide of Moi after working for the former President as his press secretary for 24 years when he was Head of State.
He turned 69 years old on August 14, and that his contract as Moi’s personal secretary has been extended to June 30, 2020. He plans to write a book about his experiences with Kenya’s first two presidents.