A stern face stared out at Kenyans for more than 24 years. Framed on office and shop walls, pictured on every banknote and coin, and ever-present on our daily news bulletins.
His eyes seemed to say: “Don’t question the chief, I’m everywhere.” The chief was Kenya’s former President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi. A phone call out of the blue got me working on this four-part series, researching Kenya’s history and understanding the political events that unfolded during both Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi’s regimes.
I thought I was pretty well-read on our country’s history and the events of the last 50 years, but I soon realised there was so much more than what any Kenyan knew of these two great men.
I decided to embark on this journey to reveal insights into our former presidents’ habits, obsessions, and intimate moments.
More importantly, I wanted to tell the story on a life and the experiences of a man who worked round the clock with two of the most powerful men in Kenyan history.
I also discovered how closely my own father was linked to this country’s history, and how the images he shot sync perfectly with this incredible story. Here, the final of our four-part series of A Life Behind the Scenes, with Lee Njiru.
The carnivore of Kabarak
His family is known for longevity. They live long. I have heard people say that Moi does not eat meat, but the centrality of Moi’s food is meat.
Other things, like vegetables and ugali, are additions. He slaughters an animal everyday, mostly Merino sheep. His is not a matter of food, but genetics. Let people not cheat you. Moi eats meat like a lion.
Laughter is the best medicine
He laughed very often, even in public. Whenever comedians such as the late Ojwang came to perform at State House, he laughed heartily.
And then there were also presidents who used to make Moi laugh. One time we went for a State visit to Cyprus, whose President, Glafcos Clerides, was over 80 years old at the time.
During the State dinner, he made a few jokes which made Moi laugh — although he was slightly embarrassed, but all the same he laughed.
Oloitiptip starving in London
There was this minister called Stanley Oloitiptip. He was a huge man, and to attend State dinners at Buckingham Palace you must have a tuxedo.
None could fit him properly, so the one we got him was very ill-fitting. The tummy was protruding and he looked very funny. Everybody was looking at him because he was too huge.
The food, too, was not enough for him — about 30 grammes of meat, two potatoes, a cup of coffee, and that’s it. So at night Oloitiptip called my room.
“Come, I am starving,” he told me. I took him to go and eat meat from an Arab restaurant. He was happy and he bought me a shirt.
There was a man called Amos Kandie. He wanted to be MP for Baringo Central, challenging Moi for the seat.
The international press was there on the eve of presenting nomination papers, not to cover the presentations, but the expected manhandling of Kandie for challenging Mzee.
Because I knew what was happening, I went to Mzee’s presidential suite. I stood at the door, waiting for him to wake up. “What is it?” he asked me when he finally opened the door to head for breakfast.
“Your Excellency, give me one minute.” “What?”
“Just one minute Mzee. Last night I threw a party for a battery of international journalists. They are here, but they have actually not come to cover you presenting the papers, they have come to cover your security people beating up, molesting and tearing Kandie to pieces … that is the news they want,” I told him, and then continued.
“Mzee, don’t let the security people spoil your name. And when you present your papers, just greet him. You will frustrate all these journalists.”
“OK, leave it to me,” he responded. At breakfast he pretended we had not met. “Can somebody call the OCPD for me?” he asked. “Also, call the DC here. And where is my security chief?”
When they came, he told them not to rough up Kandie. “Don’t touch him. If anybody touches him, I will sack him. I want him to be given VIP security. Do you understand?” “Yes Sir,” they all responded.
Mzee went and presented his papers, and as he was coming out, he met Kandie. “If you have done something commendable for Baringo people, they will elect you,” he told Kandie. “But if you have not done anything, I am sorry, you will not get any votes.”
That man, he got … I don’t think he got even 1,000 votes, but Mzee got over 35,000. So sometimes we intervene to save situations, because he did not know what was being planned.
Guns are not everything:
One time we went to Rumuruti. There was a public meeting, but before going to the event we had to have lunch at the home of the late GG Kariuki. He used to be a Member of Parliament for Laikipia.
Moi was wearing a beautiful blue jacket, but as he sat down one button fell off. The entire presidential team had guns of all types, including rifles and grenades, but we did not have a thread and a needle.
GG Kariuki’s daughter Nyakinyua came to the rescue but she was full of fear. How do you touch the president’s jacket, you can get shot!
So Mzee asked: “Nyakinyua, wewe uko na sindano? Do you have a thread?” She said yes. “Can you fix it for me?”
Mzee removed the jacket and handed it over to the lady. She went into one of her rooms and fixed the button. We were overwhelmed and ashamed because we had everything, but we could not fix a button!
The stomach ideology
When the clamour for multipartyism began in the 1990s, President Moi was not for the idea because he held the view that more political parties would take the outline of ethnicities and this would divide the country.
He also believed that those agitating for multipartyism were not doing it for the good of Kenya; they were just selfish leaders who wanted to capitalise on the fluidity of the economic situation at the time.
Multipartyism was also not being pushed by Kenyans only; but by Western nations as well. People became rabid, and he eventually let them have their way.
But then, in Kasarani, he said: “Let us allow multipartyism to come, but let us be united, because this euphoria, this excitement, this anger, will one time die down, and we shall have a peaceful country.”
Now, if you look at what he said then, it is coming to pass. Like right now, there is no veritable Opposition, there’s the (Uhuru-Raila) handshake, because in Africa, or in a country like Kenya, when you have multipartyism, it is blended with ideologies, anger, tribalism and jealousy.
There is no real ideology, and that is why I remember very well what Mzee Moi told us one day; that the main ideology is the stomach.
I believe in two parties, or even one party. But that party should be structured in such a way that there is inclusivity.
During the time of President Moi, there was a lot of inclusivity. One of the smallest tribes, the Marakote of Tana River, had an ambassador called Mohamed Omar Soba, who represented Kenya in Tehran.
A girl from Taita called Esther Muchai Tole was a High Commissioner. We need inclusivity, not these 100 small political parties.
They will not help us. Just have one strong party, and then let people sit down and look at the list of representation.
Hounded out of office
I want to remind you about the 2007/2008 post-election violence. When the Narc government came in, they started targeting public officers from a certain community, somebody like Dr Sally Kosgei is one of the most educated people in Kenya.
She is from Nandi and was not employed by President Moi; she was working even during the time of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
Such people were sacked in one viral swoop, because people believed they were Moi henchmen.
The Kalenjin reacted angrily, because you cannot use a parasol to go and fell somebody’s forest. Those people were the bulwark of the Kalenjin pride.
Insulted at Uhuru Park
During the handing over ceremony, things were not very good. It was chaotic. We were insulted. The opposition leaders … they know themselves … planned to make it appear as if Uhuru Park was not ready to receive Moi.
They wanted that feeling of not being ready to go on, until at about 5pm, so that they could cheat the people that Moi had refused to come out from State House, and then incite the people to walk to State House to get him out forcibly.
But Moi got the intelligence, so when we went to Uhuru Park, we had not been told: “We are ready for you, you come now.”
We forced our way there because Moi wanted to get over with it and go to Kabarak. So we went, you know what happened?
They threw stones and mud at him. He was attacked in speeches. None thanked him.
Oh, the fear of change! Change is always resisted. I had an office in State House for 25 years, from the time of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
I grew up in State House, driving a Mercedes Benz, travelling in the presidential jet, living in the best hotels.
The multiparty proponents were always telling us: “You will never know what hit you. You go home and buy a television set and watch how governments are run. Go and look after your cattle. We will deal with you.”
So one day you are living in such comfort, and the next you are going to the unknown, unchartered waters. That kind of a scenario can even break the best of men.
Saved from hyenas
President Moi still loves me. He respects me, but I revere him. Many people have tried to remove me from my patch.
They have tried to destroy me, to malign me, but Moi has told them: “Touch anybody else, but leave this alone. He works for me. I know him.”
They are hyenas, they are sadistic people. They get kicks out of the suffering of others, but Moi has protected me from them. I will thank him forever.