How Moi used milk to improve literacy

Mzee believed milk was key to making schoolchildren stay healthy and strong

In Summary

• The Nyayo milk project led to improved school attendance and good general health

Maziwa ya Nyayo
Maziwa ya Nyayo

Ask many people who went to school in the 80’s and early 90’s what they remember most about President Daniel Arap Moi, and chances are they will say nostalgically: free milk.

Nyayo milk was one of the late President's pet projects, alongside the Nyayo buses that plied across the city and the Nyayo tea zones that supplied Kenyan tea. 

"A lorry would come with milk a few minutes to 1 o'clock and we would scramble for the opportunity to be in charge of distributing it because you would get two packets if it was you," recalls Benjamin Imende.


The milk came in triangular packets — 200ml tetra pak — and were flavoured with sugar. Pupils would line up excitedly for a share at lunchtime. It was distributed once or twice a week, depending on the school. 


Nyayoism was Mzee Moi's creed of peace, love and unity. Moi introduced the Nyayo milk concept in 1979 until around 1992. 

The tactic worked brilliantly in promoting education. People would go to school not because of thirst for knowledge but for 'Maziwa ya Nyayo'. But in the process, they would get an education.

Education was a topic close to Moi's heart. In the year he became President in 1978, he famously donated 500 acres of his farm at Kabarak for a school that enrols pupils from every tribe.

As explained in Andrew Morton's biography, The making of an African statesmen, education was a particular passion to Moi not only because of his original career as a teacher but as an engine of progress.

"He views education as the key to ending tribalism and the greater war on tribalism. He suggested the building of a national school in each district to break down tribal barriers," the book notes.

Mzee's impact on education is celebrated in part by the many schools named after him. These include Moi High School Kabarak (Nakuru), Moi High School-Mbiruri (Embu), Moi Girls Eldoret and Moi Forces High School.


A university was also established in his name in 1984 by the Moi University Act of the Parliament of Kenya, after recommendations from the McKay Commission.


But the trademark of his education legacy is the Nyayo milk. This was a lifeline to barefooted pupils in far-flung primary schools, who could otherwise go without lunch. Moi believed milk was key to making schoolchildren stay healthy and strong. 

Reminiscing the era in June last year, then Education CS Amina Mohamed said, "In those days, we saw improved school attendance and good general health."

She was presiding over the launch of '3 Dairies a Day' initiative, a school programme to educate pupils and teachers on the importance of dairy products, fittingly at the Moi Educational Centre in Nairobi.

The project targets 350 primary schools and more than 200,000 pupils in Nairobi and its environs.

"I am delighted that a new generation will once again experience this and it is in this spirit that the Ministry of Education is teaming up with Brookside Dairy," Amina said. 

Moi died on Tuesday morning at the age of 95 following a long illness. He was the oldest living former Kenyan President at the time of his death.

Though Nyayo milk eventually collapsed like the other Nyayo projects, it retains a soft spot in Kenyans' hearts.