SENSE OF BALANCE

Mourning Moi exposes hypocrisy

History is sturdy, even when revisionists recast it.

In Summary
  • History does not lose its brutality because of selective and deliberate embellishments of verifiable facts.
  • Many lives were lost, but others were changed because of this man of many shades. The trauma of the Nyayo torture chambers still haunts its victims.

Civility distorts history if it is couched in a language of emotional correctness. But history does not lose its brutality because of selective and deliberate embellishments of verifiable facts. History is sturdy, even when revisionists recast it. Which is why mourning, especially of a public figure of former President Daniel arap Moi’s stature, needs a sense of balance.

Today Kenya buries a goat-herder who became president for 24 years. The man always surrounded himself with intellectual betters who flattered his whims. He also had court poets—sounding boards of political opportunism. Moi was the choirmaster of a country that raised personality cult and praises to the level of the National Anthem.

This morning an orphan, brought up by a widow, is being given a State burial in Kabarak, as a mark of recognition of his outstanding public service. Moi was a legend of sorts: He was at once respected and feared. He was loved and hated in equal measure. Unpredictability was his currency.

 

Moi, a billionaire many times over, is being buried without accompaniments from the economic empire he built. The paradox of it: Humanity comes into the world with nothing, and leaves with zero. The vanity of life should worry obsessive acquisitionists.

The Moi empire was largely built on proceeds of public office. The man was generous with loyalists, but he was also bullish and mean to critics. Some he enriched, others he impoverished. Discordance was punished as harshly as loyalty was rewarded generously.

Many lives were lost, but others were changed because of this man of many shades. The trauma of the Nyayo torture chambers still haunts its victims. Some of the victims, like Shujaa Oduor Ong’wen and Comrade Wafula Buke, have spoken without the infectious inhibitions of funereal hypocrisy.

Moi, a billionaire many times over, is being buried without accompaniments from the economic empire he built. The paradox of it: Humanity comes into the world with nothing, and leaves with zero. The vanity of life should worry obsessive acquisitionists.

Mzee Moi, a pioneer hustler, in current opportunistic parlance, transformed into a ‘dynast’ in 47 years of public service, through resilience, and merciless accumulation of power and wealth. The Baringo lad who became president in 1978  occupied public space from 1955, when he was elected a member of the colonial Legislative Council, to 2002, when he left State House.

On December 30, 2002, Sally Kosgei, then the Head of Public Service, and Moi’s confidante for years, shed raw tears. It wasn’t because of ungrateful people, inspired by the National Rainbow Coalition revolution, who were ridiculing their legacy. A future without power and Moi looked uncertain. President Kibaki’s speech at the handover in Uhuru Park earlier, condemning corruption and other abuses of power during the Moi regime, was ominous.

Narc narcissists emitted hate, even as the big man left no doubt he was leaving power. That power was often abused, but that power also built: University education expanded hugely under Moi’s stewardship. Moi University, Maseno University, and Egerton University joined then lonely University of Nairobi. Numerous secondary schools today carry Moi’s name. He believed in the power of education: It had transformed a boy who had lost his father at age four, into a president. The man had the will and with grit found a way.

But the same power was abused in equal measure, with often unsustainable roadside declarations. One such deluded decision illustrates optimistic naïveté of the Moi regime: Pre-university stint for students in the National Youth Service was the antidote for their indiscipline.

 

During the restlessness at the University of Nairobi in the 1980s, and especially following the 1982 failed coup, where students were incriminated for supporting the putsch, Moi hatched a discipline plan.

The three months at the NYS were supposed to instil discipline and patriotism. The idea was shelved after four admissions. The first lot of 1984 intake at Kenyatta University went on strike, wearing NYS uniforms, singing, ‘Left, Right! Left, Right!’, as their military boots pounded the tarmac. The students wanted ‘dialogue’ with the Moi regime. Kariuki Chotara, a Kanu maverick from Nakuru, advised Moi to give students dialogue – that’s how ‘chapati’ acquired the moniker – dialogue.