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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 11:32 GMT
Kenya's 'mafia' feel the heat
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki

By Noel Mwakugu
BBC News, Nairobi

The plan by Kenya's opposition to boycott companies run by allies of President Mwai Kibaki in protest at the outcome of last month's presidential election may turn out to be an astute political move.

For since President Kibaki joined the ranks of opposition politics in 1992, he has surrounded himself with a group of close confidants and friends - many going back to his days in college.

And it is they who are being blamed by some for influencing his hardline stance during the ongoing crisis that followed Mr Kibaki's controversial win.

They ["Mount Kenya Mafia"] have realised good profits during his rule and letting go to an individual they do not trust sends a chill down their spine
Haroun Ndubi
Kenyan political analyst

The wealthy old men, most in their late 70s, consider themselves to be the council of elders but ordinary Kenyans know them as the "Mount Kenya Mafia".

The circle of influential Kibaki friends include ex-Defence Minister Njenga Karume, Nairobi university chancellor Joe Wanjui, and big time investors Nat Kangethe, Joseph Kanyago and Nick Wanjohi.

The multi-millionaires had vast business interests in commercial agriculture, real estate, tourism industry and transport industry.

Behind the scenes

So when Mr Kibaki ascended to power in 2002 after two failed attempts, the time had come to use their influence.

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Apart from a few appointed to prominent positions in his administration, most operate behind the scenes.

Analysts argue that they have taken full advantage of President Kibaki's hands-off style of administration to play a key role in the deciding of cabinet and top civil service appointments and well paid government contracts.

The president's inner circle has also been instrumental in ensuring who gets elected to parliament in most of central Kenya.

However, during the last elections a good number of their candidates, who ran for Mr Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU), were defeated at the polls by candidates from smaller political parties.

This was described by political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi as a rebellion against the old order of doing things in the region.

Recent saga

During President Kibaki's five-year term, it is argued that their business interests have grown considerably.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and former Vice-President Moody Awori
Many of Kibaki's candidates were defeated at the polls

A key area being pointed out as their core business is the active Nairobi stock exchange.

Well-informed sources allege that the "Mount Kenya Mafia" are associated with companies that have in the past couple of years acquired large numbers of shares.

Just before last year's elections, Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga claimed that underhand tactics were allegedly used at the stock exchange to the benefit of just a few individuals.

Financial experts said this led to the recent saga where the ODM leadership went to court in an attempt to stop Finance Minister Amos Kimunya from selling the government share of the highly profitable mobile phone company Safaricom.

Simmering temperatures

Political analyst Haroun Ndubi argues that their hardline political positions are intended to protect their economic gains.

"They have realised good profits during his rule and letting go to an individual they do not trust sends a chill down their spine," argues Mr Ndubi - who is also a human rights lawyer.

When ODM spokesman Salem Lone announced last week that they would be targeting business concerns linked to the government hardliners, this moved quickly.

The ODM has listed businesses in the banking, dairy, tourism and transport sector to name but a few that will be targeted for countrywide boycotts, beginning this week.

In response, President Kibaki unexpectedly appointed a negotiating team lead by Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, who came third in the race for the presidency, to try to quell the simmering temperatures.

"I think the new tactic announced by ODM has caused some shivers among the hardliners as it would hit where it hurts most," Mr Ndubi says.

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