Mourning the two Mois
That Daniel Kapkorios Toroitich arap Moi remains a divisive figure, even in death, is not news. Moi was only human.
That an unheralded goat-herd and entry-level schoolteacher from Baringo would become Kenya’s second and longest-serving President was largely down to the designs of the Kiambu Mafia (led by Charles Njonjo, who celebrated his 100th birthday recently). This cabal saw the uninspiring Moi, with his modest education and deceptively calm mien as a stop-gap President, a “passing cloud” they could replace at a whim. How wrong they were!
Moi, a shrewd Machievellian used the 90-day interim presidency, the Njonjo Commission of Inquiry, the 1982 attempted coup and KANU’s monolithic control on political activity to consolidate power, birthing a powerful and tyrannical presidency that had its tentacles in every sector of Kenyan society, sapping its essence and life in 24 unforgettable years. Now for some perspective, especially for the benefit of younger pals on this TL.
THE GOOD MOI
1. Moi was a big patron of the ARTS. He loved music and even birthed a parastatal to take care of stuff. Does the name Permanent Presidential Commission on Music ring a bell? Careers were built on this patronage. Remember Mwalimu Wasonga, Prof Washington Omondi, Darius Mbela, Thura ma Ngala Abok, Muungano Choir, Boniface Mganga etc?
2. Moi, a strong and decisive leader, tried to build a NATION out of Kenya’s disparate and wrangling tribes that his predecessor Kenyatta I had done little to unite. Heck, he even tried to intellectualize things through the Nyayo Philosophy of Peace, Love and Unity. Remember the Loyalty Pledge some of us had to recite in school? Sadly, there was a huge gulf between rhetoric and practice when it came to this project. It failed. Nyerere’s, down south, largely succeeded.
3. Moi presided over a major expansion of EDUCATION INFRASTRUCTURE in Kenya. My own alma mater St.Mary’s School, Yala, benefitted from an imposing Admin Block, thanks to the efforts of then Gem MP Mama Grace Ogot and Education Minister Oloo “Ochok Wang’e Dongo” Aringo (also a St. Maryan, as were three other Cabinet Ministers at the time!). But like most things Moi touched, there was a very hazy line between the private and the public. Today, Moi, outside the Catholic Church, is probably the biggest investor in Kenya’s education system.
4. Moi loved SPORTS. One of my most memorable images of Moi became entrenched during my first interaction with a TV set during the 1987 All Africa Games in Nairobi. I remember Moi, cheering heartily, hat in hand, whenever Harambee Stars scored. When Gor Mahia won the Nelson Mandela Cup in 1987 (the first club in the region to land a continental diadem), Moi was at MSC, Kasarani, to hand over the trophy to Captain Austin “Makamu” Oduor.
5. When he realized that the clamor for multiparty democracy was unstoppable, Moi gave in, albeit reluctantly. That was vintage Moi. A politically astute operative with eyes and ears in every nook and cranny of Kenya, he knew when to let go. In 2002, after his wet-behind-the ears protégé Uhuru Kenyatta had been thoroughly whipped by a united opposition led by the political genius of a younger RAO (but with invalid Kibaki’s name on the ballot), he ensured a harrowing two hours and mudballs at a wet and muddy Uhuru Park to HAND OVER POWER to a Mwai Kibaki still confined to a wheelchair. For me, that remains the most powerful optic of Moi’s legacy. He had (almost) redeemed himself.
THE BAD MOI
1. Moi outlawed and SUPPRESSED DISSENT, and in some instances allegedly killed it outright. The number of detentions, disappearances and mysterious killings that happened under his watch are legion. Many of the country best brains went into exile. My generation finds it difficult mourning a Moi shorn of the Nyayo House torture chambers. Nyati House. The Anyona Six. Tito Adungosi. Alexander Kipsang Muge. Some might add Robert Ouko (an insider who probably found himself on the wrong end of a palace power struggle)
At the height of Moi’s tyranny, my mother could not board a matatu from Rodi to Ndhiwa without a KANU membership card! Neither could Helena do her aswekra omena trade at Rodi or Ongeng’ markets! On some of those days, we would go hungry.
2. Moi institutionalized the politics of PATRONAGE, which his proteges, who are currently in power, have perfected. Why should we expect them to be any different from the Sensei? YK92 of William Ruto, Cyrus Jirongo, Sam Nyamweya etc. was a child of this patronage. Both the 1992 and 1997 electoral victories by KANU were largely “bought.”
3. PLUNDER and pillage of public resources is an enduring mark of Moi’s legacy. Remember the Dick Berg affair during the 1987 All Africa Games? You see that building on Harambee Avenue called Bima House? It once housed state-owned Kenya National Assurance (KNAC), which was violated to the grave, under Moi’s watch. Goldenberg was conceptualized and executed under Moi, heralding the birth of the mega scandal. You see Anglo Leasing, NYS, Arror have followed a familiar template, whose boilerplate resides in Kabarak.
4. Moi institutionalized the EXCLUSIONISM that continues to define public service in this country. He populated parastatals with his tribesmen, some of whom were barely literate. Being a court jester or answering to certain surnames became a major qualification for a public job.
5. Moi presided over pervasive INFRASTRUCTURAL DECAY. It is a grave indictment on his regime that for the 24 years he ruled Kenya, there was no tangible improvement on the country’s main thoroughfare from Mombasa to Malaba/Busia. Ditto the rail network. We owe it to Kibaki that we are able to move around at all these days.
RIP, DT Arap Moi.
Atieko timo neno.