Just because I can't say anything good doesn't mean silence about President Moi

He had a mixed legacy but the malcontent is downplayed, overlooked

In Summary

• There has been a lot of magnanimity in the reviews of his life

Former head of civil service Joseph arap Leting gives a donation to President Daniel arap Moi during a harambee on September 29, 1988
Former head of civil service Joseph arap Leting gives a donation to President Daniel arap Moi during a harambee on September 29, 1988
Image: Star Archive

By now, you've read all sorts of stories about President Daniel arap Moi. Known variously as Kapkorios, Mtukufu and even Baba Gidi to some of the more irreverent.

I'm sure you've read how he was the personification of evil to some and a saint to others. You’ve been told or perhaps even experienced how he messed up the economy, primary education, health, the universities, politics, the media, international relations and even milk.

You have also read that he sometimes appeared to have great dignity, liked to read the Bible, went to church, loved children, was an African statesman (as his British biographer said), was a regional peacemaker and a master political tactician. 


People have written and spoken about how generous he could be with money (public funds and private).

Surely you have heard how he had people killed, tortured, maimed, jailed, exiled and impoverished.

It is also true that like many teachers, President Moi had an amazing memory for names and faces. He also never forgot a slight, a favour or a good turn. He could be petty and if he thought you'd wronged him, he could get very personal.  

All the above and several other things are true of the herdsboy from Kabarnet, who grew up to be President for nearly a quarter of a century. 

A TV star called Anna Gunn (she appeared in 'Breaking Bad') said, "Nobody's all good or bad, and nobody's all light or dark. Every human being has so many different aspects and facets to them. And there can be something noble and something really dark and dangerous going on in a person all at the same time."

If I was to be extremely generous, I'd say the same applies to President Moi, but since I am not prepared to be that magnanimous in his case, I'll say this:

The man was a malcontent in the sense of being a person who constantly seemed to feel attacked and misunderstood. He often said the opposite of what he meant and then ran to say his words had been misconstrued.


When President Moi ascended to power, he had the chance to give the country a fresh start and point it in the direction of greater progress and prosperity for all, but he sadly chose to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, only at a faster pace and with more endurance.

At one point, he began to believe his own hype about being a peacemaker, and when he realised he was never going to be considered for the Nobel, he became embittered and cranky, believing he had achieved greatness but the world was too blinded by the hatred generated by dissidents, exiles, Marxists and other enemies of development to recognise his efforts. 

Those who knew him will attest to his having a certain magnetism. If they are honest, they will also tell you he could be horribly possessive and at the same time vengeful.

I don’t know whether President Moi cared what Kenyans thought of him or not, but the manipulative part of his nature counted on their short memories and great capacity to lie to themselves to ensure that nobody threw brickbats at his cortege.

He’s gone and may we never have another like him.