As much as I was very young, I can testify that I saw the president for the first time in my life. I stood a long Kisumu Busia road with my fellow students to cheer and sing for him during his nation-wide tour of the country. Simple and very humble leader! When he arrived with his motorcade, my eyes popped out to see the president. His limousine stopped and he stood on the roof with his symbolic stick and a red shirt. He waved at us as we sang. He then addressed us in Kiswahili encouraging us to study. What made me happy was to see my president at my own village, a thing that ended with him.
As any other leader, Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi made friends and foes at the same time. His regime between 1978-2002, President Moi took over power from the first President of the Republic of Kenya and one of the most powerful leaders in Africa. His coming into power is still regarded as one of the most mysterious events in the history of Kenya. His peers and fellow politicians did not see any great leader in him until his boss passed on in 1978. He was a humble and loyal politician who took his assignments seriously. Many thought that he was just a weakling and a passing cloud. This is the man, a novel English writer by the name Andrew Morton referred to as a statesman.
His presidency lasted 24 years. It all started by his style which he referred to as Nyayo or following the foot-prints of his predecessor. He managed to wield power around himself and managed to rule for two decades. The last stage of his presidency damaged his legacy as a statesman by corruption, totalitarianism and pre-judicial tortures and killing. However, those who surrounded him did him mischief.
Despite all the negative adjectives related to Moi and his regime, he practically worked hard to unify the nation. He would be seen in all corners of the country. He would stand firm against anything that would harm or threaten the life of the nation. It was clearly spelt during the 1998 terrorist attack that saw many Kenyans losing their lives to the killer. Moi was a type that would cherish the health of the nation. He dismissed any external force that would undermine the integrity of the nation. He had to act even on trivial moral issues such as ordering a Congolese musician Kanda Bongo man out of the country due to the allegations that some married women would leave their husbands to attend to the music. He also acted very fast when a European lady was found with pornographic materials and she was given 24 hours to leave Kenya.
His political game was far superior than his challengers and political rivals. He was nicknamed by his peers as the giraffe who eats at one place while seeing far! Some of his peers named him the professor of politics while some even saw him as a small god. However, his presence in church was visible. Every Sunday, Moi would be in his church following the celebrations. His Christianity was not hidden behind the curtains. He would not pretend to be of another religion or denomination to disguise his religious stand. His love for the Queen of England also branded his presidency. His sons were named after the Royal family in a manner that some people thought he was a puppet of the West.
The moment he was abandoned by the Western grant givers, Moi survived through his local money collections. He fund-raised to pay the civil servants and the military. Such pro-development fund raising events made some of his staff fear him.
He was a no joker. Moi was known for his ruthlessness and stern leadership. He was a teacher turned politician. He would have lunch and get entertained by his cabinet minister at 1 PM while his chief of staff sends press release of the person replacement. He would sack his Ministers at will and replace them with another one. He would not bend low to some powers. Indeed, he was a teacher to many Kenyans. He did not betray his background.
Moi’s love for education gave Kenya an impetus in development. He supported education goals. It was during his time that many schools emerged. Some were named after him due to his great love for education. He was friendly to children especially by promoting learning. He introduced milk at primary school to encourage many more children to go to school. The project was short-lived but I recall benefiting from “nyayo milk” project.
President Moi promoted Kabarak High School which of course, was his own initiative. He loves learning and this cannot be hidden from him. He would encourage young people. School children would sing in his praise. Some would even go to the state house to entertain him. By the fact, such children would not walk out empty handed. He would appreciate them in one way or the other.
Due to his love for entertainment, the retired president had so many songs in his praise. To some extent he overcrowded the music festivals. I remember my younger brother coming to Nairobi for the first time for such festivals held at the state house. Coming back home, we saw the gift was received and all of us felt that Moi was a president for all Kenyans. He stood for all Kenyans and I do agree with Morton that he was a statesman.
The murder or assassination of his beloved Minister for Foreign Afffairs, Dr. John Robert Ouko is what added to Moi’s failure! Whether he was privy or not of such conspiracies in his regime is not within the coverage of this story. What is clear is that he said that no stone would be left un-turned. He invited the Scotland Yard form the UK to assist in the forensic investigations. The goldenberg scandal tainted his leadership and rule as Kenya was facing economic crisis and socio-political turmoil of the time.
The collapse of Moi’s regime in 2001 actually marked a new turning point. He accepted to retire from hard politics and preferred pursuing the rest of his life outside politics. He had groomed his son Gideon Moi to carry on with politics. Gideon is now the Senator for Baringo County. Like father like son, he is known to be soft politician with no much prejudice!