I have recently been made aware of the fact that October 10, aka Moi Day, is back in the books as a public holiday in Kenya after a court judgement last year.
The day first came into being as a national holiday 29 years ago on on August 18. The Kenya Gazette ran an innocuous-looking statement on page five signed a couple of days earlier by the then permanent secretary to the Cabinet and head of public service, Joseph Tendenei arap Leting.
The notice read: “It is notified for public information that Tuesday 10th October 1989, shall be observed as a public holiday throughout Kenya in accordance with Section 3 of the Public Holidays Act, in recognition of the excellent leadership His Excellency President Daniel T arap Moi has provided to this nation.”
The date was significant because that was the anniversary of the day President Moi was ‘elected’ unopposed in a single party system to succeed his dead predecessor. It was 49 days after Kenyatta’s death and 41 days before the end of the 90-day constitutional deadline for the succession of a new leader.
In the years following and until 2002, Kenya’s second president would lead the national day celebrations at Nyayo stadium. Probably sensing the mood of the country to be against him as he was getting ready to retire after 24 years at the helm, there was no stadium extravaganza.
Meanwhile, the national broadcaster would carry live audio and visual coverage of the traditional military march past, air force fly-overs, traditional dancers and school mass choirs.
At the same time, the political types that Archbishop Henry Okullu would later pronounce “court jesters and masters of platitude” would shout themselves hoarse. They’d sing for their supper with the message that the country was blessed to have such a wonderful man, if not an actual saint, directing the affairs of the nation.
Meanwhile, the 30,000-strong crowd in the stadium would have no choice but to clap and cheer. In the 1980s and early 1990s, you never knew if the people in the row behind you were part of the state security system waiting to whisk you to some smelly dungeon for failing to pay proper respect to the head of state. At homes and in bars, only the brave, the foolhardy and the occasional agent provocateur might dare to jeer or even switch off the broadcast.
Some people today seem to have forgotten or decided to suppress any memories of the dark days under President Moi’s “excellent leadership”, when intolerance of criticism could see you detained, exiled or put to death.
For these people, I would like to suggest Moi Day be a day of asking for forgiveness from the people of Kenya and repenting their sins. Of course I know it will never happen. Instead there will probably be a whole slew of articles and documentaries, looking back with rose-tinted spectacles to a Golden Age of Nyayo that hardly ever was.