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The good, the bad, and the ugly in the life of Daniel arap Moi

Moi's death also offers us a point to reflect on his mistakes and start a conversation of “never again should this happen in our country and continent”.

The good, the bad, and the ugly in the life of Daniel arap Moi

Former President Daniel arap Moi on Tuesday passed on at the age of 95, marking an end to the life of one of the most prolific figures in Kenya history.

Moi’s legacy, however, is not an easy one to decipher as it is marked by arguably good, bad, and ugly decisions in situations which can be best explained by the man who was in the arena - to paraphrase the words of former US President Theodore Roosevelt.

Be that as it may, there are many life lessons for those who have been left to interrogate and learn from the life of the late President.

To begin with, it is fair to point out that for a fatherless boy to rise from one of Kenya’s poorest villages and become a President - there has to be certain positive traits.


Moi’s upbringing in Sacho is a great inspiration to those of us who have been born in humble beginnings and have dreams of making a mark in this world.

Moi was not fortunate to advance his education - he is said to have lost an opportunity to attend the Alliance High School despite qualifying.

He instead went to the less-prestigious Kapsabet Secondary School and later to Tambach Teachers’ College. It took firm determination and self discipline which won him favour with the colonial missionaries and well-wishers who supported his education and supported his entry into the noble teaching profession.

His ascension to the top echelons of power was steep and full of tribulations which offer positive life lessons on the benefit of persevering against the many odds in our lives which may appear insurmountable.

When he became Vice President in 1967, Moi underwent a lot of humiliation from Jomo Kenyatta’s circle of friends but as fate would have it, he eventually succeeded the founding President to become Kenya’s second President.


It is admirable that Moi did not seek revenge against those who had humiliated him - example being James Erastus Mungai - who on two occasions slapped Vice President Moi and at one time subjected him to a strip search.

If Moi had spent his life in the teaching career, it would have been easy to say he had lived a good life but his stint in politics was marred by bad and ugly policy and political decisions.

It is important to note that Moi’s entry to politics was not out of a personal conviction in any ideological or philosophical positions.

In 1957, he was picked by the colonial government to represent Africans from the Rift Valley in the Legco (equivalent of today’s Parliament).

The colonialists, without a doubt, were not interested in the plight of Africans and had been keen to pick puppets who would help control the African struggle for independence that was quickly getting traction with the Mau Mau rebellion. It is unlikely that Moi, with his humble education, had a proper understanding of how the world works at this juncture.


Indeed, his appointment left him with a feeling of gratitude towards the colonial government, so much so that when he got twins (Doris Elizabeth Moi and Philip Moi) in 1962 - he named them after the head of the colonial empire Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip.

Moi’s pre-independence political career involved rallying his Kalenjin community to fight against independence - at the behest of the settler community that had misled him that African independence would disadvantage his people.

If freedom was attained now ,as it is demanded by Mboya (Tom) the Kalenjin would find themselves dominated by the well educated Kikuyus and Luos ,but mostly Luos,” Moi told a rally at Kosirai in Nandi on 3rd Aug 1959.

In the early 1960s, when majority of Kenyans believed Kanu was the best vehicle to move Kenya to independence, Moi worked with the white settlers who funded his Kadu party as it pushed for delay of independence to 1970.

When Jomo Kenyatta became President in 1964, Kadu was shortly after disbanded and Moi quickly defected to Kanu where he became a loyal servant of Kenyatta’s servant.


His loyalty paid off when he was appointed Vice President in 1967 but again, it was not because he was the most qualified candidate.

The then Attorney General Charles Njonjo shared Moi’s subservience to the British and believed the man from Sacho would be Kenyatta’s best pick for VP at a time when Jomo was surrounded by witty and more independent-thinking politicians.

Njonjo would later help Moi become President in 1978 - again out of the false belief that he would be able to manipulate and control the man whom everybody regarded as a passing cloud.

It is said if you want to know a person’s true character, give them power - Moi’s ugliest days was while he had ultimate power.

Due to his humble education and limited intellectual talents, Moi’s rule - particularly in the 1980s - was dominated by paranoia that unfortunately resulted in the death of nearly 20,000 people whose relatives and friends still live with the trauma of dear ones gone too soon.


Take the example of the Wagalla Massacre. In 1984, there was Shifta-linked insecurity in Wajir - prompting President Moi to send a high-powered delegation to contain the situation.

On 10th February 1984, the then Security Minister GG Kariuki led officials in his ministry in a visit to the Wajir Airstrip where thousands of youths had been rounded up and tortured for over five days with the hope that they would give up those engaging in attacks.

In what has been regarded as the most brutal human rights violation in Kenyan history, Moi’s officials ordered security forces to open fire on the thousands of youths who had been rounded up. Their bodies were quickly buried near the airstrip - never to be seen by their families. The death count remains unknown but some reports have indicated that as many as 10,000 young men died on that day.

In the political sphere, the Moi of the 1980s was a ruthless tyrant who spied on Kenyans in nearly every sphere of their lives.

Those who said the wrong things were quickly scooped away by Moi’s men and quickly taken to Nyayo House Torture Chambers which had been specially built for maximum torture.


There are hundreds of innocent Kenyans who went to Nyayo Chambers and were not lucky to come out alive. Those who were lucky to survive had their lives completely changed.

One of the things we will never forget is how they kept you in water. My feet were like the underside of a snake and until today, they still ooze water.

After sitting in this water for weeks, they would make you sit on a special seat that had needles like a sewing machine and they would switch it on. I remember Kamangara, they would put his manhood on the machine. Many people became impotent and many of my colleagues were thrown off from the last floor of Nyayo House,” David Murathe - one of those held at Nyayo Torture Chambers, recalled in a past interview.

Not even Moi’s personal friends were spared from this torture. The late Ken Matiba, who had been close family friend of President Moi, suffered a stroke while in detention but was denied medical assistance for three days.

It was not until that Matiba suffered a second stroke that President Moi gave the go-ahead for his longtime friend to be released for medical treatment - but the damage had been done already.


The pattern of violence was repeated on a mass scale in the 1992 and 1997 elections where the TJRC report found security agencies had armed citizens to turn against members of communities that were perceived to be against Moi’s presidential candidature.

Africa Watch reported 1,500 Kenyans, mainly from the Kikuyu community were killed in the 1992 clashes which were mainly in the Rift Valley. Another 100 people were killed in the 1997 general election - targeting members of the Kikuyu community in Moi’s stronghold in the Likoni area.

The loss of so many lives under Moi’s firm control of the security system would be less disturbing if they had been done for the sake of the country’s economic development.

Unfortunately, Moi’s reign was an economic catastrophe that saw the worst looting of public resources to the extent that appropriating public resources became a new normal in this country.

Moi’s family will be planning his burial at the Kabarnet Gardens home which, incidentally, was a public property meant to be the official Vice president’s house. It is unclear how a government house became Moi’s private home after his ascension to the Presidency.


There are those who will hail his stint in education but his ownership of Kabarak and Sacho schools remains unclear as they had been public institutions that became his personal property during his iron rule. There is the Kiptagich Tea Factory that was built in what should be part of the Mau Forest reserve.

Goldenberg Scandal mastermind Kamlesh Pattni has claimed that Moi was his 50-50 business partner in the scam that saw Kenyans lose an approximated 158 billion in the 1990s.

For perspective, the lost amount was approximately 10 percent of Kenya’s GDP at the time which in modern times would be about Sh1 trillion lost in one single scandal.

As Kenyans mourn Moi, it would be helpful to evaluate his legacy in totality - emulate his positive values but at the same time sympathize with the thousands of Kenyans whose lives have been ruined by Moi’s direct or indirect decisions. Moi's death also offers us a point to reflect on his mistakes and start a conversation of “never again should this happen in our country and continent”.


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