President Moi: A Score Card

Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The worst thing about the modern world, we invariably review things, devoid of context. And because, it is the average university-educated lad or lass, who always delivers some extremely judgmental soup, often with a finalistic, non-negotiable stance, reality always rewards them with a Donald Trump and a Mike Sonko, just so, to remind them that the world is more complex than books have led them to believe.

I was born in Kibera and spent my childhood in the D.C area, which is a whistle distance from Kabarnet, Moi’s private residence in Nairobi. As a child, we knew that the big man stayed behind the big fence and may have caught a glimpse of his motorcade every once in a while, but it is a distant memory.  As an adult, I wonder why Moi chose of all places, to live next to a sprawling slum, billed as the largest in Africa,  when he would have easily picked the juiciest part of Muthaiga, Karen, Runda, and such suburbs, and I am yet to find to an answer.

I only saw Moi once in 2002, five months, before he handed over power to Mwai Kibaki when his chosen candidate lost. I was in Form 2, and had gone for the Kisii Agricultural Show. I stood at the junction across the Kisii Barclays Bank and as his motorcade weaved to the Gusii Stadium. And, there he was, with his head tossed above the car, carrying his rungu. Those by the roadside were less than enthusiastic, and he wore this studious face, that was met by an indifferent crowd. The mood in the country was that of fatigue, and he had lost much of his charm. Besides, in Kisii, Simeone Nyachae was leading a charge for the presidency and for some mystical reasons Kisii believed that he was going to win by a landslide. Hence, the cold and forgettable reception. 

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Let’s get something out of the way. I will never belittle, demean or downplay the pain of those who were on the receiving end of his brutality. From the plotters of the ill-judged 1982 coup who were handed fatal punishment, to the victims of the Wagalla massacre and the less talked about Nyundo operation in West Pokot (his own people), to the victims of Nyayo House, to the lives that were lost in the 1992 clashes, those who disappeared, and of course Robert Ouko, whatever transpired was inexcusable. Moi scored poorly, I will never defend such. Because torture is an extremely mediocre option of a punishment and the resort of the most intellectually inferior. Not to say that guys with intellect have no capacity to torture, they can be doubly cruel. 

However, for me, the Moi Presidency, is a sum total of his 24 years in power and how he faired on. What Kenyans scholars have continuously failed to educate Kenyans is the role of the Cold War in propping up useless dictators not just in Africa but across the world. Whereas Africa escaped the debilitating wars like the Korean and Vietnamese war, or the resultant tinpot leaders such as Pol Pot, and the Latin American madmen, we did have a fair share of our drama and supremely stupid leaders. When you rank some of the more foolish dictators with the worst human rights records, and who ruined their economies, you will have to get through the top ten, before you see Moi’s name.

There is a video on YouTube, where President Bush (Snr) is receiving Mobutu in the White House in 1988 and he praises Mobutu as America’s greatest friend from Africa. In 1988, Mobutu had been in power for at least 23 years, had looted Zaire dry and the country was on the verge of collapse, despite its resources. African dictators never existed on a vacuum, but had the backing of the foreign powers, whether American, France, Britain, China or Russia.

But we were lucky. It could have been worse. Moi’s regime doesn’t even compare with the madness of Bokassa (nigga used a third of the country’s budget to coronate himself an emperor and to appease his wife, he ordered the shooting of young students who dared demonstrate against his decree to have parents buy uniform from his wife). I have no space or time but take an hour and Wikipedia the following: Macias Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (and do a follow up on his nephew who took over from him). Read on Togo’s Gnassingbé Eyadéma and Uganda’s Idi Amin. Read on Mengistu Haile Mariam. Read on San Abacha. We all know what Mugabe did to Zimbabwe. And the many basket cases in West Africa.

Well, some clever ass, may argue, comparison is not the way to go. Maybe not. But you cannot examine Moi’s brutal years without understanding the West’s totality of not tolerating any socialist ideas. And both Moi and Jomo Kenyatta’s commitment to capitalism gave them a carte blanche to not only take advantage of the West’s largesse but also use any means, sometimes brutal ones to ensure that capitalism triumphed over communism. And only Tanzania, Mozambique and maybe Ethiopia, that adopted communism after a fashion.

I saw all the Western media were quick to point out that Moi was a dictator, but none pointed out how the West aided all this. How convenient?

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Then there is the inescapable fact that he ruined Kenya’s economy. He started off well. Again, it seems some people have failed to internalise how the Structural Adjustment Program (SAPs) did a number on us, not just Kenya but several economies around the world. And in the process of soaking up the SAPs’ prescription, endemic corruption became a way of life in the resulting confusion, as his cronies raided and ruined many parastatals, rendering many Kenyans jobless and sending some to an early grave. Goldenberg remains a blight in his rule and people in his government were the brains behind Anglo-leasing, even though it was actualised under the Kibaki regime. But when you compare how much we have lost under Jubilee and to some extent, during the Kibaki regime, Goldenberg is pocket change.

Again, comparisons mostly focus on the mediocre. And mediocrity abounds in sub-Saharan Africa like Nitrogen.

But for me, one front in which Moi was nearly faultless was his patriotism. Under Moi, I don’t think that Uganda would have tried that Migingo mischief. Under Moi, I don’t think that the Kenyan-Somalia marine border debacle would have been bangled in spectacular fashion as witnessed under the Jubilee regime. Under Moi and Kenyatta, Kenya was a respected regional and continental player. 

In Kenya, Moi wanted the country’s 70-odd ethnicities to stick together. You could see from his appointment. Your father or grandfather probably keeps a calendar of his cabinet, check it up. 

Unlike today, where nearly half of the ic service appointments lean on one tribe or region and this shamelessly recurs, Moi did his best. Granted, he did have his Kalenjin henchmen, running the show, and looting while at it, but his appointments were fairly balanced. From the top military echelons to the Treasury and the key ministries, it wasn’t necessarily a Kalenjin tribal affair.

I have talked to men who served under Moi at higher levels and one thing they assure me, even corruption, though widespread in its latter years (and yes, his family did become tremendously rich), Moi was not fond of widespread, irresponsible theft that we witness today. I know, coming from me, it nearly sounds foolish, but you can draw two charts and look at the monies we lost compared to the GDP under Moi and try the same with Jubilee and you will see.

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When we judge leaders, we must judge them through three prisms: one is their individual will and their intentions for the country. Secondly, is the parochial interests of the men and women who put him to power. And thirdly, the international environment and historical context they come to power.

Moi’s individual wish for Kenya was a united country. He did attempt some good causes that touched on the environment, farming and industrialization. He did fail, but you can never doubt his intentions. His henchmen’s parochial interests did give way to some of the excesses of his regime. But he did remain in charge and never let things get out of hand as Kibaki did. And in the international atmosphere, the Cold War and the subsequent SAPs hardly gave him any room to the get it right with the economy. I can also point out his intellectual limitations. 

If Kenya’s peers are Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, then I can comfortably say, we did well.

That he held us together without a civil war of genocidal proportions and gave up on power before Kenya could descend to the kind of economic chaos being experienced in Zimbabwe presently is something, we should be thankful. Because, it is that stability that gave Kibaki a chance to engineer our economic take-off that was nearly extinguished in 2007, by Kibaki’s failure to manage the parochial interest of his Kikuyu elite. And Kibaki’s achievements have been erased by Jubilee.

For those quick to blame Moi, the fact that 18 years since he quit power, we are yet to address some of the historically problematic aspects of our country, goes to show that some of the problems were beyond his ken, and to deal with them, we have to go to the beginning of the republic. Land for instance.

The only thing we learn for the future leaders is that we can always do better and mediocrity is not the only approach. There are shining examples of leaders who took the avenue of excellence. 

Score Card for Moi.

Field Grade
Patriotism A
Foreign Policy A-
Human Rights C
Economy C+
Politics B+
Democracy and Rule of Law C+
Ethnic Inclusivity and Cohesion B
Pan-Africanism A-
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