PRESIDENTIAL LEGACIES

Like all of humans, Moi had his failings

Where we are today a dividend of investments in sociopolitical stability, education for 24 years.

In Summary
  • President Moi’s expansion of higher education is perhaps his most profound, and most enduring, contribution.
  • The creation of Moi University, Kenyatta University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Egerton University and Maseno University drew anger from politicians, and academics.
Moi officially opening Kijabe Girls
Moi officially opening Kijabe Girls

Jomo Kenyatta’s reluctance to enshrine Kiambu dominance left Daniel arap Moi serving as vice president when the inescapable came to pass. Mzee Kenyatta’s health deteriorated and he died at 3.30am on August 22, 1978.

Later in the afternoon of Kenyatta’s passing, Chief Justice James Wicks presided over Moi’s swearing-in as acting president in Attorney General Charles Njonjo’s office. Ninety days later, as the sole nominee of the ruling Kanu party, Moi was elected unopposed on October 10 and sworn in on October 14, 1978, as Kenya’s second president.

Moi’s ascent to the presidency was improbable despite the constitutional provisions, which allowed him to act as president in the event of Kenyatta’s death. There was a certain temporariness about Moi’s ascent. In the words attributed to kingmaker Charles Njonjo, Moi was a “passing cloud”.

 

Passing cloud indeed. According to British historian Charles Hornsby, many considered Moi’s presidency as an interregnum before the real rulers of Kenya re-grouped. When he left office, 24 years later, Moi become Kenya’s longest-serving president.

Moi was underestimated not only by Kenyatta’s retinue. Kenya’s first vice president described Moi as lacking in capacity for independent judgement and saw him as someone who was overawed by settler power. According to Odinga, Moi was a giraffe with a long neck that saw from afar, seldom engaged or passionately committed.

Like all of us, President Moi had his many failings. Thousands of politicians, government bureaucrats and even ordinary citizens hold deep grievances against the late president. Many of the things we accuse him of persist; corruption, tribalism, intolerance, impunity and flawed elections.

As expected, commentary following the death of Kenya’s second president has been mixed. His presidency has been described as authoritarian, tribal and corrupt. All three words were used to describe Mzee Kenyatta’s regime.

Mwai Kibaki, the man Moi handed over power to, peacefully and in accordance with the constitution, has been accused of reinstating a corrupt ethnic elite which orchestrated grand looting that reaches deep into the Uhuru administration.

Presidential legacies are complex, contested and especially difficult to evaluate in a culture where political analysis is very weak. Moreover, we have a dearth of half-decent historians, let alone historians who document and analyse the performance of the occupants of our State House.

President Moi’s expansion of higher education is perhaps his most profound, and most enduring, contribution. The creation of Moi University, Kenyatta University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Egerton University and Maseno University drew anger from politicians, and academics. Kenya’s highly educated workforce and middle class are a singular product of Moi’s investment in education.

While Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, and later Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi were embroiled in civil war and genocide, Moi presided over relative peace and stability. I believe where we are today as a people is a dividend of the investments in education and sociopolitical stability for a quarter-century.

 

Like all of us, President Moi had his many failings. Thousands of politicians, government bureaucrats and even ordinary citizens hold deep grievances against the late president. Many of the things we accuse him of persist; corruption, tribalism, intolerance, impunity and flawed elections.

I join fellow Kenyans and the Moi family in celebrating the life of great Kenyan. So long, Baba Moi.