Former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi was the embodiment of the African strongman, whose 24 year reign exemplified the excess associated with autocracy. But when he eventually died this February 4 in a Nairobi hospital, the jury was magnanimous, crediting him with grudgingly leaving power and avoiding the scourge of civil strife associated with rogue regimes.

Moi’s Death And Legacy

Moi was 95 and his death was expected. In the past three months the country was aware the fallen leader was intermittently undergoing treatment in both local and international hospitals for ailments related to old age.

“We are aware that the best in medical science and clinical medicine was deployed to save Mzee’s (reverence title for an old man) life. But our creator had decided that his time had come,” said Raymond Moi, a son of Kenya’s second President, talking on behalf of the extended Moi clan.

Disproportionately, Kenya is a very youthful country with those aged between 18 and 35 making up 75% of the country’s estimated 49.7 million people, according to the World Bank. As a consequence, a majority of the population is clueless about the sort of leader Moi was. Furthermore, Kenya’s education curriculum⁠—which is supposed to act as a dependable repository of history⁠—has been adulterated irreparably to mask the excess visited upon the country by its leaders.

‘Young People Are Completely Ignorant Of That History’

“Young people are completely ignorant of that history. The egregious human rights of Moi’s time are completely sugar-coated,” says Wachira Waheire now a human rights activist, who suffered physical torture and incarceration from1986 to 1989. His crime was reading a treatise of Karl Marx while at university.

“I read Marx in college as part of my studies. They said that because I read him, I was part of [the anti-government group] Mwakenya,” Wachira explains.

Moi’s Checkered Legacy

Evidently, the wrath of Moi’s rule did not spare even those thought to be insulated due to their supposed camaraderie. A case in point was the 1990 murder of Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Ouko. A government inquiry into the death carried out in 2010 and presented to parliament five years after it was written, said the murder was carried out in one of Moi’s official residences.

For the most part, Moi⁠—who reportedly embraced Christianity in 1934 at age 10⁠— leaves behind a checkered legacy darkened by an overzealous kleptocracy that endemically defined his reign that oversaw the brazen emasculation of the rule of law, hollowing out of the national economy including ostracization by the international community for behaving badly.

A prime example is a 1988 constitutional amendment that junked the security of tenure for judges. As a result the judicial bench became an appendage of the executive, hamstringing the independence of the judiciary. Then, in June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, making Kenya officially a one-party state. However, in December 1991, parliament repealed the one-party section of the constitution, allowing political pluralism after a 10 year hiatus.

With multiparty elections held in 1992 and 1997 witnessing cumulatively 2,000 people die and hundred others displaced from their homes as KANU unleashed a wave of unprecedented violence targeting perceived opponents. But the opposition was divided and disorganized, the balloting was marred by widespread violence, and Mr. Moi was re-elected both times

‘A Legacy Of … Nepotism, Corruption And An Economy On Its Knees’

As expected, both local and international media have pulled no punches providing their negative view of Moi. The local Star daily newspaper wrote that: “After a 24-year reign, Moi left a legacy of incurable ethnicity, nepotism, corruption and an economy on its knees.”

The New York Times, wrote: “Investigations after Mr. Moi stepped down found that his government had lined the pockets of his family and its allies with as much as $ 4 billion. The biggest fraud in Kenya’s history, the Goldenberg affair, in which the central bank paid incentives to a company for exporting gold, diamonds and jewelry that did not exist, cost taxpayers billions and sent Kenya’s economy into a tailspin in the early 1990s.”

It has since been publicly revealed the Goldenberg scam cost the country an estimated $800 million USD and to date nobody has been called to account for the monies, leave alone persecuted, underlining the larceny and thieving culture inherent in Kenya’s Second Administration.

Githongo: Moi Was Corrupt Beyond Belief

John Githongo, CEO of Inuka Kenya, a local anti-corruption organization says, “During his tenure as president from 1978 until 2002, Moi engineered one of the most sophisticated and ruthless political patronage machines on the continent—patronage that was fed by graft. A 2007 Wikileaks expose showed that more than $2 billion of government money was looted under Moi’s rule.”

How Did Moi Gain Power?

Upon the death in office of Jomo Kenyatta, a daunting oligarch and the country’s founding father in 1978, Moi⁠—then a self-effacing vice president who had held the perch for 12 years⁠—was elevated through popular acclamation, becoming President the same year. After that he went ahead, to win five successive elections held in 1979, 1983 and 1988, when he repeatedly led his Kenya African National Union (KANU) party, a monolithic colossus to victory.

Moi Consolidates His Power

In order to consolidate his hold on power after a 1982 failed coup attempt by lower cadres of the Kenya Air Force soldiers Moi led a groveling parliament to abolishing political pluralism that same year, leaving KANU as the country’s sole political party. Diplomats said he was transformed from a cautious, insecure leader into a tough autocrat following the attempted coup.

“I’d like ministers, assistant ministers and others to sing like a parrot after me. During Kenyatta’s time, I sang only “Kenyatta” until it came a time when people said ‘He has nothing expect singing Kenyatta ‘.I did not have ideas of my own. Who was I to have ideas of my own? I was in Kenyatta’s shoes, and therefore I had to sing, whatever Kenyatta wanted.

“Do you think Kenyatta would have retained me had I sung a different song? So you play my tune. Where I put a full stop, you also put a full stop. That is how we can progress. When time comes for you to be big, you play your tune and the masses will sing after you. That will enable us to progress,” said Moi in November 1984, giving the clearest indication that he would not brook dissenting views.

Supporters, meanwhile, have praised Moi for keeping Kenya stable when neighbors crumbled into civil war, and for peacefully leaving power in 2002 after 24 years as head of state⁠—a rare occurrence in Africa at that time.

“I forgive those who have hurled insults at me,” Moi said in his last national day speech in 2002. “If I have said anything that has hurt your heart, forgive me.”

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