Daniel Arap Moi - 2nd President of Kenya
President Daniel arap Moi – memories of tyranny
Former President of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi is dead. He led Kenya through a tumultuous 24 years. The Economy slowed from a growth of 7% at the beginning of his rule, to 0.6 % by the end of his rule. His reign started with the death of his predecessor, the man for whom he had deputized for a good twelve years.
I remember very clearly the gloom that pervaded the land when the news came in – President Kenyatta is dead. His Deputy, the Vice President Daniel Arap Moi, took over as was dictated by the constitution. It was to be for a period of 90 days only and then an election would be called. The late president’s men had predicted that Moi would be a passing cloud. He did not have a strong political base and neither was he as monied as they were. It was said that many night meetings took place to ensure that Moi did not get a chance to rule the country. As a matter of fact, there were plans by a small clique that was later referred to as the “change the constitution group to do just that – change the constitution to bar Moi from taking over at all upon the death of President Kenyatta. It was feared that, and rightly so, that anybody can consolidate immense power within a period of 90 days, to win the inevitable election.
Now it happened that Moi had the Attorney General on his side – Charles Njonjo, a no nonsense scion of a former colonial paramount Chief. The Attorney General silenced those who were clamoring to change the constitution by insisting that the constitution would be followed as laid down in law as long as he was the Attorney General. Moi was installed immediately as the head of state after the demise of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
As would be expected from someone who has suddenly tasted state power, Moi went on overdrive to garner support for the impending election. He did this so well that one by one, those who had opposed his ascendancy to power accompanied huge delegations to his home to pledge loyalty. When the ninety days were over and an election had to take place as stated in the constitution, Moi had no opponents, and he was elected unopposed. And maybe that is where the rain started to beat Kenyans. For the next 24 years, Moi and his close associates stampeded on the rights of citizens with impunity. Scores died in torture chambers, others were imprisoned on trumped-up charges, and scores went into exile. It for this reason that Lupita Nyongo is a citizen of Mexico.
During the mourning period that followed the former President Daniel Arap Moi’s demise, a lot of praise was heaped on the Moi. He was eulogized as a defender of the poor masses; one who hated tribalism; a person who ensured that Kenya remained an island of peace despite being surrounded by states that had internal turmoil. He was praised for working tirelessly to bring warring factions in Somalia and the Sudan to the negotiation table. He may have been all this. But there was also a cruel and despotic side to Moi that overshadows any good he may have achieved. Moi was praised for having handed over the instruments of power when he could have clang on to power. What should not be forgotten, is that Moi had been pushed to corner when he accepted the return to multipartism. He had previously fought tooth and nail to stay in power, leaving some of his former friends broke and broken by detentions without trial. Kenneth Matiba is a good example. Before we discuss the Nyayo House Torture Chambers that have received a lot of mention in the press, let us look at what he did to the economy without delving on figures.
When Moi took over the reins, coffee business was big business, and farmers were laughing all the way to the bank. I had an uncle who did the opposite – he sang all the way home on coffee bonus paydays, having drunk a good portion of it. One other uncle was so impressed by the cash coming in from his coffee trees that he cut down an entire banana farm in order to plant more coffee.
By the time Moi was leaving office 24 years later, the coffee industry was on its knees. Most small scale coffee farmers in Central Province had either cut down the trees to grow maize and beans, or they just grew the maize and beans between neglected rows of trimmed coffee trees. Coffee production dwindled and the foreign exchange from exports plummeted. The country became poorer as a result.
So how can this be blamed on Moi? Well, for a start he appointed unqualified persons to manage the coffee board. Previous subsidies and government support all but ended, making coffee farm inputs cost more than the cash that came in from sales. It was no longer worth the farmers time.
Again I grew up hearing of a cotton board that was there ostensibly to help cotton farmers. The textile industry offered a ready market for the cotton that was processed in several ginneries. Just like coffee farmers, cotton farmers were happy and many a child was educated with proceeds from cotton farms. Again, the wrong persons were appointed to head the cotton board and the predictable happened. Cotton farmers became disgruntled and replaced the crop with crops that made more economic sense. The cotton ginneries lacked raw materials and so did the textile mills. One by one the companies shut down, many workers becoming jobless as a result. By the end of Moi’s 24 year rule, many factories with expensive machinery were lying idle around the country. One of this was the Kisumu Textiles. The void that was left by the closing down of these textile mills was filled by second hand clothes. Today, even the rich 10% have one or two second hand items of clothing, especially from the top international brands.
What we have said about coffee and cotton is also true about pyrethrum. This a plant from which a natural insecticide is extracted – a biodegradable product that does not pollute the environment. However the discovery of cheap synthetic pyrethrins may have contributed to the downfall of pyrethrum farms. Currently the world has slowly been moving back to organic products. Kenya had a chance to lead the world in the use of natural insecticides by marketing natural Pyrethrum worldwide throughout Moi’s rule but did not. Of course a sycophant was placed to run the pyrethrum board, not because he was qualified, but because he was an unwavering loyalist.
The above examples do not need statistics. They were obvious to the naked eye. Let me mention one more.
The Kenya Railway
Built in 1900 and dubbed, the Lunatic express, the original East African Railway collapsed into three corporations, the Kenya Railways in Kenya, Uganda Railways in Uganda and another corporation in Tanzania and. This collapse happened in Moi’s rein, though it is blamed on Charles Njonjo the former Attorney General and later Minister for Constitutional affairs. If Njonjo was the problem, then Moi did nothing to stop him, and so he is equally culpable.
I remember my Luo friends would take the train to Kisumu during school holidays. It was a cheap and safe way to travel. It had first, second and third classes. The cheap third class used to get so full that some passengers would travel all the way to from Nairobi to Kisumu while standing on their feet. Then the usual suspects were appointed to run the corporation to the ground. Buy the end of the 24 years, there was no train service to Kisumu, no train service to Nanyuki and the passenger service to Mombasa was on its knees. Most of the lines and stations had been overgrown by grass, a situation that persists to this day.
What was the reason for running down a system that had worked well for almost a century? It is rumored that businessmen in Moi’s government wanted business for their trucks. Petroleum from Mombasa was transported by oil tankers by road and the owners of this fleet of trucks were no ordinary citizens. It is also rumoured that some well-connected persons started to export railway scrap metal, obviously removed from the non-functioning lines. Whatever the case, by the end of Moi’s 24 years, The Kenya Railways corporation was a shell that was later leased to a company with South African connections to run commuter trains from the suburbia to the City of Nairobi. The Name of that company speaks volumes about the local shareholding – Rift Valley Railways. Fortunately county governments in what was Central province are planning to restore the lines in their areas to assist farmers with cheap transportation of farm products.
President Moi’s rule should make a good study by Political Scientists on how to turn a promising country into a failed state. The Jomo Kenyatta government cannot be said to have had saints in office. It had professionals and career diplomats. Moi replaced them with sycophants who were promptly sacked in the One O'clock news bulletin if they did not measure up (by Moi’s standards). History will judge former President Daniel Arap Moi harshly in years to come.
One heroine that stood up to Moi and never left the country, was the environmentalist, Professor Wangari Mathai. If it wasn’t for her, there would be a tall building in Uhuru Park that spells out the name MOI when viewed from sky. Through Wangari Mathai’s activism the park was spared and in the spot where the building would have been, we now have ‘Freedom Corner.’