A giant tree has fallen

BY JACOB OKETCH

Finally, Kenya’s second President, Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, was laid to rest in a colourful ceremony at his Kabarak home. His death received mixed reactions from the public. There are those who berated him for misrule and didn’t think he deserved the send off that he was given. On the other hand, there are those who praised him for the good deeds in his long reign. That said, it is important to put into proper perspective the implications of his passing and also to look at his leadership objectively without giving a blanket judgment that does not take into cognizance the full impact of Moi’s rule.

The late retired President Moi’s leadership had the greatest impact on Kenyans given the fact that he ruled for a long time. In fact, many milestone projects were implemented during his time. The iconic Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani and Nyayo National Stadium are landmark achievements in sports that one cannot take away from the Nyayo regime. I remember the Jubilee Government’s pledge to build stadia in all the 47 counties. Kenyans are still waiting for the fulfillment of this pledge more than seven years after this government came into office. In fact, Kasarani and Nyayo stadia stand out as the only ones that meet international standards.

Granted, the late retired President’s regime was characterized by rampant corruption. There was also flagrant abuse of human rights that led to the detention without trial of several human rights activists and politicians. However, what we need to appreciate is that the problem of corruption is something that started even before Moi came to power and hence we cannot wholly blame him for the vice. After Moi left power, there have been a number of measures that have been put in place to curb the vice but its deep rootedness has defied these efforts. 

Even the legally constituted bodies charged with the responsibility of managing corruption have not achieved much. The Ethics and Anti Corruption commission (EACC) together with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution are yet achieve much in their mandates. Essentially, we haven’t achieved much as far as corruption is concerned, since the Moi days. It then means we are collectively as culpable as Moi supposedly was.

Regarding human rights abuses, the Moi regime cannot be absolved from presiding over tortures and detentions. The logical step towards solving this problem was the compilation of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Report which is gathering dust somewhere. There is no way we are going to come to a closure without implementing this report. My view is that instead of making so much noise about past transgressions, much energy should go to finding ways of implementing the TJRC report. Reconciliation is something that Kenya needs like yesterday. We need to borrow a leaf from South Africa and Rwanda. The Desmond Tutu led Truth Commission had startling results. The same thing happened to Rwanda with the Gachacha Courts. These two countries have had internal conflicts that were far much bigger than Kenya’s but they managed to come up with a solution.

The late President Moi came to power at a time when the insiders in Kenyatta’s circle never wanted him to succeed the founding father. This made Moi to be a very cautious fellow. He consolidated his power by systematically dismantling this group. Furthermore, the coup attempt that occurred a few years after he assumed power made matters worse. That is when political repression was intensified. In such an environment, it left the embattled President with little choice. This should not be misconstrued to mean that this piece endorses the atrocities. On the contrary, this is an attempt to establish the basis of this heinous behavior on the part of the fallen leader. Indeed, any leader faced with such a situation is bound to exhibit some sense of firmness. It appears that Moi went overboard as far as this is concerned.

Events of the past month indicate that Moi was greatly respected across the country. The endless queue by members of the public to view his body is something that was witnessed only when the founding father Jomo Kenyatta passed on. Apart from political rallies, this is the only event that has captured the attention of the nation like no other. In a sense, in death, Moi has galvanized Kenyans into a unity of purpose. Even the political drums went silent and there was a sigh of relief from Kenyans, albeit briefly. This unfortunate occurrence has given Kenyans an opportunity to ponder over the state of the nation. It could just be a blessing in disguise.

President Moi made a great contribution to peace in the East African region and beyond. Had it not been for Moi, South Sudan could not be a nation. His relentless efforts to cultivate peace in South Sudan will be remembered not only by Kenyans but all people of this region, more so the south Sudanese themselves. I remember a time when the Somalia Parliament was virtually operating from Kenya. It is that process that birthed the Federal Transition Government. The Federal Government of Somalia owes Kenya gratitude for ensuring that a workable system was put in place there. The late President was involved in other numerous peace efforts across the continent. These are landmark achievements that nobody can take away from the fallen leader.

Moi adopted a non-aligned approach when it comes to conflicts involving other countries. It is this standpoint that ensured that Kenya continued to enjoy cordial relations with all nations. Even in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, Kenya has always played a neutral role. As a result, Kenya was able to trade and partner with protagonists for the betterment of the country. This position also ensured that Kenya remained peaceful because she avoided conflict with her neighbours. The late President’s stature in the African continent is high and this was demonstrated by an array of African leaders who graced his funeral service. His immense contribution to the formation of IGAD in 1986 is well documented. With this kind of achievements, it is hard to pigeonhole the assessment of Moi’s leadership into domestic matters alone.

One fundamental thing that Moi did before leaving office was to seek public apology for whatever mistakes he may have made during his presidency. It may look a simple thing but it is not. I have not heard of any leader who was branded a dictator apologizing for their transgressions. I also think it is not fair to compare Moi to leaders like Zaire’s Mobutu Sese seko and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. These are leaders who grabbed power using the bullet and also left power by the same means. Moi’s act of peacefully handing over power cannot be simplified because it is responsible for the peace we enjoy today. He also reluctantly repealed the section 2A of the old Constitution to usher in multi party democracy. 

Much as his rule was characterized by suppression of basic freedoms, there are many things that he did which disqualify him from being branded a dictator. Those who are saying that they cannot forgive Moi’s transgressions have no moral authority to lead because they don’t have the capacity to forgive. Remember the spirit of reconciliation that South Africa’s Nelson Mandela showed when he came out of prison. If there is anybody who was justified to seek revenge, it can only be Mandela.

A lot has been said about Moi’s humility and therein lies a monumental lesson for the present crop of Kenyan leaders. We are not short of hubris and chest thumping from our political leaders. His amazing humility in the face of humiliation when he was the Vice President is unbelievable. In fact, since the expansion of democratic space in Kenya, politicians threw caution to the wind and anything goes as far as political pronouncements are concerned. This conduct by our leaders has diluted the dignity of leadership in the country. And just as the late retired President warned, ethnicity has done the country a great harm as a result of political competition.

Moi’s piousness is a factor that greatly contributed to his success in leadership. His constant adherence to spiritual principles ensured that he was always sober when making critical decisions. it is almost irreconcilable to imagine that this is the same man who ordered for the detention of dissident and critics. We may never know what prompted Moi to behave the way he did because he came across as a very God-fearing person. His rapprochement with somebody like the Opposition chief Raila Odinga who bore the brunt of his ruthlessness indicates that whatever mistakes he made were not irreparable. He jailed Raila, a record three times. Raila was also tortured at the Nyayo torture chambers.

The fallen leader, unlike his successors, had a unique way of integrating with Kenyans. He successfully used music to endear himself to Kenyans. There was a unifying effort on his part. His close touch with grassroot leadership also ensured that he had the pulse of the nation at his fingertips. This is one quality that is conspicuously missing in our present leaders. Leaders today only resort to political rallies to mobilize political support. I hope they will learn and adopt some of Moi’s strategies of unifying Kenyans.

When the history of Kenya is finally written, the late retired President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi will occupy a prominent place. His contribution to the stability of the nation cannot be wished away regardless of his transgressions. The present generation hardly knew him but they will greatly benefit from the historical records of his leadership. At this juncture, the most sensible thing to do is to let his soul rest in peace. Go well Nyayo. 

Sign Up