Mzee Moi ate ugali and vegetables on his trips abroad. And, for this, he would tag along his cook to some of the world’s leading hotels.
“We would occasionally eat ugali at the Hilton in London. He would never combine proteins and carbohydrates. I saw him eat beef and vegetables on many occasions, especially for breakfast. This happened a lot on days that he was scheduled to attend daylong meetings,” Mr Frost Josiah, a former aide, told the Nation yesterday.
He was also a meticulous dresser. The boutonnières that he wore on the lapels of his designer suits had to be fresh. The retired President, who died on Tuesday morning aged 95, also had his suits made by a specific tailor in London.
And, contrary to popular belief that Mzee Moi despised alcohol and wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole, the former President’s chief of protocol offers: “I never saw Moi drink beer or smoke. However, he took wine while toasting during events. And these were particular wines like Black Tower and Spanish Rosily.”
Indeed, it is true that the former President’s private life was a closely guarded secret over the 24 years he ruled the country.
The image he presented in public did not betray the kind of person he was in private and, for this, he has his aides and bosom buddies like former Foreign Affairs PS Dr Sally Kosgei and former Cabinet ministers Julius Sunkuli and Nicholas Biwott to thank.
Even as the country prepares to inter his remains on Wednesday at his Kabarak home in Nakuru County, the Nation sought to debunk some of these secrets to give Kenyans a glimpse into the other side of Mr Moi that nobody knew.
Mr Josiah says his boss was a stickler for time. He recalls that Moi was never late for any meeting — he was up every day by 6am and, by 7am, he was already chairing meetings.
“It is a virtue he maintained for a long time. Unlike the other presidents who would be late to leave their hotel rooms during their trips abroad, Nyayo always left his room on time and his car was always ready. He knew my presence meant it’s time to move and so he would stand upon seeing me — no one would make him wait any longer,” recalls Mr Josiah.
The career diplomat-turned-farmer also says he does not recall any moment that Moi failed to attend an event or meeting due to illness. Instead, he is the one who fell sick and, at one time, the President paid for his sinuses surgery in London.
However, Moi always visited a doctor for check-up whenever they were in London. Occasionally, he would be accompanied by his personal physician, Dr David Silverstein.
“I do not know whether he used to exercise but his body was always well-toned. That was visible when he removed his shirt and as he ran up the stairs and hopped onto a plane.” Mr Josiah’s team also ensured that the President was booked into the best hotels wherever they travelled.
He had to know who was spending the night on the same floor as the President, and a list would be forwarded to Dr Sally Kosgei for approval. Unapproved names would be moved to other rooms to allow the President his privacy and comfort.
The former President also loved a good hearty laugh. “He would laugh to tears and, because of that, Dr Kosgei always made sure that Mark Too had to be on board whenever we were embarking on long trips because he kept the President in good mood. He cracked jokes that kept Mzee happy. One time he even travelled without a passport,” says Mr Josiah.
The son of the late Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner, Samuel Onyango Josiah, Mr Josiah was appointed by President Moi Chief of Protocol in 1997.
Before his appointment, he had served at the Kenyan embassy in Israel. His promotion to head the presidential protocol had been objected by some State House officials, who were uncomfortable with his height.
Back then, such positions were offered to persons who were shorter or had the same height as the President to minimise camera obstructions.
“I received the appointment via a text message in February 1997. My first role was very difficult because it got me at loggerheads with Mzee’s aide-de-camp (ADC) at the time, Col Alexander Sitienei, who kept telling me to move. Luckily, Mzee intervened. I think he had heard him because he told him wacha kijana afanye kazi yake (let the young man do his work).
“Henceforth, I devised ways to ensure that if I happened to appear on Mzee’s photo, I’d look shorter or within his range of height. One way was by slanting my leg and the other was bending,” he recalls.
His five years with the presidential team formed the best period of his career in the diplomatic service as he got to learn and travel around the world.
He was later posted to Germany as the ambassador.
The team that often accompanied Moi in his presidential jet comprised the head of protocol, the escort commander and Mr Lee Njiru, the press secretary.
Mr Josiah, now 70, attributes the support he received from his boss, Dr Kosgey, and Mr Njiru for his successful tenure as head of protocol. In 2001, he proposed Ms Rebecca Nabutola as his replacement.
“Mr Njiru once told me to treat each day as my first day at the job and to always address Mzee as His Excellency, Sir.”
Mzee had a sharp sense of smell that could pick a person who had smoked or taken alcohol from a crowd.
“So the staff avoided alcohol and cigarettes whenever we knew we would meet him. Some would chew gum to disguise the smell,” says Mr Josiah.
But, even with all the power that Moi wielded, Josiah says Mzee led a lonely life.
“He must have been lonely. When other presidents were accompanied by their spouses to the dance floor during dinners and bouquets abroad, Moi always danced alone. He avoided those awkward moments when a woman would attempt to join him for a dance.”
Moi was also deeply religious. In The Making of an African Statesman, an authorised biography of the former President, Andrew Morton observed that, in the library at his Kabarak home, the most striking feature was the number of Bibles that filled the shelves.
“Before he retires each evening, Moi reads from the Holy scriptures, particularly favouring the New Testament,” Morton wrote.