From national fete to a private affair, the evolution of Moi Day

The return of the holiday that has been dogged by years of controversy rekindles memories of the three decades which Moi used his trademark baton to rule.

In Summary

• Retired President Moi hardly skipped national celebrations. 

• The High restored Moi in a ruling in November 2017 but the government has failed to line up elaborate celebrations to mark the day

Retired president Daniel Moi./FILE
Retired president Daniel Moi./FILE

Former President Daniel Arap Moi would, on a day like this, make a grand entry into a stadium thronged with thousands of Kenyans for 12 years of his tenure. 

Moi had declared October 10 a public holiday in his name and Kenyans would take a break from work to honour his accomplishments since taking office in 1978.

President Moi would join Kenyans from all walks of life to mark a day that was so dear to him throughout the last decade of his 24-year rule. 

Moi, who hardly skipped national celebrations surprised the nation when during the dying days of his tenure he chose to mark the end of the Moi Day holidays at a children's home in Thika.

Facing hostility from Kenyans who were pushing for regime change, Moi resorted to a private celebration of his own day over 40km from Nairobi.

It was perhaps a premonition of the death of national fete. Following the promulgation of the new Constitution in 2010, Moi Day was removed from the list of national holidays.

However, a High Court ruling in November 2017 declared that, unless Parliament changes the law to scrap the fete, Kenyans will still observe Moi day.

Moi Day was gazetted as a Public Holiday in 1989. Until October 2002, the day was marked with fanfare including elaborate military parades punctuated by patriotic and praise songs.

Moi would take a lap around the stadium in a military Land Rover with a contingent of security forces matching side by side in a show of might and power as he lifted his signature rungu to salute Kenyans.

The return of Moi Day that has been dogged by years of controversy, rekindles memories of the three decades in which Moi used his trademark baton to rule.

Songs and dances in the praise of the then president set the stage and the tone of the day.

With his penchant for praise songs, the retired president would get off his seat and join dancers for a jig with either traditional dancers or school children carefully selected to give the day pomp and colour.

At any given Moi Day national celebration, the head of state would arrive at Nyayo National Stadium in style and everyone would freeze when he appeared.

Separately, officers of the then powerful provincial administration would lead celebrations at the grassroots across the country as representatives of the President.

Provincial Commissioners led the national day celebrations at the provincial headquarters, while the District Commissioners officiated events at the District headquarters. Celebrations were cascaded all the way to the Divisions.

However, many observers saw the day as a tribute to Moi's presidency rather than that of national status.

Never did Moi, during his tenure skip any national celebrations and even when he would be on overseas trips, such tours would be cut short to allow him to fly back for the annual events.

The mention of his name evoked fear and command with his main speeches tailored to dwell more on development matters and affirming his government's unwavering leadership.

However, his main message was usually hidden to the tail end of his speeches when he would fire political salvos during his off-the-cuff remarks in the Kiswahili.

The retired President would tell off his critics and warn his opponents that his government would not be shaken as he lifted up his rungu that symbolised power.

But as the man whose name the day was marked ages gracefully in his retirement, the country will not have any elaborate national celebrations. 

Critics say his tenure was overshadowed by massive human rights abuses and dictatorship.

Today marks two years since the return of the holiday after a seven-year absence.

The government has failed to declare itself on the manner in which the celebrations should be marked.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i gazetted that today will be a public holiday as directed in a High Court ruling issued in November 2017.

The CS, however, noted that the government could not give direction on how Moi Day will be celebrated as its not among the national days recognised under Article 9(3) of the Constitution.

“…owing to the elaborate celebrations lined up for all our heroes on Mashujaa Day (20th of October), I make no pronouncement on the manner in which 10th of October shall be celebrated'” Matiang’i said.