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Kenya’s strong-arm second president Daniel Arap Moi dies

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Tuesday, 4 February 2020 12:38

President Daniel Arap Moi raises his baton to salute Kenyans during the 34th independence day celebrations in Nairobi, Kenya December 12, 1997. REUTERS/George Mulala

Kenya’s second and longest-serving President, Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, died on Tuesday 4th Feb

President Moi, who died at 95, succeeded current President Uhuru Kenyatta’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, in 1978 and ruled until 2002.

A tall Tugen man with a husky voice, Moi built a personality cult that included mentions of his name and activities in every news broadcast and statues in major cities and towns.

  • The statues of his fimbo ya nyayo, an ivory stick he always carried, still survives in some places, including the capital city Nairobi.
  • He also named tens of schools, roads, and other projects after himself, and oversaw a period of fear and repression in the East African nation.

In the statement, President Kenyatta praised his predecessor as a man “who spent almost his entire adult life serving Kenya and Africa in a number of capacities.”

  • He also called him “a leading figure in the struggle for Kenya’s independence, and an ardent Pan-Africanist.”

During his lifetime, Moi rose from a teacher to a politician in Kenya’s pre-independence legislature, before becoming a cabinet minister in the first post-independence government, and then becoming Jomo Kenyatta’s last Vice President.

In the nearly quarter of a century Moi ruled Kenya, the country was on the one hand a regional peacemaker, and, on the other, a tyranny at home.

Moi had tight control over the country’s security structures, particularly after a failed coup attempt by young Air Force soldiers in 1982.

In the decade between 1980 and 1990, Moi brutalised his opponents, who included student leaders, publishers, politicians, businessmen, and anyone else who opposed his rule.

He also transformed the basement of a new 27-floor building in the city centre into a detention and torture center. Many of those detained were tortured and beaten in water-logged cells.

Former detainees include opposition leader Raila Odinga, and celebrated Kenyan journalist Wahome Mutahi.
Miguna Miguna, Raila Odinga’s friend-foe-friend and current political exile, was also detained and tortured in the dungeons in 1987.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, and under pressure from Western governments, Moi finally caved into pressure to re-introduce multi-partyism.

He opposed it saying it would make the country tribal, and then went ahead to stoke and exploit tribal divisions to win the 1992 and 1997 elections.

The fall of the Iron Curtain also forced him to liberalise the economy, speeding up a process that had begun with some sectors such as banking in the 1980s.

In the 1990s, Kenya liberalised many sectors, including telecoms and its national airline, among other critical sectors.

  • Handcuffed by structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), Moi’s government struggled to balance its own weaknesses with the demand for better services and development.

During his reign, Moi ingrained his Nyayo philosophy into the Kenyan fabric. The philosophy, which was meant to be a continuation of President Jomo Kenyatta’s Harambee philosophy, preached “Peace, love and unity.”

Although he begun his post-independence career in the opposition party at the time, Moi and his fellow party members merged their party with the ruling party KANU in 1964.

Moi rose quickly through the ranks in both the party and the government, becoming an important counter-weight, and eventually the permanent replacement, of Kenya’s first vice president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

During his reign, he made Kenya a one-party state by law. He also fought efforts to reintroduce any form of devolution, which his original party had defended in the early 1960s, building instead a powerful centralised structure.

From the onset, Moi faced resistance from Jomo Kenyatta’s inner circle, who viewed him as a weak candidate to succeed the first president.

But one of them, then Attorney General Charles Njonjo, worked to bring him to the presidency, even once threatening politicians with charges of treason for imagining the death of the president, Jomo Kenyatta, who was ailing at the time.

One of the first global challenges he faced as president was the 1979 oil crisis, which came just as he was forming his own government. His first Vice President, future opponent, and successor Mwai Kibaki, helped navigate the crisis.

  • Moi had kept on Kibaki as Minister of Finance in addition to being his deputy, although he would remove him from the former in 1982, and demote him from the latter six years later.

Kibaki resigned from the government in 1991, and became one of the main beneficiaries of the country’s new direction towards multipartyism. He lost the 1992 and 1997 elections to President Moi, before defeating Moi’s chosen successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, in 2002.

Moi’s reign was a period of unrestrained plunder and corruption. During his time in power, Moi personally enriched himself, his closest allies, and his family.

  • A forensic audit by the Kibaki government traced more than 1 billion pounds sterling that relatives and associates of Moi stole from the Kenyan government.
  • The audit, known colloquially as the Kroll Report, was Julian Assange’s/Wikileaks’ first major global scoop.
  • It named his sons Philip and Gideon, as well as a web of associates including his closest political allies such as Nicholas Biwott and Joshua Kulei.
  • In the early 1990s, Moi was also named as personally involved in the Goldenberg scandal, which was run by a young Kenyan of Asian descent and Moi’s intelligence head at the time.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Moi found and seeded the careers of many of Kenya’s politicians.

He elevated the current President, Uhuru Kenyatta, to the legislature after he failed to win his first elections in 1997.

Despite internal resistance, Moi also insisted on Kenyatta as his successor, triggering the chain of events that ended up with the creation of a massive opposition grouping that brought Mwai Kibaki to power.

Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, also began his political career under Moi in the early 1990s.

  • Together with other now long-serving Kenyan politicians, such as opposition leader and former presidential candidate Musalia Mudavadi, Ruto helped Moi navigate the last decade of the 20th century.
  • In the 2000s, Ruto fell out with the Moi family, primarily because of his presidential ambitions being against those of Moi’s other political successor, his son and current KANU party leader Gideon Moi.
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