The genesis of Moi’s ruthless campaign against opponents
Posted Saturday, June 30 2012 at 23:30
In exactly a month’s time the nation will mark the 30th anniversary of the 1982 coup, a watershed moment which is said to have paved the way for a steep descent into authoritarianism during the Moi presidency and triggered the ultimately successful campaign for a new constitution.
Popular opinion has it that Mr Moi was a soft and kindly politician when he came to power and that he only unleashed a crackdown against his opponents in the wake of the attempted coup.
But a review of media articles in the months before the August 1 attempt shows Mr Moi had already launched an extensive campaign of intimidation of the regime’s opponents — detaining lawyers and lecturers, issuing warnings against any attempts to form rival political parties and pushing through the amendment to the constitution which made Kenya officially a one-party state.
Those moves set the stage for the fight for greater political space in the country which reached its climactic moment with the adoption of a new set of laws on August 27, 2010.
The long struggle for that constitution — and how to safeguard the gains it offers — is the subject of a forthcoming book by the veteran journalist Salim Lone.
Mr Lone had a front-row seat through much of the period when Kenyans were fighting for democratic change as a prominent journalist — and later communications consultant — who was close to many of the figures that spearheaded the fight for expanded political space in the country.
His book will primarily focus on the period between 2002 and the next election and will examine the question of how to achieve enduring democratic reform in a country which has not suffered the dramatic upheavals that triggered change in many other African countries.
Mr Lone says it is vital for Kenyans to understand their history to appreciate how far the nation has come and why it is vital to secure the achievements represented by the new Constitution.
“We are going into the next election with more than 40 parties set to field candidates. That was unthinkable only 30 years ago. It was something that was achieved at great cost and people should not take this expanded political space for granted.”
Mr Lone points to Madaraka Day in 1982 — and not the coup which occurred three months later — as the true turning point in the early Moi years.
He says the political environment in the early months of 1982 was characterised by great tension and a sense that the Moi presidency was taking a turn to outright dictatorship.
“We had been meeting for some time to plan the formation of a new party, the African Socialist Alliance. The weekend before Madaraka Day we met at my house with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, George Anyona and a few others.
“Anyona spent the night at home and I remember he talked freely to Chelagat Mutai on the phone and told her we were forming a party. I had warned him that my phone was tapped but Anyona was a very brash and confident guy and he was not worried at all.”
Two days after that meeting during his Madaraka Day address to the nation, President Moi delivered a chilling message to all the actors that were agitating for the formation of an alternative party to challenge Kanu.
A look at the Daily Nation front page articles in the two weeks from June 1, 1982 offer a glimpse of the crackdown by the state which entrenched dictatorship in the country and fed the struggle for change.
That struggle’s first major achievement was the introduction of multi-party democracy 10 years later.
The report on the Madaraka Day ceremony records Moi warning that there were “self-styled revolutionaries” who wanted to disturb the peace by importing “foreign ideologies.”
He said some politicians had plans to incite public service workers to go on strike but warned that they would soon be arrested.